Monthly Archives: May 2015

Experience Pristine Islands: Visit the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Photo Courtesy of topratedtravel.net

Photo Courtesy of topratedtravel.net

The San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge consists of 83 small islands that are scattered throughout the San Juan Archipelago. These 450 acres were designated as a wildlife refuge in order to protect colonies of nesting seabirds, but they also attract a variety of other wildlife, such as bald eagles and harbor seals. For the protection of the animals, most of these islands are off-limits to visitors, although for wildlife viewing purposes you can get as near as 200 feet from the shoreline in a boat. Only two islands included in the refuge allow limited public access: Matia and Turn islands.

Matia Island is located north of Orcas Island and east of Sucia Island. Of its 145 acres, only two, surrounding Rolfe Cove, are designated as a camping area. Because of its status as a wildlife refuge, pets, wood collecting, and campfires excepting those in camp stoves are all prohibited. The island features a pier, a moorage float, and two moorage buoys. Use is first come, first served. In addition to the 6 primitive campsites, the campground offers a composting toilet. No potable water is available. The wilderness trailhead is also located at the campground, which is a 1.2 mile loop through the interior of the island, which is otherwise closed to the public.

Turn Island is a 35-acre marine park located near the eastern shore of San Juan Island. There are three mooring buoys available for public use near the cove on the northwest harbor. Turn Island has 12 campsites. As with Matia, pets and fires are not permitted, although campers may bring camp stoves.

Both of these islands offer exceptional opportunities to view the San Juan Islands as they were before human development, and a stop at one or both of these parks would be a highlight of your charter.

Lime Kiln State Park

Photo Courtesy of stateparks.com

Photo Courtesy of stateparks.com

Lime Kiln State Park is a must-see stop for every whale enthusiast visiting San Juan Island. It is also known as the “whale-watching park” and is one of the best places in the world to watch for orca whales from shore. Due to the steep underwater topography, salmon and other prey fish are driven right up against the shore, and hungry orcas will sometimes approach to within 10 feet of the rocky beach while feeding. Visitors with a keen eye may also be able to spot minke whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters, and bald eagles as well. Peak whale watching season is May through September, although June and July are the most likely months for spotting whales. Check the board outside of the interpretive center for updates on when the whales were last seen in the area.

Photo Courtesy of staceyleekerr.com

Photo Courtesy of staceyleekerr.com

Lime Kiln’s 36 acres is located on the west side of San Juan Island, and overlooks Haro Strait and Vancouver Island. The park is crisscrossed with a network of easy to moderate walking trails weaving through a madrona forest. You can see an original lime kiln that was used on the island around the turn of the century to convert limestone to lime, a material used in the production of cement. Another popular attraction in the park is the Lime Kiln lighthouse, which was built in 1919 and serves as a navigational beacon for ships in Haro Strait to this day. Interpretive programs and lighthouse tours are available during the summer. The lighthouse is also home to an acoustic research project off the point. Hydrophones have been placed 7 meters under the surface of the Salish Sea to the southwest of the lighthouse, and are used for listening to the marine life that frequents the area. If you are interested, you can listen to clips of the orca’s vocalizations or a live stream of the hydrophone here: http://www.orcasound.net/lk/ . The seasonal interpretive center, located on site, has information about the orca whales, the historic lime kilns, and the lighthouse. Food and gifts are available for purchase, and there are restrooms.

Port Angeles, the Gateway to the Olympics

Photo courtesy of www.espritconf.com/index.php/port-angeles-area

Photo courtesy of www.espritconf.com/index.php/port-angeles-area

If you would like to see the Olympic Peninsula during your charter, you should make some time to stop at the charming small town of Port Angeles. Guest moorage is available at the Boat Haven Marina, which features amenities such as restrooms, showers, fuel, and pump outs. Harbor seals and sea lions frequent the harbor, and will likely be there to greet you as you pull in. For those interested in bird watching, make sure to visit nearby Ediz Hook, a 3 mile long sand spit extending out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The hook is a reservation for native birds. Bird watchers could spot loons, grebes, gulls, terns, auklets, and murrelets. Sometimes orcas are spotted off the hook as well! On a clear day, you can also see gorgeous views of the city and the Olympic Mountains.

Photo courtesy of peninsuladailynews.com

Photo courtesy of peninsuladailynews.com

Another must-see spot in Port Angeles, especially if you have kids on your charter, is the Feiro Marine Life Center, located on the city pier. It’s an educational and scientific organization featuring exhibits that represent marine life inhabiting the Strait. Naturalists are available to answer all your questions, and a touch tank provides a chance to get up close to some of the marine life. Another option is the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, which includes indoor and outdoor art exhibits.

Photo Courtesy of theq.fm

Photo Courtesy of theq.fm

For those interested in history and native peoples, another stop you can make is at the Elwha Klallam Heritage Training Center, where you can learn all about the Lower Elwha tribes in addition to other native tribes of the area. Exhibits you can expect to see include native art and models of tools, longhouses, and canoes. Once you’ve finished exploring and you’re ready to grab a bite to eat, all you have to do is walk through downtown. The restaurants in Port Angeles are wonderful! Some of our favorites are the Kokopelli Grill for southwestern, the Next Door Gastropub for a twist on traditional American food, or the Blackbird Coffeehouse for a small plate and a great cup of coffee. Port Angeles is known as the “Gateway to the Olympics” and offers a lot in the way of outdoor activities. If you are looking forward to an opportunity to do some hiking while in the area, you can start planning here.

Photo courtesy of tudorinn.com

Photo courtesy of tudorinn.com