San Juan Island Public Beaches and Parks
Parks and Beaches: Discover Pristine San Juan Island
San Juan Island was once held by both American and British forces, each with their own encampment. The former camps are now both National Historic Parks offering a wealth of historical and recreational opportunities.
Just six miles southeast of Friday Harbor is American Camp, with more than 1,200 acres of prairie, meadow, forest and beach lands with multiple hiking trails and unforgettable ocean views. Ranger guided walks, interpretive events, picnic tables, fire pits, and restrooms are also available.
Fourth of July Beach
In American Camp, you’ll find our island’s patriotic tribute beach. It’s a great place to watch the fireworks from both Friday Harbor and the neighboring Lopez Island on Independence Day. To get here, just go past the American Camp Interpretive Center, off of Cattle Point road, for one mile and look for the signs on your left. This calm, partly sandy beach opposite South Beach is ideal when the winds are howling on the other side. Water and air are protected by Mt Finlayson. Dense Douglas Firs grow right up to the beach. A lovely place for little kids to play safely and to read a good book.
Granny’s Cove is one of the few sandy beaches on San Juan Island. The water is shallow and warms up enough in the summer to go splashing. This beach is perfect for little kids, sand castle builders and bird lovers. Park at American Camp Interpretive Center and follow the signs. The beach is a half a mile walk through prairie grass, along cliffs.
An easily walkable one mile south from Fourth of July Beach, Jackles Lagoon is an amazing place for a hike and a picnic. The serene lagoon provides a haven for nesting sea birds. Please don’t disturb. Impressive sea lions sunbathe on rocks just off the beach.
South Beach, located a mile south of the American Camp Interpretive Center, is San Juan Island’s longest and wildest beach. Near the parking area you’ll find fire pits, barbecues and picnic tables. Kids of all ages build impressive driftwood castles, which make for lovely shelters against the sun and wind or to have a picnic in. Look for ancient Native American arrowheads, foxes and bunnies in the dunes above the beach. Even on the busiest days when you walk for a couple of minutes in any direction you will find yourself alone. Watch for Orcas, Bald Eagles, otters and seals. Please know that seal babies you might find on the beach are not abandoned. Their mom is just getting something to eat. Don’t touch or move them, please.
Don’t let the name scare you away from this hidden treasure. Located a mile before Lime Kiln State Park, you may either park right above the beach in an unmarked pull out or, if you miss it, park at Lime Kiln and hike the half a mile back along steep cliffs high above the sea. Deadman’s crystal clear water and perfectly semi-circular shape make you feel like you are in the Caribbean with the wrong trees. Practice your stone-skipping skills, watch for whales, let the puppy swim and explore the tide pools.
The wooded and hilly counter-part to American Camp in the north of the island has more preserved barracks than American Camp and a formal English Garden. Nestled on the grassy Garrison Bay with ancient fruit trees, the park has great picnic spots and hikes, bathrooms and a seasonally open Visitor's Center offering family activities and re-enactments of San Juan Island's occupation.
One mile from Friday Harbor, this lovely driftwood beach is the closest beach to town, offering access to the calm waters of Griffin Bay with picnic tables, fire pits, volley ball and a decent place for beginners to launch kayaks.
The so-called “whale watch park” on the west side of San Juan Island is the best place to watch Orcas from land in the entire nation. Orcas are present year-round, mostly seen from April through October, with the height of the season being July & August, when the Orcas frequently pass within yards of the shoreline once or twice each day. The park features lovely interpretive trails through old Douglas Firs and Madronas, has a historic light house, an interpretive center, a whale watching platform and a re-built lime kiln. The park is ADA and stroller accessible, has abundant picnic spots and is the place to be at sunset. You'll need a Discover Pass to park. There are bathroom facilities and the seasonally open Red Checkered Picnic for snacks and ice cream.
The 12 acre county park and campground on San Juan Island's west side is the best place to launch your kayak. There is a lovely, grassy bluff overlooking Haro Strait and two adorable pebble coves, great for spotting porpoises, Orca whales and watching the shipping channels. The movie "Practical Magic" was filmed here. Restrooms, picnic tables, fire rings, 20 campsites, boat launch & mooring buoys.
The 20-acre Sculpture Park near Roche Harbor shows over 150 sculptures along five trails winding through meadows, woods, along a natural pond and beautiful Westcott Bay. Kids are free and puppies welcome. There is a huge starfish shaped sandbox for kids and kids at heart to create their own art. Sign the Friendship Totem and write down a wish to put in the Tibetan wishing urns.