San Juan Islands: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Location of the San Juan Islands
Major islands in the San Juans. Those served by the state ferries are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Shaw Island and Lopez Island.

The San Juan Islands are a part of the San Juan Archipelago in the northwest corner of the continental United States. The archipelago is split into two groups of islands based on national sovereignty. San Juan Islands are part of the U.S. state of Washington, while the Gulf Islands are part of the Canadian province of British Columbia. There are over 450 islands in the entire archipelago at high tide, but fewer than one-sixth are permanently inhabited.

In the archipelago, fifteen islands are accessible by public ferry. Public ferries serve nine Gulf Islands and six San Juan Islands.



The islands were part of the traditional area of the Central Coast Salish. Linguistically, the Central Coast Salish consisted of five groups: Squamish, Halkomelem, Nooksack, Northern Straits (which includes the Lummi dialect), and Klallam. Exploration and settlement by Europeans brought smallpox to the area by the 1770s. In 1843, the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Camosun at nearby Vancouver Island.

The 1846 Oregon Treaty forced by President Polk established the 49th parallel as the boundary between Canada and the U.S., except in the San Juan archipelago. While both sides agreed that all of Vancouver Island would remain British, the treaty wording was left vague enough as to put the boundary between modern-day Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands in dispute. Conflicts over this border led to the Pig War in 1859. Skirmishes continued until the boundary issue was eventually placed in the hands of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany for arbitration. The border was finally established in 1872.

The name "San Juan" was given to the San Juan Islands by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza, who charted the islands in 1791, naming them Isla y Archiepelago de San Juan. The expedition sailed under the authority of the Viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo and Eliza named several places for him, including the San Juan Islands and Orcas Island (short for "Horcasitas"). San Juan Island itself was first discovered (by a European) by one of the officers under Eliza's command, Gonzalo López de Haro (for whom Haro Strait is named). The Spanish had found the islands a year earlier during the exploring voyage of Manuel Quimper on the Princesa Real, but it was not clear that they were islands.

Subsequent explorations of the region by the British, under George Vancouver, and the Americans, under Charles Wilkes, resulted in many of the Spanish names being replaced with English ones.

Vancouver's expedition occurred within a year of Eliza's, and Vancouver encountered other Spanish ships and traded information. Thus Vancouver knew of the names given by Eliza's expedition and tended to keep them, although he renamed some things, like the Strait of Georgia. Wilkes, sailing in 1841, had some British charts, but may not have been aware of the Spanish names and charts. He liberally gave new names to nearly every coastal feature not already named on the charts he had. The names Wilkes gave tended to be patriotically American (heroes of the War of 1812 for example), or to honor members of his crew.

In 1847, due to the confusion of multiple names on different charts, the British Admiralty reorganized the official charts of the region. The project, led by Henry Kellett, applied only to British territory, which at the time included the San Juan Islands but not Puget Sound. Kellett systematically kept the British and Spanish names and removed nearly all of Wilkes' names. In some cases Kellett moved Spanish names around to replace names given by Wilkes. Thus in Puget Sound itself, the names given by Wilkes are common and Spanish names rare, while the reverse is true for the San Juan and Gulf Islands (although the Spanish did not explore Puget Sound as thoroughly as the British and Americans, resulting in fewer Spanish names to start with).

Wilkes had given the name Navy Archipelago to the San Juan Islands, and named individual islands for distinguished officers of the US Navy, such as Rodgers Island for San Juan Island, and Hull Island for Orcas Island. Some of his names survived the editing of Kellett, such as Chauncey, Shaw, Decatur, Jones, Blakely, Perry, Sinclair, Lawrence, Gordon, and Percival, all named after American naval officers.[1]

San Juan Islands today

One of the San Juan Islands at Night

Today, the San Juan Islands are an important tourist destination, with sea kayaking and orca whale-watching by boat or air tours, two of the primary attractions. Part of the charm that attracts tourists and residents to the San Juan Islands is that each island seems to have a character of its own, both in terms of geography and of the lifestyle of the people who live there.

Politically, the bulk of the San Juan Islands make up San Juan County, Washington, though some of the furthest east of the islands are in the mainland counties of Whatcom and Skagit, including Lummi, Guemes, and Cypress Islands.

The majority of the San Juan Islands are quite hilly, the tallest mountain being Mount Constitution at almost exactly a half-mile (800 m) elevation (see Orcas Island), with some flat areas and valleys, often quite fertile, in between. The coastlines are a mixed bag of sandy and rocky beaches, shallow and deep harbors, placid and reef-studded bays. Gnarled, ochre-colored madrona trees (Arbutus) grace much of the shorelines while evergreen fir and pine forests cover large inland areas.

The San Juan Islands get less rainfall than Seattle, about 65 miles (105 km) to the south, due to the rain shadow of Olympic Mountains to the southwest. Summertime high temperatures are around 70 °F (21 °C) while average wintertime lows are in the high thirties and low forties. Snow is infrequent in winter except for the higher elevations, but the islands are subject to high winds at times—those from the northeast sometimes bring brief periods of freezing and Arctic-like windchills.

Beginning in about 1900 the San Juan Islands became infested with European rabbits, an exotic invasive species, as the result of the release of domestic rabbits on Smith Island. Rabbits from the San Juan Islands were used later for several introductions of European rabbits into other, usually midwestern, states.


Three ferry systems serve some of the San Juan Islands.

Passenger-only ferries serve more islands. Passenger-only ferry service is usually seasonal and offered by private business.

San Juan Airlines and Destinations

  • Kenmore Air (To & From: Roche Harbor, Orcas Island, Seattle/Boeing Field, Seattle/Lake Union)
  • San Juan Airlines (To & From: Anacortes, Bellingham, Eastsound (Orcas Island), Lopez Island, Blakely, Decatur)

The San Juan Islands

See also


  1. ^ Phillips, James W. (1971). Washington State Place Names. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95158-3. 

External links

Coordinates: 48°34′N 122°56′W / 48.56°N 122.94°W / 48.56; -122.94


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The San Juan Islands[1] are a scattering of forested islands in the serene waters to the north of Puget Sound in Washington state, adjacent to British Columbia. Ferries, private boats, kayaks, and orca (whales) criss-cross the waters, while float planes and bald eagles soar overhead. The islands are largely rural, with a few small towns on some of the islands. The year-round population is small, but swarms of summer visitors come to for the scenery and outdoor life, and a lucky and wealthy few have vacation homes tucked into the islands.


There are about 700 islands and reefs between Vancouver Island to the west and the mainland to the east. The sea border in the Haro Strait divides them into the Southern Gulf Islands of Canada to the west, and the San Juan Islands of the United States to the east. To the south lies the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and to north is the Strait of Georgia and the US-Canada boundary on the 49th parallel.

176 islands are large enough to be named. The four largest — Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, and Shaw Islands — are served by ferry from the Washington mainland, and are the most heavily visited.

For our purposes, this article covers the US islands only, which exactly consist of San Juan County[2], Washington. Fidalgo Island to the east is treated as part of the mainland. It and the Puget Sound islands to the south are covered in the Puget Sound region's article.

Cities and Islands

The islands are mostly rural, with only a few towns large enough separate coverage. An article thus general covers an entire major island, perhaps with some of the surrounding small islands as well.

  • Washington State Ferries [3]
  • Kenmore Air [4]

Get around

Lots of bicycles and walking, but mostly cars.

The San Juan Islands are the most popular sailing charter area in the Pacific Northwest. This is a good chartering area for beginners; the waters are reasonably protected even in storms off the Pacific. You can find independant information on yacht charters in the San Juan Islands at

  • Orcas Island has an amazing view atop Mt. Constitution of the Cascade Mountain Range and the Olympic Mountain Range. There is a near 360 degree view from a stone tower built by the public works of the Rosevelt era (a cell phone tower makes it less than 360 degrees, but still worth it). Gene Hackman, Miller of the skiing films fame, Oakley Sunglass owner all have vacation homes here. It is a paradise and home to some 3500 people. In the spring the J Pod Orca whales are in the area.
  • Friday Harbor, the main city on San Juan Island, the most populous of the San Juan Islands, and the county seat of San Juan County.
  • Roche Harbor, on the northwest corner of San Juan Island, is the number two town and a bustling yachting harbor. It has floatplane service to Seattle.
  • San Juan Island National Historical Park - here in 1859 the United States and Great Britain nearly went to war over a dead pig
  • Orca Whale Watching from Sea Kayaks Biologist guides lead tours to the prime orca whale watching waters. Abundant seals, eagles, and other marine wildlife. Tour lengths range from a half-day up to 2, 3 and 5 day camping trips to the smaller islands. 360-378-5767 or 888-589-4253, Kayaking with Orca Whales in the San Juan Islands
  • Birding and Bird-watching Tours Local bird book author/biologist Mark Lewis guides birding tours throughout the San Juan Islands, home to 300 species of birds. Tour lengths from half-day to full day to multi-days. 360-378-5767 or 888-589-4253, Birding Tours in the San Juan Islands
  • Fresh Seafood including fish (especially salmon), dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels and clams are readily available. If you're foraging for yourself, make sure there's no red tide.
  • Earthbox Motel (Friday Harbor Lodging), 410 Spring Street Friday Harbor WA 98250 (Anacortes, Washington is a roughly 90-minute drive either north from Seattle, WA or south from Vancouver, B.C. Canada. From Interstate 5, take exit 230 following Highway 20 West to Anacortes Washington. Freeway signs will also mention the San Juan Island ferries. Drive through Anacortes, following signs to the San Juan Island ferries (turn left at the stop light next to the Safeway grocery store and follow that road roughly six miles to the docks).), 360-378-4000, [5]. Upscale "motor lodge" feeling motel. Specials often available.  edit
  • Port Angeles - Connected by Port Angeles Boat Haven [6] and charter flights from Fairchild International Airport [7]
  • Port Townsend
  • Sequim - Connected by John Wayne Marina [8] and Sequim Valley Airport
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SAN JUAN (or HARO) Islands, an archipelago (San Juan, Orcas, Shaw, Lopez, Blakely, Cypress, &c.) lying between Vancouver Island and the mainland of North America. These islands were for many years the subject of dispute between the British and the United States governments, and were finally assigned to the latter country by the arbitration of the emperor of Germany (on the 21st of October 1872). Geographically the cluster certainly belongs to the mainland, from which it is separated by Rosario Strait, generally much under 50 fathoms in depth, while Haro Strait, separating it from Vancouver Island, has depths ranging from ioo to 190 fathoms. In 1873 the islands, formerly considered part of Whatcom county, Washington, were made the separate county of San Juan. Of the total area of 200 sq. m., about 60 are in San Juan, 60 in Orcas and 30 in Lopez.

See Papers relating to the Treaty of Washington, vol. v. (Washington, 1872), and the map in Petermann's Mitteilungen (1873).

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