Skip to main content

Originally published Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 7:03 PM

  • Share:
  • Comments
  • Print

5 autumn hikes in the San Juans and Gulf Islands

Author Craig Romano picks favorites from his new guidebook.

Seattle Times staff reporter


Author’s 5 favorites

Outdoors enthusiasts tend to think of the San Juans and B.C’s Gulf Islands as a water-recreation paradise, not a hiking destination. Outdoors writer Craig Romano makes the case that these archipelagos are just as majestic by foot as by boat.

To prove his point, he wrote the recently published “Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands” (Mountaineers Books, $18.95), with 136 hikes on both the Washington and British Columbia sides of the border.

“People don’t realize there are so many hiking trails on the islands,” he said. “You might see only a few parks on an island map, but all the islands have land-trust preserves. They are private, protected land that are usually open to the public.”

Most hikes in his guide can be reached by ferry or car. And the few hikes that can’t be accessed by ferry can be reached by water taxi.

There are hikes on coastal ledges and bluffs, beaches and coves. Others visit lighthouses, or traverse forests that were old even when George Vancouver sailed into the Salish Sea, Romano said.

Fall is his favorite time to visit since ferry and hotel rates are lower, crowds are sparse and the forecast is often still sunny. Here are his five favorite autumn hikes included in the guide. (Comments are his.)

Turtlehead Summit, Orcas Island, 5.7 miles, 1,295 feet elevation gain, moderate (in level of difficulty)

Stand atop Turtleback Mountain’s open, grassy head for one shell of a view — it’s one of the best in the San Juans. Thanks to a recent land acquisition by the San Juan Preservation Trust, the prominent and well-recognized Turtlehead (also known as Orcas Knob) is now connected to the Turtleback Preserve, the second-largest green space on Orcas Island. Stare out at a literal sea of islands: San Juan, Shaw, Jones, Spieden and Stuart, in Washington; and Salt Spring, Moresby, Sidney and Vancouver in B.C.

Mount Warburton Pike, Saturna Island, 3.4 miles, 515 feet elevation gain, moderate

Walk along a lofty, grassy ridgeline feasting on intoxicating panoramic views of the Salish Sea. Saturna Island’s highest summit grants not only some of the best views of B.C.’s Gulf Islands but of the San Juans as well. Herds of feral goats help keep this peak’s southern face a sprawling meadow — and entertain you as well on this classic island hike.

Mount Erie, Fidalgo Island, 5.2 miles, 910 feet gain, moderate

Stand above abrupt cliffs on the highest peak on Fidalgo Island and admire the glacially carved bumpy hills surrounding Deception Pass and the active glaciers on Mount Baker and other North Cascades summits. Watch falcons and paragliders ride thermals above sparkling Campbell Lake, the largest body of water on Fidalgo Island.

Upright Channel, Lopez Island, 3.4 miles, minimal elevation gain, easy

One of the longest beach hikes in the San Juan Islands; walk beneath bluffs of big trees along boat-busy Upright Channel to sandy Flat Point. Admire roosting eagles, bobbing buffleheads and darting kingfishers. Look for otters and raccoons in the tidal flats. And watch ferries plying back and forth in the channel between Lopez and Shaw islands.

Mount Erskine, Salt Spring Island, 3.4 miles, 1,325 feet elevation gain, moderate to advanced

The highest peak on Salt Spring Island sans roads and towers, Erskine contains big tracts of old-growth forest, impressive cliffs and rock faces. There are also knock-your-sweaty-hiking socks-off views of the island and Stuart Channel. Home to forest fairies and endangered sharp-tailed snakes, Erskine is an enchanting place and minutes from the island’s hub, Ganges.

Four weeks for 99 cents of unlimited digital access to The Seattle Times. Try it now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

 Subscribe today!

Subscribe today!

99¢ for four weeks of unlimited digital access.



The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►