Windswept grasslands and breathtaking views make the southernmost tip of San Juan Island the perfect location for a day hike.
When an American farmer defended his vegetable garden from an invading four-hooved Brit in 1859, he had no way of knowing it would lead to the longest stretch of public beach in the San Juan Islands. But the dead pig threw the two countries into a standoff – known as the Pig War. The Americans and British set up camp on opposite sides of San Juan Island. Which is how a lucky group of American soldiers found themselves stationed on some of the best view property the island had to offer – American Camp.
Begin your hike at the San Juan Island National Historical Park Visitor Center, where trail maps are available. Take the gravel lane east. You’ll pass old fruit trees and the officers’ quarters. The white clapboard buildings and picket-fenced parade ground are some of the oldest structures on the island.
This is the highest point on the hill, which offered the soldiers the protection of sweeping views. As the casual hiker, you may be less interested in ships and more impressed by the snow-capped Olympic Mountains, sparkling Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Cattle Point Lighthouse. (Keep an eye out for Orcas, who like to frequent the waters below.)
Take the trail as it angles downhill, winding through the natural prairie. The fertile land is one of the last remaining natural prairies in the region. During the spring, it’s studded with buttercups and blue camas lilies. During the summer, the windswept grass turns golden, as though kissed by the sun.
At the bottom of the hill you’ll find a parking area. It provides easy access to South Beach. Stretching two miles, this is the longest stretch of public beach on the island. The pebble-covered beach is covered with driftwood that has accumulated over the years.
Continue your trek west, skirting the rocky beaches. As the trail turns north, keep an eye out for the short offshoot to Grandma’s Cove. Though small, this is one of the island’s best sandy beaches. Finish your walk with an uphill climb to return to the visitor’s center.
Distance: 2.8 miles | Elevation Gain: 180 ft. | Highest Point: 180 ft.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Accessible: Year-round
Tips: Bring water. There’s no fresh water source along the way.
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