West side of San Juan Island, south of Limekiln State Park
Friday Harbor , WA 98250


Every day Dawn - Dusk


From the lower whale viewing trail in Limekiln State Park, a narrow rather nondescript trail branches off to the south along the coast. This short trail, much less traveled, provides a delightful way to visit Deadman Bay just around the corner. Beginning in forest the trail wanders on the edge of the steep cliffy bluff with its narrow tread crossing small grassy balds frequently spotted with wildflowers in the spring and early summer. Continuing around, the spacing between the trees opens up and eventually you’ll find yourself walking below beautiful ruby colored Madrona branches seemingly reaching for the sea. The views along this short trail come at the price of exposure so for the short distance you’ll hike, stop to enjoy the views, and then carefully walk on. It would be much too easy to turn around to a companion to exclaim at a whale spouting or some other wondrous site only to walk off the bluff taking an unplanned dive into the water and rocks below.

Orca watching (or more accurately marine mammal watching because other species of whales and dolphins also travel this coast) are the prime attraction but there’s a great deal of other wildlife to observe from the trail. From this vantage you can view the vertical cliffs forming the southern end of the bay. In the proper light and season various seabirds can be seen perching on these cliffs using them as aerial launching sites to drop down either into the water or out across the strait. Drifting by in small rafts other birds can be seen taking advantage of the currents and steep slopes absent of people. Murrelets, Murres and even Rhinoceros Auklets frequent this area.

The open terrain and deeply indented bay awakens your curiosity to explore. But before dropping down to the bay take a final look from this higher perch. The view south along the cliffs dropping into the sea can not be seen from either the road or the nearby Westside Preserve (see article this site). Above you and somewhat landward is the cliffy west face of Mt. Dallas, the highpoint of San Juan Island. Here the vultures congregate; seeking the warm summer lifts of air, they hop from island to island searching for the best thermal updrafts. This is their favorite location on San Juan Island. Viewing them from below, you can distinguish them from their similarly large cousins the eagles by the two toned black and grey coloring on the underside of their wings and their characteristic habit of effortlessly circling on the thermals seemingly with no destination in mind.

The serenity of Deadman Bay conflicts with its ominous name. Formerly a native village for salmon fishing its modern name has several possible origins. Some have suggested it was named for the discovery of the washed-up body of a victim of the notorious smuggling of human cargo which was once very active in these waters. Others point to the sensationally reported story of the killing of a nearby pioneer family. You can explore these and other possibilities further at the well illustrated exhibits of the San Juan Historical Museum in Friday Harbor. Today, the natural peace so abundant at this bay may explain why the origin of this conflicting name has so quickly become muddled in the historic record.

Beyond the bay and this end of the trail you have two basic choices of travel. Either return the way you came, or continue up the connecting trail to the road hairpin above the bay. Cross the street with a careful eye to fast moving vehicles coming around the sharp corner and continue hiking on the Upland Trail eventually returning to Limekiln State Park. Whichever way you decide to go, try to save a little time to savor the serenity and views along the Deadman Bay Trail. You can never be sure what fascinating creatures above and below you might come into view on any given day.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009


The trail is located on the south side of Limekiln State Park on the west side of San Juan Island. Access the trail from either Limekiln State Park or a very small roadside parking pullout on the road hairpin ¼ mile south of the Park entrance; be extremely careful pulling in or out at this location.


Copyright 1998-2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED