Every day Never Closes


Pelican Beach is the most popular beach on Cypress Island. With a long forgiving shoreline, beachside camping sites, boardwalk access to restroom facilities, picnic tables, interpretive signs, and unlimited marine views to the east why shouldn’t it be. While the hiking and restroom facilities are open year-round for day use the overnight camping is restricted to the summer months between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. This schedule has been set not only for budgetary reasons but in consideration for the impacts to wildlife due to the island’s increasing recreational popularity.

Unusual in the islands and adding to its popularity is the desirability of Pelican Beach to a wide range of users. Kayakers often find it to be the perfect first and last night on a longer tour when launching from Anacortes. Cruising powerboats and yachts make use of the mooring buoys and drop by for a daytime visit or even an overnight stay. Sailors with boats of all sizes enjoy the beach friendly access as well as the mooring buoys. In fact, the name Pelican refers not to the distinctive bird with the huge bill (Pelicans are not commonly seen in the San Juans) but rather to a small sailboat design called a "Pelican." The local Pelican sailboat club made this beach the location of annual outings, improving the facilities through volunteer labor over many years and is largely responsible for the campground’s existence today.

Behind the beach, a parallel slough forms from mixtures of exceptionally high storm tides, rain and ground water seepage. This brackish strip of water while limited in size is exceptionally rich in wildlife. Birds and mammals congregate here particularly in the quiet winter months, enjoying the somewhat hidden brackish habitat and yet having ready access to the saltwater shore. Their tracks in the soft sediments leave a visible record of who was recently visiting. To the south and north, the beach is eventually cut off by the steep rocky shoreline. Occasionally, low tides will encourage beach walkers to head north toward the point but this is not advised. Not only is the upland a protected wildlife preserve but rising tides can quickly trap unwary or uninformed beach travelers on this rocky and isolated coast. Besides, with over 25 miles of hiking trails there are quite a few places to visit before becoming bored.

This beach and campground are located within the northern unit of the Cypress Highlands, Natural Area Preserve. Because of the importance placed on protecting the natural elements there are a few restrictions in addition to the seasonal campground closure. Land travel is restricted to foot traffic and only on established trails; and pets must be leashed at all times. From the beach, the Pelican Bay Trail connects visitors with the rest of the Cypress Island Trail system. Common hiking destinations from this beach include Eagle Cliff Trail, Eagle Harbor, Duck Lake, and Smuggler’s Cove. There are a couple of cautionary notes when visiting or camping at Pelican Beach. There is no drinking water available; and for campers, especially paddlers, the campground can become full quite easily during the most popular times and unless a reservation system is in place you may find yourself needing a backup plan for a camping location.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 3/9/2010


Pelican Beach is located on the northeast shore of Cypress Island approximately midway between the northern tip of the island and Eagle Harbor to the south. It is clearly visible from the water.


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