1567 West Side Road
Friday Harbor , WA 98250


Every day 8:00 AM - Dusk


Smallpox Bay. What a name! The sound of it is enough to turn the cautious person away; and what a shame that would be; because Smallpox Bay is one of the safest and most welcoming places on the southwest coast of San Juan Island.

The story behind the name is written in the sad and seemingly inevitable history of the meeting of the European and Native American cultures. Smallpox long a recurring illness of Europeans was a terrible disease but not nearly as deadly as it was to the Native Americans who had never encountered it. Smallpox leads to a critically high fever and it is not rare that native cultures suffering from this burning torment sought relief in the nearest cold waters. How wonderful it must have momentarily felt to slip into the year-round frigid Northwest waters, cooling their raging fevers. Sadly, the short-lived respite was nearly always followed by death from pneumonia and other complications.

Despite its infamous name, there is no better refuge for small craft from the deep exposed waters of Haro Straight along the southwest shore of San Juan Island. Adjacent to San Juan County Park, this is a popular place for campers, paddlers, divers, fishermen, and picnickers. The small bay is tightly formed and the cliff like northern shore is protective rather than frightening. The head of the bay opens pleasantly onto a gravel and sand beach making it ideal to launch or land hand carried watercraft. This site is included in the Cascadia Marine Trail that links campsites throughout the San Juans and Puget Sound.

From the protective waters of Smallpox Bay small craft boaters, sailors, and paddlers can cautiously venture out into the big waters. To the north around the sharp entrance to the bay, a marine sanctuary is preserved on Low Island as part of the extensive San Juan Island National Wildlife Refuge. Seals, shorebirds, and nesting gulls make their home here. This wildness and the deep waters also increase your chance of seeing orca pods (family groups) traveling along the coast. Resident orcas that live here year round enjoy the fishing and will often come close to shore where the fish are forced up into tighter surroundings. During seasonal migrations, humpbacks and other whales may be visible.

The winds and cold maritime influence of this coast can make the warm often sunny bowl of Smallpox Bay especially enjoyable. This is a good place to rest and enjoy the surroundings, whether on foot or on the sea you’ll not want to pass up a visit to pleasing and comforting Smallpox Bay.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 7/22/2009


From the ferry dock in Friday Harbor; continue through town on Spring Street, in about a mile take a left on Douglas Road. Continue to a right-hand bend in the road; at this point the name changes to Bailer Hill Road. Follow this road to the coast where it turns north, parallels the shore and becomes the West Side Road. Go past Lime Kiln State Park; in another 2 miles come to San Juan County Park, turn into the entrance on your left. Smallpox Bay is directly in front of you, continue to parking.


Copyright 1998-2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED