Possibly the best waterfront views of any front country campground in the Pacific Northwest are available from nearly every campsite in the San Juan County Day Park and Campground in the San Juan Islands. Open, panoramic views of the Haro Strait and nearby Vancouver Island extend to the west as well as distant views of the Olympic Mountains to the south. The availability of activities in this fairly small campground is sure to keep an active camper occupied with your favorite hobby, whether it be kayaking, wildlife viewing, swimming, walking, or even just relaxing on a bench.
The campground has the potential to be crowded and full, and reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance from May through September. Each site is comfortably sized, though there is no privacy separating the sites save the long logs that act as a sort of fence. Campers who arrive mid-week may find some solitude. There are basic amenities available, and while there are not any showers, pay showers are available in nearby Roche Harbor, a 7.5-mile drive to the north. Or you can take a dip in the cool, gentle waters of the north beach swimming area! There are no RV hookup sites available, but RVs and trailers are still allowed with dimension restrictions of 20 feet in length and 9 feet in height. Firewood is also available for $5 per large bundle, and ice is $3 per bag. The park staff reminds visitors to keep food and scented items locked in your vehicle (or in the available food lockers for the walk-in sites) because raccoons frequent the area.
Many different types of wildlife can be seen here - including many deer, various species of birds, foxes, and even the occasional orca or humpback whale! Remember to keep a safe distance from wildlife. Small vessels must keep a distance of 200 yards from any whale. There are two areas from which to launch a small vessel: Smallpox Bay at the south end of the park, and the north beach. Smallpox Bay is the most convenient launch location given the proximity to a parking area and the gradual grade to the water. North beach is accessed by many stairs, but it is closer to the walk-in campsites. A free permit is required to launch a vessel, and these can be obtained at the main entrance building. Many kayaking guiding companies offer trips from Smallpox Bay, and some companies store their kayaks here in the park.
There is no shortage of wildlife viewing points here. A short trail follows the bluff above Smallpox Bay and over the shore waters of Haro Strait into the grassy day use area. There are many signs indicating that the park follows the Leave No Trace principles and reminds you to stay on the designated paths. However, in the wide-open grassy day use area there is no such restriction.
A historic building exists in the center of the campground. The tiny one-room cabin, complete with loft, was built by Levi Brann in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Brann homesteaded 92 acres in the area, which included the land occupied by San Juan County Park. The cabin was restored in recent years, but the interior is not accessible.
There are many nearby adventures to check off your to-do list such as Lime Kiln State Park, which is a short 2.6-mile drive to the south. This park is popular for whale watching and is used for whale study. You can also enjoy watching the sunset from here and photographing the beautiful lighthouse. There are two national historic parks on the island as well, English Camp and American Camp, each filled with historic buildings and accounts of a 12-year standoff on the island between American and British military occupants.
While the journey to San Juan Island can take some planning and time (remember to make a Washington state ferry reservation!), the culture of the island is laid back and easy going, and the unmatched beauty of these islands is an obvious reason for such a culture. The gentle waters, unique wildlife, and consistent panoramic ocean views are sure to relax any weary adventurer.