One of the most popular places to go for locals is the San Juan Islands, which are one of the most beautiful places in the state in my opinion. If you haven’t been to one of these islands yet, you’ll want to put it on your Washington State bucket list. A relaxing ferry ride will take you away from the mainland and to one of the stunning islands, where you can embark on one of the many San Juan Island hikes.
I go to at least one of the San Juan Islands once a year when I need a quiet break away from the city. While I enjoy visiting the small boutique shops and wine tasting at local wineries, it’s also an ideal place to get some exercise via San Juan Island hiking.
Whether you come here for a Seattle day trip or a Seattle weekend getaway, you’ll want to check out some of these hikes in the San Juan Islands to add to your itinerary. While this list doesn’t cover all the hikes on all the islands, these are the best San Juan Island hikes for visitors.
Tips for San Juan Islands Hikes
Here are some tips to know to help plan your trip.
- Make your ferry reservation in advance. These islands require a ferry reservation, and you’ll need to get yours to and from the islands at least a few months in advance. There are a small number of walk-up slots available, but I wouldn’t count on that, or else you could be stuck for the night.
- Stay for at least one night. You can come to one of the islands just for the day, but that’s going to be a long day. Instead, let yourself relax after your hiking and book a hotel for the night. I love Discovery Inn on San Juan Island or Otter’s Pond Bed and Breakfast on Orcas Island.
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What to Bring When Hiking the San Juan Islands
To ensure you have a good time doing the San Juan Islands hiking trails, here are a few essentials I recommend bringing with you.
- As always, bring your trusty lightweight hiking shoes, as the terrain is uneven in places.
- Be sure to pack a waterproof raincoat, as the weather in the Pacific Northwest can change quickly.
- While the San Juan Islands’ hikes are relatively short, you’ll need to bring a water bottle to keep hydrated.
The Best San Juan Islands Hikes
The San Juan Islands archipelago is home to various islets, all boasting their own splendor worth exploring on foot. I’ve covered the most prominent hiking trails you can’t miss while exploring the islands.
San Juan Island Hikes
This eponymous islet has some of the most scenic trails on the archipelago, including the following.
Tip: If you’re spending longer than a day here, check out my guide on what to do on San Juan Island.
Lime Kiln State Park
Address: 1567 West Side Rd, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Mileage: 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 265 feet
This 36-acre day-use park is a quintessential island hiking spot that features on any list of the best things to do on San Juan Island. The family-friendly trail brings you into contact with dense forests, a historic lime kiln, and mossy cliffs. Also known as Whale Watch Park, visitors to the park have a chance to see several whales.
From the parking lot, follow the trail that leads to the 1919 lighthouse, which still guides ships today. Once there, use your binoculars to gaze at the whales as they navigate the waters or just admire the scenery. There’s also a gravel path lined with madrona trees that add a touch of lush beauty to your Friday Harbor hikes.
Descend the steep steps north of the lighthouse to trek your way to the lime kiln that got the park its name. Here, you can enjoy the soothing sounds of water burbling against the rocks, and you can also see the impact mining of lime had on the cliffs.
The trail that leads south of the lighthouse is another path worth hiking. Follow it, and you’ll end up at Deadman Bay, another whale-watching spot that hugs the shoreline. Deadman Bay is still around thanks to conservation efforts dating back to 1997, so be sure not to damage the environment in any way (for example, carving on the trees).
A short walk alongside cliffs leads back to the parking lot from Deadman Bay on one of the best San Juan Islands hikes.
English Camp National Historical Park
Address: Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Mileage: 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
English Camp National Historical Park, also on the San Juan Island Friday Harbor area, is home to lush greenery and a plethora of wonderful trails. Of all these, I recommend the Mt. Young trek for the unrivaled panoramic views found at the summit.
From the parking lot, follow the signs that lead to the trailhead. While short, this island hike is steep to the tune of 600 feet. Views aren’t the only thing to see here, with wildlife like bald eagles, woodpeckers, and hawks that draw alongside the lush forestry.
The trek is straightforward for the most part, with colorful wildflowers and oak trees lining the path. Trade that beautiful scenery for something a little more eerie with a short detour to the English Camp cemetery before getting back on course.
At the top of the mossy summit, you’ll find what I think more than makes the journey worth the effort. You’re spoiled with scenic views of Vancouver Island, Garrison Bay, Pearl Island, the Canadian Gulf Islands, and more at the peak. Soak these up while enjoying a picnic, or take pictures to jazz up your Instagram.
Orcas Island Hikes
If you’ve got your hiking boots on tight and are gearing up for a challenge in the Pacific Northwest, you won’t go wrong by choosing to visit Orcas Island.
Mileage: 6.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,409 feet
Hardcore hikers rejoice; the Mount Constitution hike is here to feed your hiking appetite. This trail takes place in Moran State Park, Washington’s largest park, and offers the highest point of the San Juan Islands at the top.
There are several trailheads to begin your island hike, with this guide starting in Mount Lake. From here, trek forward, and you’ll come across Little Summit, where stunning views await. Continue the hike, and you’ll be spoiled with views while walking through wooded hills.
While there are some detours along the way, they don’t hold much in terms of beauty, and I encourage keeping on the trail. Once you reach the summit, you’ll see why so many people make the hike here—some choose to drive up—and why you’ll be surrounded by company.
Soak up the views here courtesy of the observation station modeled after a medieval watchtower. As the archipelago’s highest point, you’re spoiled with views of the lake, Lummi Island, Sucia Island State Park, and more islets.
Hike back down to the beginning via a trail that also has a detour to the Twin Lakes and its magnificent views on one of the most popular San Juan Islands hikes.
Obstruction Pass State Park
Address: 860 Trailhead Rd, Olga, WA 98279
Mileage: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 305 feet
Take your hiking boots to the 76-acre Obstruction Pass State Park for something less strenuous. The park is home to three trails, some of which loop together and bring you across a beach and trees.
Of the three trails, I recommend looping the central and Highlands trail (left side) together, beginning on the central trail. As you start your trek, stop by the interpretive signs to learn about the geology and significance of the park and Orcas Island.
The leisurely hike starts with a descent past madrona and western redcedar trees and others that you’ll identify using the signage on display. Continuing forward, you’ll stumble across a campsite you can make your temporary home, but only if you are one of the first ten there.
Also near the campsites are unobstructed views of Obstruction Pass and a detour to a beach with mellow waters. Continue your journey onto the Highlands trail, where you start climbing and can come across various wildlife.
After moderate climbing, the path takes you back to your original trailhead.
Mileage: 2.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 860 feet
A hike up to Turtleback Mountain offers outstanding views of the surrounding greenery and the quiet waters below. The mountain is home to various trails and can be divided into a south and north side, with the south my recommendation. The north has former logging roads and is ideal for biking or running rather than leisurely walks.
The South Trail takes you through Garry oak woodland, where you’ll come upon a fork. Take a right at this intersection towards Morning Ridge Trail, where you can also see Mount Rainier miles away (which is why it’s one of my favorite San Juan Islands hikes).
Carry on forward, and you’ll reach the West Overlook trail, which offers views of Deer Harbor and West Sound in the background. At the summit, you’re spoiled with views of the East and West Sounds along with Mount Constitution. The entire trail has several benches for you to catch your breath or re-energize with a quick snack.
Head back down to the Lost Oak Trail from the summit, where detours with water and valley views await.
Lopez Island Hikes
Lopez Island is home to gentle topography, making it an easy choice for one of Washington’s best places to enjoy hiking trails. There are also many other things to do on Lopez Island once you’re done hiking.
Mileage: 2.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 535 feet
Lopez Hill is known as the heart of Lopez Island, and for a good reason. The 400-acre hill is home to seven trails, each offering diverse splendor to all visitors.
Depending on where you start, you can combine these to reach the top of the hill. The regulations here allow you to bring your dog, so long as it’s on a leash. Smoking is discouraged due to prior fires.
Start your journey at the Lopez Hill Trailhead just off Lopez Sound Road, with the Burnt Stump Trail your first path. Ascend the prairie land along a narrow road, continue forward, and take a left onto the Hook-up trail a few miles from the start.
That short linking route leads to the Rainbow trail, which took inspiration for its name from a tree that’s curved like a rainbow. Walk amongst moss-covered trees and greenery for a short while before turning right on the 3 Cedars trail.
As the name implies, you’ll come across three cedars and wildflowers during spring, making it somewhat of a must-do Washington spring hike. That path leads to the Hilltop trail, which will be on the left side of the next intersection and leads to the summit.
While not at a high elevation, you can still enjoy the Strait Juan de Fuca views in the south. You can also feast your eyes on the pleasant greenery of trees and grassland, along with moss-covered rocks.
Shark Reef Sanctuary
Address: Shark Reef Rd, Lopez Island, WA 98261
Mileage: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: 40 feet
Lopez Island is one of the best islands for hiking easy trails, with Shark Reef Sanctuary one of the easiest ones. Spanning 0.5 miles each way, it’s the perfect short hike and has a great final destination to marvel at. The relatively short distance combined with wide walkways make it ideal for just about anybody; just beware that it can be a little muddy.
Start your hike at the Shark Reef Nature Trail, which is set by Shark Reef Rd. From there, enjoy a quiet walk through the forest populated by various flora, with eagles commonly soaring above.
This forest trail leads to a rocky shoreline with cliffs and moss-covered rocks, where you’re spoiled with stunning views over the water. Whichever direction you look, you can see sights of Mount Rainier, North Cascades National Park, Deadman Island, and the like.
The vista also offers visitors plenty of opportunities to see sea lions and otters playing in the waters. Despite the name, there are no sharks to be seen. You can head back to the trailhead in the same direction you came from.
Mileage: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: 102 feet
South of Lopez Island is the 80-acre Hummel Lake Preserve, which is home to the island’s largest freshwater lake. The area also boasts a fishing dock, a mesmerizing lakefront shoreline, and a few trails.
Begin hiking on the Washington island from the parking lot by Center Road. The parking lot can accommodate only five cars, so move swiftly if you’ll be coming here via car, or you may find no parking.
If you’re an avid angler, start hiking north through cedar forests and open fields until you reach the lake. You have the chance of reeling in species like bluegill and largemouth bass.
While the freshwater lake may seem inviting enough to do so, swimming in the lake is strictly prohibited.
Another trail from the parking lot is the three-quarter-mile path leading through a second-growth forest dotted with cedars and Douglas firs. This peaceful green haven is often quiet, with higher chances of coming across deer than other hikers. End your trek at Port Stanley Road and make your way back to the parking lot.
Which one of these hikes in the San Juan Islands hikes are you most excited to go on?