Griffin Bay Marine State Park

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Review

This small isolated campground is located on the south end of San Juan Island facing the relatively calm waters of Griffin Bay. Accessible only by water, it is a welcomed overnight stop for paddlers cruising the Cascadian Marine Trail through the islands. With limited camping options in the area, its location is greatly appreciated by paddlers. Within a short distance the nearby northern beaches and habitat rich lagoons of American Camp provide plenty of wildlife observation and exploration. This site also provides a useful staging ground to prepare and wait for a suitable opportunity to cross the sometimes turbulent and exposed waters of the San Juan Channel. Among the campsites, one or two are usually open for any boater but the rest are reserved for paddlers, reflective of their lack of options in the area. For larger boats with greater draft, the promise of a couple of mooring buoys (when placed) is seldom accepted due to the threat from numerous submerged rocks and rotted pilings near shore. With so many better options available to faster powered boats this campsite is seldom used by them.

Approaching the campground the easiest visible marker to look for is the Halftide Rocks, less than a ½ mile distance from shore. From them the park is nearly due west and a little south. A lone piling just offshore possibly studded with birdhouses is another good indicator. Above the steep bank a State Park sign should be visible, and if not weathered a high-visibility reflective strip may also be seen. The reflective strip can be a welcomed but hopefully seldom used aid to those unfortunate enough to be searching for this site in the dark.

If approaching by way of Halftide Rocks, look for basking marine mammals and perched sea birds. This collection of rocks is a protected area so do not approach too closely or disturb the animals. Additionally, the area immediately surrounding the rock is in nautical terms “ugly.” This refers to the presence of unseen rocks and remnants of pilings that may unexpectedly be encountered. Another reason to take a moment to contemplate these small rocks concerns a story from the smuggling era. At one time a great deal of money was available to those willing to smuggle illegal immigrants from China into the U. S. Many stories, some verified, are told of the atrocities that the smugglers committed while avoiding detection or capture. On one dark moonless night, while fleeing a government boat, a smuggler forced his human cargo onto these very rocks in order to escape. They remained huddled here with nothing more than the rags on their backs for many days before being discovered by a passing ship and rescued, nearly dead with starvation and exposure. Looking at these rocks, it begs the question, how long could you survive in similar circumstances? About a half mile south, a lone rock can barely be seen. Its name, North Pacific Rock, is also the name of the ship that “discovered” it on another dark moonless night.

The landing that you face when approaching the shore is completely dependent on the tides. During mid to high tide you can expect to get fairly close and find patches of gravel. The lower the tide, not only are you further from shore but the number of rocks increases making landings (or launchings) a bit more bothersome. Once on the bank, picnic tables can be found, a nice amenity for day trippers or campers. While there may have been a hand pump at one time, drinking water is not available and must be brought with you. Campsites are first come, first serve. Though few in number (only three or four) there are two choices, near the shore or inland near the toilet facilities.

A faint trail leaves the grassy shore area and heads up the gentle slope toward the inland camp sites. Growing brushier with time it is an illustration of the natural transition that the vegetation is making here. In the recent past, the area was a well grazed sheep pasture. Now with the stock excluded, dense shrubs including snowberry, roses, and invasive hawthorns have been moving in. In growing clumps, young pines and fir trees are becoming established forming the beginning of a young forest. On the gentle slopes a patchwork of pocket salt marshes, upland prairies, and dense forest can be found. Birding in the shrub and tree borders is very good, possibly another factor in deciding where you camp. The upland and shoreline on all sides of this narrow (only 330 ft of shoreline) but long 15 acre park is private so do not trespass. All the views and wildlife observations that the area has to offer can be had within the park boundary and adjacent waters.

While visiting the park, offshore viewing offers interesting boat traffic using the San Juan Channel and rafts of birdlife floating about when the bay is calm. The famous marbled murrelets can often be seen here both fishing and resting particularly while foraging for their nested young some of which are a 40 mile flight away. The exceptional protection of the bay was a factor during the 1800s for the navy to designate it as a “Harbor of Refuge.” At that time the battle strategy was to run from superior naval cannons and hide undetected among the islands waiting for better opportunities. The bay itself is named however for Charles John Griffin a manager of the Hudson Bay Company. He supervised trading, farming, fish processing, and ranch activities in the Cattle Point area in the 1850s. He was reportedly held in high esteem for his fairness by both Native and European clients. Long before this time, the area’s bountiful riches were gathered by Native Peoples. Evidence suggests human occupation as far back as 10,000 years indicating the ability to adjust to dramatic climatic and environmental changes.

Today Griffin Bay Marine Park offers small boat enthusiast the chance to rest, explore and enjoy this special area within the San Juan Islands. Natural and human history is abundant, requiring nothing more than informed observation and a little imagination.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009

Directions

The only access to this park is from the water. The park is located on San Juan Island, on the lower southwest shoreline of Griffin Bay. When approaching from the north it is about ½ mile south of prominent Low Point. A good visible marker are the Halftide Rocks about a ½ mile offshore, nearly due east and a little north of the park’s shoreline. Look for a lone piling and State Park signs above the bank. Low tides may offer rocky difficulties when landing.

Features

Camping | Fishing | Picnic Area | Picnic Tables | Restrooms

Map

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