The aroma of brewing coffee filled the cabin as we enjoyed the morning sunlight on board our boat Easy Goin’ moored on a buoy in Eagle Harbor on the east side of Cypress Island. Although there are few anchorages on this island, it’s one of the last undeveloped spots to visit in the San Juans and home to Eagle Cliff, a great lookout spot and a popular hiking destination among boaters.
Located on the eastern side of the San Juan Island archipelago, Cypress Island is one of our favorite gunkholes in the San Juans because of the lack of development. While most of the San Juan Islands are privatized and developed, their shorelines made forever off-limits by private owners, Cypress Island has gone the other way. The Island has escaped most development because of access issues, rugged terrain, and poor agricultural soil, which is bad news for developers, but a huge benefit to boaters.
Cypress Island by the numbers:
- 90 percent managed by the Department of Natural Resource
- 3,800 acres designated as a Natural Resource Conservation Area
- 20 miles of hiking trails
- Home to nearly 200 species of mammals and birds
Cypress Island History
Cypress Island is the historical home to the Coast Salish people and later European settlers. The Salish economy was based on the seasonal harvesting of resources by hunting, fishing and plant gathering.The First European record of Cypress Island comes from the Spanish expedition commanded by Juan Francisco de Eliza in 1791. It was charted and identified as “Isla de San Vicente.” However, the island was renamed by Captain George Vancouver in 1792 when he mistook juniper trees for cypress trees.
In his log, Vancouver described the island as “principally composed of high rocky mountains and steep perpendicular cliffs.” Sounds like he agreed it was the perfect place for a hike.
Cypress Island Anchorages
One downside to visiting beautiful Cypress Island is the shortage of protected anchorage and lack of marine amenities. Despite this, boaters still visit all year-long because of its natural beauty, seclusion, and opportunity for outdoor activities. The good news is there are three moorage areas: Cypress Head, Eagle Harbor, and Pelican Beach with a total of 25 mooring buoys maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. The majority of the buoys (15) reside in Eagle Harbor, our preference, which shoals in the middle on low tides. It’s possible to anchor in the entrance of the harbor, but the better protection from northerly breeze and wash from passing boats is deeper in the harbor on one of the buoys.
Cypress Island Hiking
There is an extensive trail system, approximately 20 miles in length, based mostly on old logging roads. Others constructed by Outward Bound and the Student Conservation Association, include a number of lakes and access to beaches at several harbors. The network of trails wanders the full length of the island, through a healthy 100-year old second-growth forest.
The plan for our morning – fill the daypack with lunch, water, a camera, and then hike and explore a portion of the islands’ trails with the end goal being the top of the 840-foot Eagle Cliff.
Our route took us past a shallow lily pad filled Duck Lake, an 11-acre wetland. Just off the trail, at the edge of the lake, we discovered an observation area, with a rustic cedar table, bench, and log stools. We took a few moments to sit in the shade, enjoy the peacefulness and buzzing of the dragonflies and hummingbirds as they whizzed by.
As we continued our morning hike, we picked-up the Eagle Cliff trailhead just upland from Pelican Beach on the northeast side of the island. As we continued our morning hike, we picked up the Eagle Cliff trailhead just upland from Pelican Beach on the northeast side of the island.
Tip: The one-mile trail up to Eagle Cliff is closed from February through July 15 each year to ensure that endangered nesting Peregrine Falcons are undisturbed. Because of the bountiful wildlife, pets must be on a leashat all times.
Cypress Island Eagle Cliff
The climb is easy except for the last few hundred yards, but the breathtaking view is worth the 45-minute effort. Although it was a bit overcast, when we reached the summit of Eagle Cliff the reward was a stunning panoramic view of the San Juan Islands, Mount Baker and the Olympic Mountains. We enjoyed the view while eating our lunch, took a few pictures and headed back down the trail to Easy Goin’.
Tip: The look down over the edge into Foss Cove is hair rising and not for those who experience vertigo.
On our way back we noticed ripe, juicy blackberries along the trail. They were so tempting we picked a few and ate them right there. They were so delicious I cut the top off the two empty plastic water bottles in the daypack and proceeded to fill them with berries as we worked our way down the trail. The berries were the perfect reward to complement the natural beauty and bounty of wildlife in Eagle Harbor after an invigorating hike.