NW Trails: Monumental Hiking in the San Juans

NWTrails_0914StuartIsland_1

Stuart Island

Story and Photos by Craig Romano

Photo at right: View of BC’s Moresby Island and Salt Spring Island from ledge at Turn Point.

Westernmost of the San Juan Islands and nearly surrounded by Canadian waters and islands, 1,786-acre Stuart Island is a ways from mainland Washington State. There’s no ferry service here, and I imagine the island’s year-round population of about 40 finds that much to their liking.

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Stuart Island is a place you escape from modern civilization—not a place you bring it with you. The island is traversed by a couple of public dirt roads and contains one of the last one-room schoolhouses in the state.

While most of Stuart is private property, there are two good-sized public tracts of land located on each end of the island. If you’re looking for one of the best hikes in the San Juans—one that’ll have you reeling in the island’s natural beauty and catching a taste of its laidback lifestyle—consider this adventure from Stuart Island State Park to Turn Point within the new San Juan Islands National Monument.

Unsurpassed views from Turn Point

International boundary post at Turn Point.

The westernmost point in the San Juan Islands, Turn Point sits at the convergence of Haro Strait and Boundary Pass. Unsurpassed views of the nearby Gulf Islands, impressive forest, coastal ledges and a historic lighthouse, make this unit of the monument a beloved destination for many an island hiker.

 

You’ll need your own boat or a friend with a boat (or you can hire a water taxi) to get to the start of this hike at the Reid Harbor Dock at Stuart Island State Park. From the dock, walk up the steep dock ramp to a junction. Then turn left and start hiking through the beautiful 85-acre Stuart Park State Park which straddles a narrow forested ridge separating Reid Harbor from Prevost Harbor. Following the Prevost Loop Trail, walk across a series of ledges above Reid Harbor to a junction.

Bear left and descend 100-plus steps to a marsh where a trail will lead you to a dirt county road coming from Reid Harbor. Now follow the road uphill beneath a thick emerald canopy coming to Stuart’s one-room schoolhouse (one of the few remaining in the state). If school is not in session, feel free to check out the original schoolhouse—now a museum—next to the newer schoolhouse. A souvenir shirt honor-pay kiosk, one of a couple on the island can be found here, too.

A pair of hikers enjoy a picnic lunch at Turn Point.

Then continue down the road reaching a junction. Bear right and follow a pleasant road, staying right at two side roads both leading to the island’s cemetery. Pass a wetland and a beautiful farm coming to a T-junction. Right leads a short way to a public dock on Prevost Harbor offering an amazing view of Mount Baker. For Turn Point, turn left continuing on dirt road. Shortly after passing a very primitive airstrip, you’ll enter national monument land.

 

On March 25, 2013, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating approximately 1,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) properties within the San Juan Islands as the San Juan Islands National Monument.

He did so by utilizing the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to set aside public land as parks or conservation areas by executive order; this powerful instrument has been used many times before by presidents from Theodore Roosevelt (who established the first national monument) to George W. Bush (who established the largest national monument).

Stuart Island’s old one-room school house is now a museum.

While this new national monument is comparatively small, it is historically, culturally and ecologically significant and had long been sought by many islanders and area conservationists. About 60 separate sites encompass the new monument. Many of the properties are small islets and former site of lighthouses. But several parcels are sizeable, offering excellent hiking and exceptional scenery, including Turn Point on Stuart Island.

 

Now within the monument, hike around some ledges and steeply descend. Pass a short spur leading left to a ledge with good viewing over Haro Strait—before coming to the Turn Point Lighthouse grounds. Pass the beautiful keeper’s residence first before reaching the 1893-built lighthouse sitting precariously on a cliff above churning waters.

History aside, this spot is fascinating for observing wildflowers, marine traffic, marine life (look for whales and pelagic birds) and maritime views which include: B.C.’s Vancouver, Sidney, Moresby, Salt Spring, Pender, and Saturna islands. Linger long on the lighthouse lawn, perfect for lunch breaks before heading back to your start on this monumental adventure.

Getting you on your way

Trip Details

Distance: 6 miles roundtrip

Trailhead Directions: Boat needed to access island or arrange water taxi (Friday Harbor’s San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tours www.sanjuanislandwhales.com offers reliable service) to trailhead at Reid Harbor Dock at Stuart Island State Park.

Notes: If you want to spend the night, the state park offers moorage (13 buoys) and a nice campground (18 sites). Respect all private property on the island.

Contacts: San Juan Islands National Monument; Spokane District Office BLM (509) 536-1200; www.blm.gov/or/districts/spokane;
Washington State Parks www.parks.wa.gov

Craig Romano is Trails Editor of OutdoorsNW and is the author and co-author of 12 Northwest hiking guidebooks including just released Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands (The Mountaineers Books), which includes 136 island hikes. Visit him at CraigRomano.com

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2 Comments

  1. Marcia deChadenedes, Monument Manager, 2 years ago

    We’re glad to hear of your enthusiasm for the San Juan Islands National Monument and one of the remarkable resources, the Turn Point Light Station. That lovely lighthouse was is awful disrepair only short years ago but has had benefited from an enormous amount of sweat equity by the Turn Point Lighthouse Preservation Society, tplps.org. Our great partners also manage a docent program and on-site museum through the summer season.

    The Monument’s office is at 37 Washburn Place, Lopez Island. 360-468-3754. We look forward to seeing you on the islands!

    Reply
  2. Sally Reeve, 2 years ago

    The Resource Management Plan for the San Juan Islands National Monument is under development. Citizen input is needed to help BLM determine how to manage these lands.

    The Monument Advisory Council (MAC) will hold its first meeting October 29-30 in Friday Harbor. There will be a period for public input, and the public can also submit comments to the MAC. Whether a local or a visitor, please participate in the process for determining management of these special places.

    http://www.blm.gov/or/rac/sanjuanac.php

    Reply

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