When Arlene and I lived south of Seattle, we made at least one visit to Garrison Bay each year. It would be our first stop in the San Juan Islands after crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the beginning our annual migration north to the San Juan and Gulf Islands and points further north. Now that our homeport is Anacortes, our visits are more frequent.

The attraction:

  • Protected anchorage with good holding
  • English Camp and “A Walk Through Time”, a self-guided tour
  • Hiking
  • Crabbing

Garrison Bay

The approach to Garrison Bay is through Mosquito Pass, which connects Roche Harbor and Haro Strait. The narrow navigation channel winds through what appears to be a wide safe passage between Henry and San Juan Islands. The passage is not difficult if you’re vigilant, follow the navigational aids marking the curving channel and don’t cut any corners. There is a no wake speed when transiting the pass. It’s basic, straightforward navigation, but you would be surprised how many boats cut the corners and tap bottom.

There are no marina facilities in Garrison Bay, but it does offer space for good shallow, secure anchorage and a view of the old British outpost known as English Camp, a part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park. Anchorage is over a mud and sand bottom.

Tranquil Garrison Bay is the ancient home of the Coast Salish people. South of the dinghy dock is Guss Island, considered sacred by the Lummi Indian Nation, and is, therefore, off-limits to visitors. Anchoring between the island and English Camp is not permitted.

On June 15, 1859, an American farmer named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company that was loose and in rooting in his potato patch. By so doing he rid the island of one more Brit and nearly started a war between the United States and Great Britain.

The Hudson’s Bay Company threatened Cutlar with arrest by British authorities if he did not make fair restitution for the pig, but the Americans refused to turn their citizen over to foreign authorities. This compelled the U.S. commander to dispatch a company of the 9thInfantry to San Juan Island in July.

The British responded by sending three Navy warships to dislodge the Americans, but to avoid and armed clash if possible.

The two sides faced off on the Cattle Point peninsula for more than two months until agreeing to a joint occupation of the island until the dispute could be resolved through diplomatic channels. The Americans remained at Cattle Point while British Royal Marines established a comfortable camp on Garrison Bay.

The joint occupation ended 13 years later when an arbitrator settled the dispute by awarding the San Juan Islands to the United States. And so ended the so-called war in which the only casualty was a pig.

The Parks Service has restored buildings and grounds, and today, much of English Camp still exists as it did in the 19thcentury. The original barracks, blockhouse, commissary and surgeon’s quarters are still standing, and there is a recreation of the original formal garden.

The Park Service offers, “A Walk Through Time”, a self-guided trail that traces the Royal Marine era. At the head of the trail are pamphlets that describe each of the eleven stops along the way.

From English Camp, a 0.6-mile trail leads to the top of 650-foot Young Hill for an expansive view of Garrison and Westcott Bays, Mosquito Pass, Haro Strait, Vancouver Island, and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains. On the way up Young Hill is the English Camp cemetery, final resting place of six Royal Marines and one civilian. On our hikes to the top, we’ve been lucky enough to see some the resident deer and wildflowers like fawn lilies and shooting stars.

Another easy one-mile hike begins at the dingy dock and loops through forested uplands and around Bell Point.

When in season, dropping a crab trap in the bay or in the adjacent Westcott Bay can provide a tasty Dungeness crab dinner.

With all that the bay has to offer, visitors to the area will not find a lack of things to do. The protected waters of Garrison Bay are worth visiting year after year.