Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - San Juan Islands from Anacortes

The last two miles of this trip are not to be rushed! We admired some of the best scenery in the San Juans and the eagles as we threaded our way through the waves slapping the rocky shore at the base of the high cliffs topped and/or draped with pretty madrona trees and evergreens. Terry said, “What a great way to end a trip!” and I fully agreed. Photo credit: Will Wade

  • Road suitable for all vehicles


    SAT - 20 NM -  CURRENTS:  DECEPTION PASS: S @ 0831  +4.5 @ 1115 / YOKEKO POINT: S @ 0826 / +2.5 @ 1057 / SKAGIT BAY CHANNEL:  S @ 1401 / +2.1 @ 1401 / +2.1 @ 1624

    SUN - 14 NM -  CURRENTS:  GUEMAS CHANNEL EAST: -2.7 @ 0807 / S @ 1203 / GUEMAS CHANNEL WEST:  -3.4 @ 0827 / S @ 1209 /  SHIP HARBOR TIDE: 1.6 @ 1001 / 6.8 @ 1629



This trip was a perfect example of learning new things and a good shakedown for longer trips.


 I had driven to La Conner on Friday to scout out the unknown Washington Water Trails campsite.  Campsite is a strong word for a flat stretch of green grass backed up by a hillside underneath a bridge on the side of the road right by a sharp curve.  The only clue that it was supposed to be a campsite was on the map legend provided by the Pioneer Park Service and a Honey Bucket.  The only advantage to it was that it was close to the boat launch even though it is on the other side of the road just past the curve.

 I got to my destination in Anacortes to contact the group and eventually came up with a plan B to launch from Bowman Bay and camp on Saddlebag.  I requested that the others bring materials to build a campfire and moved the launch time to 0900.

 It had rained during the night and would continue more or less throughout our trip. Shirley and Terry had arrived ahead of me around 0800 with Will arriving a short time later. Parking requires a Discovery Pass and overnight parking in the gravel lot was (I think) $10.  The public pier has been closed down as being unsafe. The two unisex bathrooms were cleaned and stocked and after getting everything packed and a short huddle we launched about 0845. 

 The quiet water became increasingly active as we rounded the headland.  The water level was too low to thread the needle and we moved quickly towards and under the scaffold covered bridge on the Canoe Pass side without incident.  The wind became more noticeable as we approached Yokeko and Hoypus Points. We stopped for a quick bio break at Ala Spit.  (The WWTA campsite here is currently closed.) There was a bit of chop here and there as we slid between the spit and Hope Island.  We took a diagonal route that put us past Tonkon and the  Deadman Islands. A large whale watching boat heading west came out of the Swinomish Channel between us and Goat Island.  We began to follow the shoreline with the intention of going to the opening but it wasn’t long before we found ourselves with our hulls in the mud and trying to see over the top of the sand bar.  When shore birds are standing on their little stick legs way in front you can pretty well figure it’s time to find a different route.  We headed west again, scraping the silty mud as we made our way to the green marker towards the middle of the channel.  Will hung back a bit as Terry and I found a gap that led to the very narrow deep channel that the larger ship had used.  We got all joined up again in the channel before passing past the clearly outlined goat posted on the island. Several power boats came by as we approached the channel mouth.  There is a very large carving of an eagle in front of a very large house perched on the hill just at the mouth of the southwest opening.

 We got into the back eddy and continued on for another mile to reach the boat launch at about 1245.  We hauled out and ate our lunch at the picnic table next to it, using the Honey Bucket at the “campsite”. I came out of it to find the others had moved the boats out of the way for an incoming power boater on the dock.  We left after about an hour to start winding our way along the La Conner waterfront.  Terry spotted a man made waterfall off of one of the docks and we made a few passes under it before continuing on.  It didn’t take long to have the houses of La Conner behind us in the quickening current.  There were three kayakers spotted on the west shore and we got to Hwy 20 bridge in an hour or less.  No breaks were needed and after a pause for a snack, floating   along at 2 knots as we were pushed by the wind and waves. We continued to ride those waves and the shifting currents to the shores of Hat Island.  The water quieted as we passed Dot (you must stay 200’ away from its protected shores) towards Saddlebag. The campground is roughly in the middle of the island and can be approached in the small coves on the south and north sides. We opted to go around the west end to the north side.  I got stuck on a rock but a handy bow from Will got me off it and we proceeded on.  

 The camping spots on the shingle beach appeared to be more overgrown than I remember from a few years ago but Will and Shirley opted to pitch their tents there while Terry took his tent and I my hammock to a spot higher up in the trees. The new(er) toilet facility in the middle near the top of the hill was a nice surprise.  The pay station is just south of it on the other side of the walkway.


We decided to sit underneath a tree canopy on the beach rather than pitch a tarp.  I think we probably would have been better off with more shelter as I became fairly wet while eating my dinner and chatting afterwards. I turned in about 8:30 as there wasn’t much else to do in the rain without a shelter or fire.



Launch time was set for 0700 but we were about 15 minutes late.  I finally got to see the squeaking eagles in the trees over my head before we left.  It had rained pretty steadily all night and the wind was blowing whitecaps but things began to settle down by the time we launched and headed for the east side of the island.  I have never been on that side and it is worth the diversion as it doesn’t take very long to do so.  We followed the high rock walled shoreline of Guemas for a bit and it was interesting to compare that to its sandy western shoreline encountered in other trips. We paused to watch some porpoises and then took a diagonal route across Guemas Channel towards the Anacortes shoreline.  The rain slacked off as the day brightened a bit and the wind became blocked as we moved farther west.   My curiosity where the Guemas Island ferry terminals was satisfied when one completed a circuit in front of us. The ebb continued to move us faster by the time we passed the Anacortes ferry dock.  As usual, we were interrupted by perfectly timed ferry and had to wait but soon after we were going about 6 knots.  We predictably slowed down once the channel widened out but still made the 8 miles to the Burrows Island light house in two hours. I had become slightly disoriented as we rounded Fidalgo Head…a quick glance at my deck compass showing a southern route would have been more helpful than just staring at the chart in front of me!

 We stayed about 20 minutes on the island as it would be the last shorebreak before Bowman.  There are pocket beaches along the way but I wasn’t sure if they were public so didn’t want to take the chance unless there was an emergency. As we approached the west side of Allen Island we saw some seals hauled out on some rocks but we were able to go wide without disturbing them.  We found ourselves back in the wind again along with some lumpy water due to Dennis Shoal as rounded the outside of Allen Island before taking a direct line to Biz Point at the south end of Burrows Bay. The wind diminished as we approached the shore again.  

 The last two miles of this trip are not to be rushed! We admired some of the best scenery in the San Juans and the eagles as we threaded our way through the waves slapping the rocky shore at the base of the high cliffs topped and/or draped with pretty madrona trees and evergreens.  I added a fifth cave to my list here although without a helmet and proper gloves I couldn’t go very far into some of them. Will got a film of a large otter in the rocks, having a meal and then slipping back into the water.

 The last cave is right around the headland before the small bay before Bowman.  Terry said, “What a great way to end a trip!” and I fully agreed.  We rounded the last headland and was approaching the Bowman Bay shore when a couple in a canoe left the shore.  Watching them reminded me of why I don’t want to paddle a canoe.

 We landed back at the boat ramp about 1300 to find while the water level was about where we left it the parking lot had a lot more cars and people in it. We were packed up, changed and after a short huddle where no complaints other than the weather were made and thanks exchanged we headed out to the Skagit Bay Brew Pub in Mt Vernon.  Unfortunately the only outdoor seating was for drinks only and with a 35-40 minute wait for inside seating we decided to bail and said goodbye. All paddlers paddled well with excellent group dynamics.

 LESSON LEARNED: When approaching Swinomish Channel aim for the green and red markers west of Goat Island.

 NEAR INCIDENT: After getting a puncture in the bottom of his tent a camper discovered a rusted grate with sharp points buried in the shingle at his campsite.  Luckily he didn’t puncture his sleeping pad or worse, his hand!