There is a wealth of good reasons why travelers of all stripes recommend spending days on and around San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. These four islands offer the very best of the Salish Sea when it comes to natural attractions, outdoor activities, wildlife watching, and the pleasures of port: dining, shopping, and culture.
However, there’s much more to see around the San Juan Islands than these four main destinations. If you’re planning a boat charter around the archipelago, why not make the most out of your trip and explore its farther reaches?
Here are several islands you can only visit on a private charter.
Patos Island – named after the Spanish word for “duck” – is at the northernmost tip of the San Juan archipelago. While its name may come from an eastern rock formation that looks like a duck’s head, or the sight of so many ducks on the isle, the island’s most distinctive feature is the Patos Island Lighthouse. This fully restored, red-roofed structure has guided vessels through the boundary between the United States and Canada for over a hundred years.
Sail closer to shore, and you’ll begin to see the island’s other wonders. Park officials say sailing into one of its coves is like “landing on the moon.” Once the pebbled beaches give way to rocky outcroppings and then to a lush forest, you might agree that the views are otherworldly.
There are two mooring buoys on the west side of Patos Island. Given its isolation, you will have to check weather reports to know when to avoid mooring here. Otherwise, Patos offers plenty opportunities for boating, clamming, crabbing, fishing – and lighthouse touring. Your charter boat crew will know how to make the most of this out-of-the-way destination.
If Patos Island is the northernmost end of the San Juan Islands, Stuart Island is its northwestern arm. Accessible only by smaller craft, this destination is another paradise for people who want to find peaceful isolation, quiet outdoor activities, and majestic views through their boat charter.
Turquoise inlets, craggy coves, and blazing red sunsets are Stuart Island’s calling card. Harbor seals and killer whales might also come into your view, depending on the time of year you visit. And if you fancy the chance to imagine a different country just beyond your vision, there’s no better place to do that than Stuart Island. It is right by the U.S.-Canadian border and very close to the “foreign” Moresby, Pender, and Saturna islands.
Steer to the opposite end of the archipelago and you’ll find James Island, unassuming at its southeastern-most edge. The 113-acre marine park is remote and tiny, but it offers two white sand beaches, high bluff trails, and emerald coves – a perfect retreat for individuals wanting their private slice of paradise.
Salmon and bottom fishing are good around James Island, as are crabbing and oyster harvesting. Campers and hikers can also have their fill of 1.5 miles of trails, 13 campsites… and two toilets. When our schooner Spike Africa visits there, the crew will often opt to camp on land for the night, and guests often choose to join in the camaraderie. Everyone loves gazing out at Spike’s tall masts reflecting on the waters as the sun sets.
If you pay close attention while your boat charter sails around Saddlebag Island, you’ll understand why it is named just so. The coastline dips and curves just like a saddle, and all 6,750 feet of it features plenty of spots for fishing, crabbing, or simply mooring and immersing oneself in the pristine views.
Verdant forests and meadows, wildflowers on stony cliffs, and warm pebble beaches might be the first sights to entice you. Yet watch closely and you might witness the island’s other majestic sights: bald eagle and peregrine falcon, which commonly soar over Saddlebag’s vistas.
The island is so removed east from the main San Juan Islands that it is often mistaken to be not part of the archipelago. But it is – and it is worth every bit the extra mile.
Patos Island, Parks.State.WA.US
Patos Island Lighthouse, LighthouseFriends.com
Stuart Island, Parks.State.WA.US
James Island, Parks.State.WA.US