San Juan County
Every day Never Closes
Strawberry Island appears to float like a ship at anchor off the southwest shore of Cypress Island. This coast of Cypress provides few places for paddlers and other boaters to access dry land. Whether circumnavigating Cypress or crossing the big, busy and current laced waters of Rosario Strait, Strawberry Island is the preferred and most popular landing for human powered watercraft.
The rock and pebble strewn southern end of Strawberry is hooked giving limited protection from winds, waves and current but the landing requires attention and doesn’t provide a lot of room for larger parties. Used as a primitive campsite in the past, the island is now restricted to short day visits and fires are never allowed. The local wildlife enjoys the seclusion that this now provides; the exposed rocky end of the island providing an ideal pull-out for marine mammals that enjoy its availability as much as the human visitors.
The little island has a backbone. A sharply defined ridge thickly forested with lush undergrowth and small trees. The steep slopes falling into the sea on either side provide almost no flat land to explore beyond the landing site. Sometimes, by choice or accident, deer will swim across Strawberry Bay from Cypress for their own visit. After a time, when the most delectable browse has been nibbled away, they’ll return the same way they arrived. Joining them on occasion but only for short visits, otters use this little island like a swimmer’s float. The shallow, mud bottom of Strawberry Bay filling the space between Cypress and Strawberry is rich with plant and animal life. The eelgrass beds provide a wonderfully varied menu for all sorts of creatures, many even less often seen than the playful otters.
Named for the wild strawberries found growing profusely along the shores of Strawberry Bay, the island grows its own crop as well. These tiny but extremely flavorful berries are relished by all creatures, two and four legged alike. So highly prized by early sea explorers that this is one of the few cases where captains of different countries agreed, in principal at least, on the name of the island. Locally it was once known as Loon Island due to the presence of pairs of these strikingly beautiful birds that came here each year. Now the loons are rarely seen; and this former name like the birds themselves has faded away. The name Strawberry Island has also led to some historical confusion. Stories of smugglers, "dark lamps," and exciting night chases on the water have sometimes been erroneously associated with this island; but these accounts refer to a different Strawberry Island located much farther south, inside famous Deception Pass behind Whidbey Island.
Whether paddling a long tour around Cypress or needing a brief rest with the crossing of Rosario Strait, little Strawberry Island will be a welcomed sight. If you arrive earlier than June, it may even live up to its name, but you’ll have to look closely. Be kind to the wildlife, and leave a few berries for them to enjoy; maybe they’ll also want to return for another visit.
Strawberry Island is located about a half mile off the southwest shore of Cypress Island directly across from Strawberry Bay.
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San Juan Islands