Pelican Beach Trail
San Juan County
Every day Seasonal
This trail serves as the sole land connection between popular Pelican Beach and the rest of the Cypress Island trail system. Additionally, it is the only access to the trailhead of the famous Eagle Cliff Trail (for description and seasonal closures see article this website).
A segment of the Pelican Beach Trail traverses through the northern unit of the Cypress Highlands, Natural Area Preserve (NAP). In the State of Washington, an NAP designation affords the highest level of protection for a natural area. These are areas managed for the perpetual protection of rare species and outstanding ecosystems native to Washington State. Therefore it is unusual and a special privilege for the public to be provided recreational access into this area. From saltwater to rocky summits a series of native habitats, some seemingly untouched by human interference are sprinkled throughout the preserve. Grassy balds, wetland pockets, and nesting raptors are the highlights but a complex ecosystem interconnects all these elements in ways that even today are not fully understood.
Beginning at Pelican Beach the trail quickly switchbacks up away from the shore entering the dark forest. Soon the trail takes advantage of an old road grade, its origins as a rough jeep trail barely recognizable. Tall stately trees and open understory are signs of a maturing forest and make for pleasant though uphill hiking. Before long the trailhead for the Eagle Cliff is reached. Be sure to observe seasonal closures and exclusion of pets. Continuing on, the trail grade eases as the forest makeup also changes. Patches of sunlight dapple through the canopy and conifers give way to mixtures of deciduous trees and shrubs. The understory also increases. What is lost in view is made up for in complexity of plant and animal species. A wetland provides a froggy chorus during much of the year. Birds flit about the shrub borders giving more opportunity for the birders to observe their quarry. Some of the large trees fringing the trail are exceptional. A huge cottonwood sports giant burls on its swollen trunk and a great cedar somehow hides behind the ephemeral branches of little shrubs.
When you reach the fork you are only yards from the end of the trail and its junction with the Duck Lake Loop Trail. You have nothing but choices. To the right a gentle grade uphill brings you to Duck Lake a large open pond with waterfowl, pond lilies, and the ruins of an old cabin. To the left, downhill, is the beautiful setting of Eagle Harbor. Other than staying on the established trails your only limits are your time, energy and personal interest. Whichever way you go, nature is sure to provide more interesting sights and experiences for you to enjoy.
The trail begins at the Pelican Beach Campground and ends at its junction with the Duck Lake Loop Trail which has connections with Eagle Harbor and the rest of the Cypress Island Trail system.
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San Juan Islands