King Sisters Trail


Every day Dawn - Dusk


Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
Among the mountainous and rocky San Juan Islands there aren’t many valleys. Of these, the largest by far is the San Juan Valley that forms the central part of San Juan Island. Despite its size there are few trails allowing for the recreational enjoyment and exploration of this exceptional area. Fortunately, the King Sisters Trail makes available just such an experience.

Located on the northwestern border of the San Juan Valley, the King Sisters property provides revealing views to the south across the patchwork of farms, pastures, small lakes and hills that make up this pastoral landscape. The trail follows a corridor near the road but is not limited to pastureland. Circling around a small grove of tall evergreens, chortling ravens perched high in the branches can be heard if not seen. Further along, a rock outcrop with an open and sunny south facing exposure presents a representative setting of the native Garry oak savannah that at one time dominated nearly the entire island.

The trail and surrounding property bear the name of the most recent owners; four sisters, descendants of the early pioneering King family of San Juan Island (you can visit the furnished 1800s family home at the San Juan Historical Museum, see article this website). Now protected for agrarian purposes; the pastures, farmland and surrounding wildlife buffers will be preserved. Though visitors are kept separated from the active pasture land, signs of past farming activities can be found along the trail. Old wooden fences and gates made of local cedar and fir will remain for decades though increasingly hidden by wild brambles and shrubs. Along the rustic loop the numerous boulders scattered about are glacial erratics. While erratics may travel for hundreds of miles on glacial rivers of ice, these boulders most likely made their final move from the pasture to this location by way of horse drawn “stone sleds.”

The varied bird species flitting about between the trees, shrubs and open pasture are interesting as they find equally varied ways of flourishing in this diversified environment. In the distance, pocket-sized mountains, hills really, provide contrasting relief to the relatively flat valley. Two of these diminutive highpoints bear similar and appropriate names. Directly south is Little Mountain and a bit farther and to the east (left) is Mount Little. Scattered about the scene are small manmade lakes and ponds. Even at this distance and especially with binoculars it’s often possible to see the startling white forms of swans floating about or in flight as they move from one pond to another. Nearby, calmly munching their way across the open fields are small herds of farm animals, most often sheep.

For those with a bit of imagination, another vision may be inspired by this valley view. Probably nowhere else in the San Juans is there a better place to imagine the vast prairies and Garry oak savannahs that formed on the sediments freshly deposited by retreating glaciers. Slowly moving across this very same valley but devoid of houses, fences, barns, lakes and forests were herds of grazing animals. Not sheep, but giant wooly mammoths and bison. Bone fragments of these animals have been found in the islands revealing a time when grassland and not forest was the dominant island habitat.

While the majority of the activities to be found on San Juan Island are located near the shore, no understanding of island life, past or present would be complete without a visit to the San Juan Valley. A walk along the King Sisters Trail offers the opportunity to experience the natural tranquility to be found in this unique valley and for those with imagination, a view of island life from a very different time.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 6/30/2011


Follow Spring Street out of Friday Harbor. On the outskirts of town, Spring Street becomes the San Juan Valley Road. Continue about three more miles; the road makes a curve to the right (north) and shortly thereafter left (west again). You are now parallel to the trail but the easiest parking is another ½ mile farther to the three-way junction of San Juan Valley Road with Wold and Boyce roads. Find roadside parking but use caution crossing to the trailhead entrance.


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