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Ten Best Parks of the San Juan Islands

Ten best San Juan Island parks
      Picking the best of anything is asking for an argument but I thought folks planning a visit would benefit from the discussion.

     Let's start by listing my choices in order of best first, first because they have overnight docks,  followed by some pros and cons and a few real world comments.  (hopefully I haven't omitted your favorite)  Keep in mind, we go to all the parks and don't dislike any but  there is no doubt some parks are five star and some are not depending on what we are doing or the weather during that particular cruise.
     For a more detailed review of the San Juan area marine parks including maps try this post.  marine parks
    • parks with docks
      • Jones Island   
      • Matia
      • Fossil Bay on Sucia 
      • James Island
      • Stuart Island  (Prevost & Reid Harbor)
      • Sharpe Cove and Cornet Bay at Deception Pass
    • parks without docks
      • Saddlebag Island
      • Pelican Beach
      • Turn Island
      • Eagle Harbor
      • Cypress Head
      • Patos
      • Sucia   (Echo and Shallow bays)
      • Spencer Spit
      • Odlin County Park  (has 2 hr dock)
      • Clark Island
      • Doe Island
      • Obstruction Pass
      • Sidney Spit Marine Park (Canada) (has overnight dock)
      • Washington Park  (launching ramp only dock)
      • San Juan County Park
      • Shaw Island Park
    1. Jones Island is my number one choice and here's why.
      • bigger but not biggest dock
      • protected bay 
      • great dinghy beach with a couple tidepools
      • anchor buoys and lots of room to anchor
      • running water and four nice nearby composters
      • hiking the many loop trails at Jones never gets boring
      • tiny deer, many tame, are unique to Jones
      • dock is very close to camp sites for evening fires
      • close to Deer Harbor for supplies
      • crowds sometimes
      • long ways back to the mainland
      • open to north wind
      • no bicycle trails
         2.   Matia Island never disappoints us.

      • very small intimate dock for four boats
      • usually room when we arrive
      • small protected bay holds about four more boats
      • great gravel beach
      • multiple coves for beachcombing
      • puffins, seals and eagles and great sunsets
      • unique rain forest one mile or less loop trail
      • somewhat close to Squalicum Harbor (2-3 hours)
      • restroom at top of gangplank
      • Matia is a peaceful quiet special place

    click here for the rest
      • small reversing current at dock
      • no fires allowed, this is the only park we know of that is campfire restricted. You old timers will remember they used to allow fires at Matia.
      • no water
      • small dock may be full
      • only one maybe two campsites
         3.  Fossil Bay - Sucia Island

      • two long docks
      • running water
      • close by restrooms
      • one campfire ring at top of gangplank
      • miles of excellent hiking
      • large anchoring area with buoys
      • bicycle friendly roads and trails
      • excellent protected kayaking
      • large bay does not protect from wind
      • muddy beach not dinghy friendly
      • most campground fire pits are long walk and may be occupied
      • swampy areas full of mosquitos
      • attracts wild party type boaters
      • very popular sometimes too crowded
      • excursion boats drop off large tour groups commercializing what could be a quiet visit
         4.  James Island

      • very close to Anacortes
      • protected bay with small dock
      • second semi protected bay with buoys
      • three campgrounds
      • good hiking
      • view of Rosario strait
      • kayaker only campground
      • nice gravel beaches (3)
      • often crowded or full dock
      • no water
      • anchoring encounters currents
      • sometimes foggy
      • for the unwary, the healthy raccoon and otter population are a little too in your stuff if you're not careful 

         5. Prevost Harbor Stuart Island  (also see Reid Harbor)

      • good sized docks
      • running water
      • fairly large protected bays with lots of anchoring room
      • trail hiking and turn point lighthouse museum
      • orca watching from turn point can be spectacular
      • shoreside campground
      • easy commute to/from Roche harbor
      • easy dinghy access to county dock at Prevost Harbor
      • kayak campground at head of Reid Harbor
      • both bays are very popular, sometimes crowded
      • long ways back to Anacortes or Bellingham
      • strong currents on both sides of Stuart Island

         6. Reid Harbor Stuart Island
      • Prevost and Reid Harbors are essentially the same park, each with its own bay and dock but joined at the narrow isthmus and sharing the same campground.  Note that even though they are next to each other, it takes an hour or so by boat to travel around the island from one to the other.

         7. Saddlebag Island (where we have had special times)

      • Very small island park off the beaten path and yet only two miles from Anacortes
      • easy kayak access
      • small two boat protected bay, but anchoring outside bay is usually calm as well
      • wooded small campground, some waterfront
      • picturesque shoreline hiking
      • convenient Swinomish channel access
      • location on east side of Rosario Strait makes Saddlebag a handy storm refuge
      • no water
      • small single toilet
      • bay and beach catches stinky seaweed
      • small two boat bay

         8.  Sharpe Cove - Deception Pass

      • Small dock
      • well maintained park grounds
      • beach and tidepools of Rosario Beach are famous
      • hiking to Deception Pass bridge
      • water
      • Flush type restrooms
      • convenient place on the outside of Deception Pass to wait for tide change
      • lots of people due to vehicle access
      • no campfires 
      • shallow water at half the dock
      • may be foggy for days

         9.  Cornet Bay - Deception Pass

      • large dock
      • all tide 24/7 boat ramp with lots of long or short term parking
      • flush style restrooms
      • hiking/walking
      • grocery store
      • semi protected dock and anchor area but subject to wakes
      • good convenient place inside the pass to wait on tide change
      • four lane boat ramp creates lots of people and boat traffic
      • long term trailer parking cost adds up but is convenient
      • lots of people fishing from docks
      • excursion boat foot traffic on dock
      • campground is not near, campfires are not possible
      • little beach
        10. Odlin County Park - Lopez Island
        • Odlin Park is a unique oddity in the San Juan's and deserves special mention because it has a dock for two hour tie ups plus it is an excellent county campground with some waterfront or wooded or hiker/biker sites.
      • vehicle access for meeting up or dropping off friends
      • twenty minute bike ride into Lopez Village while anchored or at dock
      • other than the two resorts in Fisherman Bay, Odlin is your best choice for off loading bikes for touring Lopez Island
      • five minutes by car to Ferry landing
      • minimal sandy and shallow launch ramp
      • okay dinghy beach
      • water and flush bathrooms
      • anchor buoys

      • anchoring or using buoys is rolly polly all night, all day, due to heavy Friday Harbor traffic. We have never enjoyed sleeping on the boat at Odlin and even dragged one miserable long night.
      • very popular campground, reservations are a must

       11.  Patos Island

      • not far from Sucia
      • last jump off point for heading to Vancouver
      • lighthouse museum tours
      • one excellent concrete trail from waterfront
      • semi protected bay but can get some wind
      • nice woodsy campground sites
      • very nice dinghy landing beach
      • good picnic area with fire rings
      • sometimes very few people
      • actually is a little far north
      • smallish hiking loop trail is not much to see or ?
      • smallish anchor area can get crowded but works okay
      • small current with tide changes

       12. Pelican Beach - Cypress Island
      • Free DNR park
      • ADA compliant composters
      • beachfront campsites with fire rings and tables
      • free anchor buoys
      • located east side of Rosario Strait makes kayak access from mainland easy
      • great trail system and hike to Eagle Bluff
      • lots of skipping rocks on beach
      • park is popular and may be full both onshore and offshore
      • firewood is becoming scarce requiring longer hikes for gathering
      • nearby passing boat wakes can be annoying at anchor but settle down after dark

       13.  Cypress Head - Cypress Island
      • semi protected bay with  three buoys and room to anchor
      • excellent sandy dinghy beach
      • picturesque campsites
      • access to Cypress island trail system
      • located on east side of Rosario Strait and close to Washington Park and Anacortes 
      • campground on point can get windy
      • winds and waves funneled into cove can get annoying 
       14.  Echo Bay - Sucia Island
      • huge anchor area in protected bay accommodates biggest boats 
      • okay dinghy beach provides access to composters and large trail system
      • large group fire rings on beach
      • great kayaking and dinghy sailing/exploring
      • no dock
      • anchoring must be outside eel grass area making  dinghy runs to beach and restroom longer
      • very popular

       15.  Shallow Bay - Sucia Island
      • well marked narrow entrance channel
      • awesome sunsets
      • China Caves and access to beachfront campgrounds and trail systems
      • subject to wakes and waves from Strait of Georgia
      • shallow a long ways from shore makes dinghy access difficult and wet feet
      • location requires circling to far side of island adding travel time

         16.   Spencer Spit - Lopez Island


      • convenient drive by park between Anacortes and Friday Harbor
      • very large anchoring field with lots of buoys on both sides of sand spit so one side is always sheltered
      • mostly protected from wakes due to Frost island
      • decent dinghy beaches
      • water and flush toilets
      • they rent bicycles at the park for using on Lopez island roads

      • very popular so sometimes there are too many people and boats
      • walk to shore bathrooms after dinghy ride is way too far
      • lugging bikes from boat and into dinghy and then through a 1/4 mile of sand is a pain (simply go to Odlin park for biking)
      • vehicle access so there are crowds on shore during season
      • not much to do or see except walk around state park campground roads
      • it usually is windy because Spencer Spit sticks out into Lopez Sound

        17.   Turn Island

      • very close to Friday Harbor (less than a mile) makes dropping off campers or running to store easy 
      • quick kayak access
      • anchor buoy and easy anchoring   
      • beachfront campsites

      • some currents and some reefs
      • subject to wakes due to Friday Harbor traffic
      • no water
      • possible crowds

      18.  Clark Island

      • close to Bellingham and SqualicumHarbor
      • both waterfront and nice secluded woodsy campsites
      • anchor buoys
      • sandy beaches on both sides
      • good sunsets
                 Cons:   (overnight stays on boat are not recommended if windy weather is forecast)
      • unprotected buoy field and no dock
      • buoy field and anchored boats are subject to high winds and dangerous waves from Rosario Strait, dinghy access to or from shore may be difficult or impossible at times.
      • no water
      • no hiking trails
      • seems to be lacking maintenance
      • location in middle of Rosario Strait can get very windy on shore or anchored

       19.  Obstruction Pass

      • Campground is very secluded in woods
      • vehicle and bicycle access on Orcas Island
      • one anchor buoy (maybe)
      • picturesque place for short hikes
      • close in central location
             Cons: (overnight stays on boat not recommended)
      • lee shore makes anchoring risky
      • subject to wakes from passing traffic
      • shore is littered with driftwood making it hard to secure dinghy
      • subject to wind and waves from the south (common)
      • hard to spot from offshore
        20. Washington Park (city park in Anacortes)

        • Washington Park is a very important park for certain boaters because it is one of two mainland parks where you can camp and launch your boat or just launch and leave your car in the parking lot for a week or more. Deception Pass is the other.
      • easy one mile walk or bike commute to ferry terminal
      • really nice bathrooms and showers near dock
      • shortest distance from mainland to Friday Harbor or Cypress Island
      • lots of woodsy campsites but reservations are a good idea
      • many campsites have room for boat trailers
      • No overnight stays at dock
      • Guemes channel location makes anchoring subject to wakes
      • trailer parking lot may be full during peak weekends due to day use boaters (arrive on a Monday or Tuesday and/or plan on using ferry terminal long term lot as back up)
          21. Sidney Spit in Canada

      • great jump off or waiting for weather spot when crossing Haro Strait
      • long dock
      • large buoy field
      • easy flat hiking
      • on shore picnic shelter
      • only eight miles across Haro Strait to Roche Harbor
      • very popular with locals from Sidney

    This is not all the parks and docks we use in the San Juan's.  For those of you that need a list of docks but not park docks try this list  docks only