Turn Island State Park
San Juan County
San Juan Island
Two miles southeast of Friday Harbor
Every day Dawn - Dusk
Turn Island is a small marine park that gives you a surprising amount of nature while only a short distance from the commercial center of the San Juan Islands. Located off a point of land only a couple miles southeast of Friday Harbor and facing a shoreline of residences, Turn Island is remarkable in not having been developed. Its name is derived from the sharp turn required of boat captains as they maneuvered large vessels through the San Juan Channel. Today there’s still a lot of boat traffic but it can be more interesting than annoying and much of the larger boats pass by on the heavily forested northeast side of the island. Due to the early appreciation of its natural beauty and ecological value, Turn Island was designated a Fish and Wildlife Sanctuary, one of only two that allow public entry (the other is Matia in the northern San Juans). Possibly because of its past use and the difficulty in maintaining its sanctuary status, people are allowed to land, hike, and even camp on parts of Turn Island.
Circling the island is a nearly one mile trail that provides peek-a-boo views. Located off the north, east, and south shores are biological monitoring areas, some having been studied for nearly 100 years. Research vessels frequently conduct sampling in these areas. Be careful of your footing on this trail, often skirting closely to the edge, especially on the steep eastern shoreline, it would be easy to be distracted by your surroundings and trip into the sea or rocks below. The trail passes through interesting forest of Madrona and fir trees, some of which are quite large. One of these trees supports a decades-old eagle nest which is occupied in the spring and early summer. At one point a large somewhat rounded boulder is encountered. There is seemingly no logical source for this large rock, the summit of Turn Island being only a minor 100 feet high. The boulder is actually foreign, deposited here during one of the great glacial events that repeatedly covered this area of Puget Sound with ice, in some locations more than a mile thick. Retreating glaciers left remnants of broken mountains that had been scraped and pushed south, sometimes for hundreds of miles. This type of transported boulder is known as a glacial erratic.
On the northern part of the island a few specimens of Garry oak fringe a tiny grassy bald. Once extensive on San Juan Island, only small stands of this wonderful tree remain. This patch is a tiny illustration of the large grassy savannahs that once shared the hillsides with the widely spaced and lacey branched Garry oaks.
Spring in the islands comes early but as late as May or even June you’ll often find fresh bursts of wildflowers fringing the island and rocky outcrops. Turn Island is a wonderful place to visit and for those prepared for primitive camping; a pleasant and relaxing place to spend the night. So close to the services of an urban environment and yet maintaining its natural setting; Turn Island is worth a visit any time of the year.
Turn Island State Park can be approached by boat from a number of directions. Nearby launches for paddlers include: Turn Point Park ¼ mile; Friday Harbor 2 ½ miles; and Jackson Beach 3 miles.
Sandy Beach | Camping
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San Juan Islands