Reuben Tarte County Park

Northeast San Juan Island, Reuben Tarte Road off of San Juan
Friday Harbor , WA 98250


Every day Dawn - Dusk


When Reuben J. Tarte sailed his yacht Clarey into Roche Harbor in 1956 he was only looking for a safe place to anchor his boat. Through an unlikely friendship with Paul McMillin, the surviving and reclusive son of the founder of the famous limestone works; Reuben Tarte purchased and began developing the dilapidated ruins into the fanciful and popular resort that it is today. This small park, named after him, offers the public the rare opportunity of accessing the north shore of San Juan Island and enjoying the views of the waters and islands to the north.

Located down a darkly forested steep access road is a delightful rocky headland splitting the shoreline into two small pocket beaches. Day trippers both on land and by small craft enjoy the clean gravely beaches. Tortured trees, shrubs, and grassy flats provide a romantic setting enjoyed by picnicking humans and a wide assortment of wildlife. Some of the intricately shaped rocks lining the headland are limestone, laid down in warm tropical seas of the Triassic period. These shallow lenses of limestone extend below the surface offering a rich substrate for marine plants and animals. Divers enjoy exploring these formations and the dense kelp beds that make up this steeply dropping shore. Even landlocked visitors can see some of this deeper marine life. The nearby confluence of three major channels, Spieden, President, and San Juan can throw unusual specimens onto the beaches here. Enjoy looking at them but don’t disturb, not only for ecological reasons but some of these specimens include species of jellyfish that can give you a nasty sting.

While enjoying your views of the natural world keep an eye out for interesting boat traffic including the Victoria bound ferry which passes by during its summer runs. Don’t be surprised to see kayakers launching or landing from the park. As an identified trailhead for the Cascadia Marine Trail they too like to take advantage of this public access on the north side of the Island. The human use of this cove goes back quite a bit further in time. This area of San Juan Island is the birthplace of the Lummi Peoples as told in the creation story or the First Man Legend. Over the centuries, native people have come here to gather sustenance from the sea. Camas bulbs were also harvested and in the spring you can still find their pale blue flowers scattered among the grassy openings.

The uplands on either side of the park are private but the views to the north are not. Standing on the headland as you look to the northwest, your left, try to pick out small Sentinel Island, the last legally homesteaded island in the San Juans. Behind it is much larger Spieden once famous for its exotic animals. Just beyond Spieden and a little more to the left is Stuart Island the most northwestern of the San Juan Islands and the U.S. To the north and northeast, your right, you might be able to see the distant but characteristic shape of small Flattop Island and the much closer and larger Jones Island a State Park. Behind them, the hump of mighty Orcas Island rises to the sky. To your far right is private O’Neal Island, the closest island to the park. While enjoying the island views don’t forget about the Orcas. Riding by on the mixing currents during the tidal flushes their seemingly carefree behavior is a thrill to watch. It’s hard to believe that not that many years ago Orcas were considered by many to be man’s greatest danger in the sea. Filmed near this very spot and in nearby Roche Harbor, Namu, was the first film to portray Orcas’ true nature. Coincidentally, one of the film’s stars was Clara Tarte, Reuben’s wife, making her first and only film appearance.

While the park’s small size and the perception of its remoteness may keep the throngs away; those who make the effort to visit will be rewarded with an intimate and unique island experience. Diverse in wildlife and geology, expansive in scenery, steeped in recent history and ancient culture; Reuben Tarte Park delivers all that it promises. With your back to the steep green forest and your eyes open to the sea; this is a place to feel the limitless mystery of the San Juan Islands.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 9/10/2009


Sounds more complicated than it is. From Friday Harbor drive out of town on Roche Harbor Road. In about 8 miles turn right on Rouleau Road. In a mile, turn right on Limestone Point Road, then in less than a mile at a “T” turn right on San Juan Drive and watch for the "Beach Access" sign and parking lot on left in less than ½ a mile. Park here and walk down or drive down and drop off passengers and return to parking lot. Trailers and large RV’s are not allowed due to steepness and very limited turn-around room.


Copyright 1998-2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED