Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Protection Island

I now have met Protection Island up close and personal and can see for myself what a special place it is. It would be interesting to come out at other times of the year when more of the inhabitants are home! Photo credit: Terry Jaret

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • TIDES/CURRENTS: SEQUIM BAY ENTRANCE: 0.1 # 0233 / 7.5 @ 1119 / KANEM POINT: S @ 1129 / -1.0 @ 1518 / VIOLET POINT: S @ 1140 / -0.3 @ 1331/ S @ 1637



This trip was the second half of a weekend spent on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was originally planned as a Diablo Lake overnight on 10/01/22 but was postponed because of the North Cascades fires and smoke.  The conditions have continued and so I changed the venue to be on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The third paddler still dropped due to the bad air quality. 


We had paddled Dungeness Spit on Saturday and I was excited to finally get a chance to go to Protection Island the next day.  The island is one of the jewels in the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex that also includes Dungeness Spit and the San Juan Islands. It is approximately 4 miles long when including the spits that extend south from the east and west ends of the island.  It sits like an upside down smile just outside Discovery Bay. It gives us a lot to smile about. Approximately 70% of the bird population of Puget Sound and the Strait nest on its steep shorelines!  In addition this tiny island provides one of the largest nesting colonies in the world for the rhinoceros auklet, the largest nesting colony of glaucous-winged gulls in the state and one of the last two nesting colonies of tufted puffins in the Puget Sound! (Wikipedia).  It is also a pupping home for harbor seals and elephant seals are also seen here. Consequently all boaters must remain at least 200 yards away from its shores at all times. It has a single human inhabitant.  For more information:  and



I had used Google Earth to find the tiny beach access between the row of houses west of Diamond Point directly south from the island. Gardiner Point and Beckett Point Marina are other choices along with the more distant Port Townsend shore.  I wanted a short and fast paddle before we headed back home on Sunday and while the street parking was limited it was a short and easy launch point. There are no bathroom facilities anywhere close by.


We watched busy sea lions from the beach about 100 feet away before we even got in our boats. We were underway to the island at 1015.  An eagle stared at us from up in the trees and it wasn’t fifteen minutes before we saw the tiny fins of porpoises dipping along ahead of us to our left.


We headed across the barely rippling channel for the light colored bluffs in the middle of the island. We could see the house and what looked like a larger structure a short distance away; it looked different depending on the angle as we approached and went by but it was larger than I thought it would be. They are closer to the west end rather than being in the center.  It didn’t take long to reach a point to turn left as we didn’t want to be any closer to the island’s shores.  There were groups of harbor seals on the beaches of the spits that move amazingly fast for such a large and awkward looking animal on land.  They stared and lay quiet until one in the water closer to our boats slapped the surface.  That seemed to be the signal for most of them to get into water in a matter of seconds.  Then they proceeded to follow us as seals always do.


The bottom rose up fast even though we were a safe distance away from the western spit with its usual birds screaming at us.  Most of them don’t bother to leave.  There was a fire a couple of years ago on this end of the island that burned from the top all the way down the spit.  We could see the scars from it. After a few minutes of paddling the spit was behind us and for the first time I was looking at the north side of Protection Island.  It reminds me of Cutts Island with its steeply sloped sandy cliffs and Speiden Island with its bald hills. To the left there was nothing but a void of marine layer and smoke. We couldn’t even see the San Juans at this point. There was no sign of life and it was very quiet.  We were probably at least 1,000 feet away from the shore, out of the shade of the lee of the island and I could just see a bit along the tops of the cliffs that are hundreds of feet high. Most of the trees are on the east end coming to an abrupt end at the cliff edge.  The southeast corner literally is one….it looks like a somebody took a knife and just sliced a loaf of bread!


Today it looked like the sunny south side had all the action.  We came across more batches of seals lying in groups of around 50 or so.  Most of them again hit the water at their comrade’s signal in spite of our distance but continued to follow us on around.  I wondered if it was the same group from earlier thinking “Not you again?!”


Once past the bottom of the east spit we were surprised to finally feel a current pushing us west.  We saw something floating in the water that looked like a little android icon with two antennas sticking up like rabbit ears.  We got closer to see it had official looking tags on it and we figured it was some sort of instrument for tracking scientific data.  We found another one later on.  When I looked up I saw we were in the middle of a circle of curious seals all watching us. One rose up out of the water like a sea otter to get a better squint.  A sail boat came by—the only one we’d seen all weekend—but the seals continued to follow us instead.  =)


We paused for a snack break and floated along in the little current.  We could easily see the little lagoon on the south east end but there wasn’t a lot of kelp or seaweed visible that this island is known for.  Maybe it is the wrong time of year.  The dark tower is closer to this end and easily visible.   In fact, it is the most visible structure on the island.


While we didn’t see any tufted puffins we certainly saw so many other lovely birds including some tiny juvenile  Rhinoceros Aucklets.  I have seen these distinctive birds in the San Juans and many more on the NE end of Vancouver Island.  It was easy to see their cute little horns….they have paddled right up to my boat!  I have always wondered if they were born on Protection Island too.


The haze was pretty bad….we could barely see anything past Port Townsend and only a hint of Whidby.  There was no sign of the Olympics and that was really unfortunate as otherwise it would have been a cloudless blue sky which is pretty rare on the Strait, particularly in October!  It didn’t make it easy to try to figure out where our launch site was so I calculated an angle allowing for a knot of current and we headed for a spot a little west of Diamond Point.  It turned out to put us bang on where we started straight up at 1200.  Terry was dismayed when he realized that this was the same area where he had stopped for lunch when paddling the Strait years ago.  All the trees have been replaced with (I’m sure) overpriced real estate.  I find myself wondering why anybody would put these huge houses right on the beach in a tsunami evacuation zone but that’s me.


We were able to move our cars down and get loaded quickly and easily.  Afterwards I walked a short distance down the shore to pick up a bunch of pink balloons floating at the water’s edge.  I got a couple of sharp pointed feathers so Terry and I could gleefully puncture them.  Not only are  deflated balloons dangerous to the marine life that swallow them but the nylon cords can strangle birds and other animals.  I was glad to throw them in a resident’s bin. Now that I think about it: that was the only trash I found floating in this area which is pretty remarkable considering how many fishing boats are around.  I don’t know if it is just the tides and currents but I hope that it is also the efforts of the Park Service visitors and the residents to keep their trash out of the Strait! =)


It was worth the 7 mile backtrack to stop at the busy Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe’s Longhouse Market and Deli in Blyn at the bottom of Sequim Bay for a tasty sandwich before heading out.  In spite of the hazy skies this was such a wonderful and satisfying adventure in what may be the last of the rare warm and sunny October weekends of 2022.  And I now have met Protection Island up close and personal and can see for myself what a special place it is. It would be interesting to come out at other times of the year when more of the inhabitants are home!