Jones Island Marine State Park

With the immense wealth of memorable and enjoyable cruising destinations within The San Juan Islands, it can be difficult to narrow down to which island to visit. But our decision was made easy when Arlene, suggested someplace peaceful and scenic, with hiking and plenty of wildlife. It still didn’t narrow our choices too much, and then she said “deer island.” I asked, “Do you mean Jones Island?” She replied,“That’s the one!”

Jones Island Marine State Park:

  • The 188-acre island with its 25,000 feet of mostly rugged saltwater shoreline.
  • The entire island is a marine park and wildlife refuge.
  • One the more popular State Marine Parks in the San Juan Island.
  • Small coves on the south side of the island have three mooring buoys.
  • The northern cove with its 128 linear feet of float (April thru October) and four mooring buoys.
  • Hiking trails.
  • Primitive camp sites and composting toilets.

Jones Island Marine State Park

We were in luck, one of the Jones Island Marine State Park mooring buoys was vacant, so Arlene prepared the mooring line and grabbed the boat hook as I positioned Easy Goin’ into the current to bring the buoy alongside.

After a bit of relaxation and lunch, it was time to go ashore and explore. We launched the dinghy, donned our life vests, grabbed our cameras and headed for the 20-foot section of the float reserved for dinghies.

Tame deer on Jones Island Marine State Park

When my sons were younger they referred to Jones as Deer Island.

In the meadow above the dock, resident black-tail deer meandered through the camp sites just above the beach. After years of co-existence with visiting boaters, they are quite tame, but visitors are asked not to feed them.

Exploring Jones Island Marine State Park

Jones Island is a compact collection of micro-climates, with amazingly diverse vegetation concentrated in a series of distinct zones. If the enormous variety of plant life, stretches of beaches, and enjoyable scenery in all directions is not enough, there is a fascinating ecological process underway on the island.
Storm damage on Jones Island Marine State Park

Remnants of the storm can be seen 25 years later. 

Storm Damage

The forest and hillside above the meadow still show the impact of a horrible arctic storm that hit the area in December 1990 that brought snow, freezing temperatures, and northerly 90 mph winds. The majority of damage concentrated near the north end of the island and trees were strewn like toothpicks.

The cleanup was delayed by issues over how much of the timber to remove. Environmental groups pressed the State Parks Commission to leave most of the downed trees on the ground, fearing extensive salvage logging would scar the island. Settling those arguments and the threat of summer fire danger delayed the cleanup to the winter/spring of 1992.

The park then closed for a year and a half while the Washington State Parks Department, the Swinomish tribe, and volunteers from the Recreational Boating Association of Washington (RBAW) cleaned up those areas that posed the greatest hazards to public safety.

Jones Island Marine State Park

Moss covers many of the tree felled by the 1990 storm.

For the most part, the trees have been left where they fell, to become part of nature’s renewal process. Today visitors can see Mother Nature at work reclaiming the downed trees.


From the north cove, it’s only a 10-minute walk across the island to the south cove with its remnants of a settler’s orchard and a view of Yellow and San Juan Islands. A sweeping pea gravel beach facilitates easy dingy access for boaters using the south cove moorage and plenty of tidal pools to explore.

Prickly Pear cactus on Jones Island Marine State Park

The island is a compact collection with amazingly diverse vegetation.

There are also three other trails available to visitors, the Northwest, Southwest and East Loops. We took the SW Loop through the island’s arid zone, tracking along the parched landscape of southwest edge of the island’s rocky shoreline, which offered picturesque views down San Juan Channel. Along the trail, we spotted five colonies of prickly pear cactus, not a common sight for Western Washington.

Jones Island Marine State Park moss

Lush moss covers the north and east side of the island.

The NW and East Loop trails, with its forested and moss-covered floor, is more challenging than the SW. We left that to explore another day.

The following morning, we woke to sunny skies and while sitting on the aft deck, sipping on cups of java. We watched an otter catch his breakfast and decided to spend another day swinging on the buoy in our small corner of our world. It would be another day of hiking, exploring, and visiting with fellow boaters.

~ Deane Hislop

Want to read more by Deane? Click HERE.

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