Most people arrive on San Juan Island by ferry into Friday Harbor, but there is so much more to the island than this charming town. At 621 square miles it is the second largest island in the San Juan Island chain. Only Orcas Island has more territory. San Juan Island is the most populous with a large portion of its over 6000 residents living in or near Friday Harbor, which is the county seat of San Juan County. Before the arrival of European settlers, native Americans inhabited the island and used it seasonally for salmon fishing. Tourism and government jobs have taken over from the more traditional jobs of early island residents who depended on fishing and farming. Computer jobs that allow people to work from home and live anywhere have contributed to a recent increase in the island’s population. As one of the 4 islands on the San Juan’s ferry route, San Juan Island is one of the easiest to visit. Places to stay include a resort, vacation rentals, and a campground. Friday Harbor has a large marina with transient moorage for those arriving by private boat. The island also has an airport for small planes within walking distance of Friday Harbor.
San Juan Island’s biggest claim to historical fame is the 1859 Pig War, in which the only casualty was a British citizen’s pig shot by an American farmer as it raided his potato patch. At the time the boundary between Canada and the USA was in dispute as to which side of the San Juan Islands the line was drawn – through Haro Strait giving the islands to the USA or through Rosario Straight putting them in Canada. Tensions escalated as each man went to their own government to settle the dispute bringing troops from both countries to the island. Both countries had bases on the island, now historic parks. Negotiations eased the tension, but it took another 12 years in which both countries maintained a presence on the island before the boundary dispute was finally settled by a German arbitrator in favor of the Americans as Haro Strait was the larger and more navigable of the two.
There’s much to see on San Juan Island beyond Friday Harbor. There’s another marina with transient moorage at Roche Harbor, which has views of Haro Strait and Canada, and a restaurant right on a dock. Roche Harbor Resort sits above the marina with its historical 1886 Hotel de Haro as well as many other accommodations. The resort also has remnants of ancient lime kilns, several eateries and some artist’s booths.
The resort was once the site of lime works and has other historical landmarks besides the hotel and lime kilns. There’s an old chapel, a pioneer cemetery and an old family mausoleum. There’s also a small village and some hiking trails. Kayak or whale watching tours are available at the marina. A sculpture park and the island’s only heated outdoor pool also reside in Roche Harbor. We stayed at Hotel de Haro once years ago when it had a much older look than in current internet photos. Back then the charming interior and furnishings looked old enough to be original to the place. That may not be the case any longer since there have been renovations between then and now. Even after remodeling most of the rooms still do not have private ensuite baths because back when it was built shared bathrooms were common in hotels. Despite having to walk down the hall for a bathroom it was a fun place to stay and the expansive grounds had lots of different things to explore.
Besides English and American camps, which make up the San Juan Island Historical Park, the island also has another state park called Lime Kiln Point State Park and a county park with a campground. Cattle Point Natural Resources Conservation Area also has trails, a lighthouse, and beach access. The county park has day use areas as well as campsites. It also has beach access, a boat launch, flush toilets, and picnic facilities.
American Camp on the southern end of the island still has native grass prairies, once common, but now a rarity in the region. It also has a visitor’s center with exhibits, a book store, and a summertime ranger program. English Camp has historical buildings and gardens from the time of the British occupation and also has summertime ranger programs.
Lime Kiln Point State Park is a 36-acre day use park, most popular for watching whales and other wildlife. The park has trails, restrooms, and a seasonal interpretive center. Light house tours and a gift shop are available in the summer.
Things to do on the island include hiking trails, nature and wildlife tours, whale watching, museums, a lavender farm, alpaca farm, and shellfish farm. Bicycling is popular there. People who walk onto the ferry or otherwise arrive on the island without a car can still get around. San Juan Transit provides public bus service to major points of interest around the island as well as charters and guided tours.
Small ship cruise lines such as Uncruise Adventures make port stops in Friday Harbor.
Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
all photos in this post are from the internet