West Side Scenic Preserve


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


Every day Never Closes


The Westside Scenic Preserve is a unique area on San Juan Island for visitors and residents alike. The road passes close to the shoreline but high on the bluffs allowing travelers to enjoy the vantage point of wondrous views of the island coastline and the big waters of Haro Strait. On clear days your views across the strait will include the Canadian Gulf Islands and even the mountainous backbone of Vancouver Island. Hidden from sight but directly across from you is Victoria, one of the most historic cities in Western Canada.

When the seas are calm it’s not unusual to see pods of Orcas cruising up the coast. While not as close as waterside viewing locations, this perspective is no less interesting. From these high bluffs, you can see the full arrangement of the pods, almost an aerial view. Other species of whales can also be found. You should keep a sharp lookout for whales traveling in mismatched pairs. Not uncommon in the spring, mother Gray whales can be seen leading their calves north. This will be the baby’s first trip since being born in the Gulf of Mexico the previous winter. Easy to tell them from their cousins the Orcas, the Gray whales are larger and have no dorsal fins; they also like to flip their huge tails in the air when they dive.

Above you, the slope becomes the shoulder of Mt. Dallas, the tallest peak on San Juan Island. In the early days of the introduced sheep ranching, young men, boys really, would set out every morning on horseback wildly challenging this terrain to care for their flocks. It’s hard to imagine climbing let alone galloping up and down these steep slopes.

While the established paths from the parking pull-outs are few, the open grassy hills make the viewing and not the walking the focus of your visit. Glacier scraped bedrock outcrops are abundant, framed in the grass and the widely spaced trees and shrubs of the hillside. In past times, the grass was extensive and the widely spaced trees were the fabled Garry Oaks. This grass and Garry Oak habitat formed a unique fire resistant environment. Surviving rather than dampening fires, the plants and animals evolved with the seasonal grass burning. Today this Garry Oak habitat has become rare and efforts are underway to reestablish and maintain it but without the need of wildfires. If you look closely some remnant oaks can be found near the pull-outs.

This open terrain is also a favorite of raptors and while the Bald Eagle is the most common eagle in the San Juans, this is a good place to look for the Golden Eagle. Though appearing slightly smaller than the Bald Eagle, the Golden is much more of a hunter. These large, shimmering, all black eagles take advantage of the open terrain and steep slopes when searching for their prey.

While not available for close-up viewing, where the land meets the sea, there is a rich abundance and variety of marine life. Birds and animals come and go, attracted to these tidepools and shallow pockets protected from human entry by the dangerous steep bluffs. This abundance provides visitors a wealth of wildlife viewing from the safety of the roadside pull-outs. For a beautiful scenic drive and one of the most expansive coastline views in all the San Juans, experience the Westside Scenic Preserve.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009


The best approach is to drive south on the West Side Road. Continue past the tight hairpin turns at Limekiln State Park and then Deadman Bay. Soon the scenery expands as you reach the high exposed bluffs overlooking the Haro Strait. A series of water-side pullouts allow you to stop. Be careful when merging back into traffic on this popular scenic road.


Copyright 1998-2022 Kulshan.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED