West side San Juan Is, ¾ mile north of Limekiln State Park
Friday Harbor , WA 98250


Every day Dawn - Dusk


The obvious centerpiece of the Wetlands Loop Trail is Westside Lake. Partly visible from the road, the large gravel roadside pull-out is all the encouragement you need to explore this unusual island feature. The lake has formed in the trough marking the geologic collision of two completely different landforms. Situated below the steep slope of the higher ground, a nearly vertical cliff in places, sunlight is restricted for much of the day. However, when the angle of the sun aligns with this elongated body of water, the sunlight reflects brilliantly off the lake’s surface and joins the dappled gold illuminating the dark surrounding forest floor. Shallow for most of its extent, the lake is not known for its fishing but the shallowness becomes an advantage for many of the waterfowl which seem to especially appreciate their freshwater paddle and the protective forest buffer.

The trail from the parking area drops down then takes you on a short wander through the cool marshy woods before curving back to let you enjoy natural blinds and peek-a-boo views at the lake’s wild visitors. A surprising number of bird species use this habitat of lake, forest, and shrub border. Originally this had been a marshy wetland environment that only occasionally formed a shallow lake during the wet cool winters, often disappearing completely during the dry summer months. But as most permanent bodies of freshwater in the San Juan Islands, this one was also created by human intervention. The dam originally intended to establish a controlled water supply for human activities has since become dedicated to wildlife dependent on the presence of a permanent lake. While some of the species of plants, birds, and subterranean creatures have been exchanged it is none the less a rich and special habitat.

Given the largely deciduous nature of the lakeside shrubs and surrounding forest, seasonal visits provide a wide range of contrasting experiences. The fall and winter leaf loss opens views, spring brings erupting colorful buds and forest wildflowers begin to bloom, summer features cool moist shade. The time of day also offers differences in the observable wildlife. Morning chirping and territorial posturing are easy to hear among the woodland bird community. Waterfowl will take turns as they go about their different daily cycles of foraging and resting. Cool mornings and evenings encourage amphibians to come out for their walkabouts and in some cases to "sing." During the warm mid-days of summer, updrafts against the cliffs bordering the lake often form. Through breaks in the forest canopy, you’ll frequently see large birds soaring at the high edge of these steep walls taking advantage of the lifting air. If their soaring appears effortless and especially if it seems circular then you are probably viewing vultures which like so many visitors come to enjoy the warm and bountiful summer months in the islands.

Beyond the lake, the outfall stream follows the line of landform collision. Through this narrow deep gorge like setting the stream continues down to Deadman Bay to the south. The perennial nature of this cascading freshwater stream and its dark moist environment provide a habitat unique on this side of the island.

Though the Wetlands Loop Trail is short, this special ecosystem can provide even the casual botanist, birder and zoologist a rich experience. For those wanting a longer hike, look no further than across the street from the parking area. A convenient connecting trail allows entry into other parts of the Limekiln Preserve and Limekiln State Park.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009


Driving south on the West Side Road, look for a glimpse of the lake on the left through an opening in the forest and shrub border. A little further and at 1 ¾ mile south of San Juan County Park (at Smallpox Bay) look for the gravel parking pullout on the left, the lake side of the road. Driving north on West Side Road, the parking pullout is about ¾ mile north of the entrance to Limekiln State Park.


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