James Island Marine State Park

When reviewing the chart, James Island Marine State Park located southeast of Thatcher Pass in the San Juan Islands looks like a jigsaw puzzle piece pulled right off nearby Decatur Head. The hourglass-shaped, rustic and delightfully unimproved island has all the makings of a gorgeous marine park. During the summer the park is popular with boaters heading out into or returning from the San Juan Islands.

On our last visit in early spring, we spent the week gunkholing the San Juan Islands. The weather was good and the cruising season was just beginning, so we wanted to extend our trip one more day. We decided to take a chance and see if there was room for Easy Goin’ on the dock at James Island Marine State Park.

James Island Marine State Park

Seasonal Float

The island named in 1841 by the Wilkes Expedition to honor the heroism of American sailor Reuben James, has a 44-foot long float in the west cove, offering 80-feet of side-tie. The float is seasonal, installed by the Washington State Parks Department in April and removed in October. It’s important to note that anchoring in the cove is not recommended, as boats have been known to drag anchor and the bolder-strewn bottom has snagged more than one anchor.

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East and West Cove

The east cove has four mooring buoys for boats of 45-feet or less, with rafting limits posted on them. However, it’s open to the wakes from ferries and ships which can cause your boat to roll like you’re under attack. For these reasons, if we can’t find space at the float, we forego a visit.

This time, King Neptune was looking after us. We found the float completely vacant, which meant we had the 113-acre island all to ourselves! SWEET!

James Island Marine State Park Campsite

There are 13 campsites in the park.

At the west cove, there are ten primitive campsites, fire grates, a composting toilet, pay station and a picnic shelter. At the southern end of the west cove, there is a Washington Water Trail site with three additional campsites and pit toilet for visitors arriving by human or wind-powered watercraft.

In the east cove, there are four more camp sites. There is no water or power on the island, and as with all state marine parks, you must pack out your trash.

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Exploring and Hiking

The island has more than two miles of shoreline with a mixture of high steep rocky cliffs and small gravel beaches covered with driftwood. There is one and a half miles of trails crisscrossing the forested island from the beaches to high bluffs, and include a loop trail around the southern end of the island. The northern half of the island is a designated a Natural Forest Area and closed to hiking.


Visitors must take precautions to fend off island bandits.

After a light lunch, we put on our walking shoes for a hike. Before departing we closed-up Easy Goin’ and turned the ice chest so the latches were against the bulkhead so the mischievous critters couldn’t open it. Like many of the San Juan Islands, James Island is the home of a large number of raccoons, and they will go aboard unattended boats.

There is more to do on the island than just hiking, such as picnicking, and beachcombing. The waters adjacent to James Island are known for their good salmon and bottom fishing when in season. Or circumnavigate the Island in the dingy.

Word of caution: If you choose to circumnavigate the island, make sure the dinghy’s outboard is in good working order, and it has sufficient power to handle the strong currents that surround the island.

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On a clear day, the east side of the island provides visitors an incredible view of Rosario Strait and snow-capped Mount Baker. That evening we were treated with one of those famous San Juan Island sunsets. It made an excellent ending to an already beautiful day and our last minute visit to James Island Marine State Park.

~Deane Hislop

Want to read more by Deane? Click HERE.


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