Discover San Juan Islands
On your kayak adventure discover the San Juan Islands, the maritime heart of the Pacific Northwest. The San Juan Islands are also known as the “San Juans”. A visit to the San Juan Islands should be near the top of everyone’s list of things to do while exploring Washington State. Tucked into the protected waters of an inland sea, over 400 rocks and islands that comprise the San Juans beckon visitors to head out on a journey of discovery.
The San Juan Islands reveal themselves in subtle ways. Intimate marine passages open into long reaches of water between forested island slopes. Startling vistas of several mountain ranges encircle and protect residents of the San Juan Islands from intense weather systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean. The Olympic Mountains to the south are a major influence on weather patterns in western Washington, and the San Juan Islands in particular. Most weather systems approach the state from the southwest. The Olympic mountains pose a formidable barrier which forces the warm moist air to rise, cool, and form precipitation. In doing so the mountains literally wring the clouds dry, by they reach the San Juan Islands they have little moisture left in them. Consequently, in the San Juan Islands we enjoy a climate more akin to the Mediterranean than to the wet rainforest that surrounds the San Juans. Only 18-20 inches of rain falls in the average year in the San Juan Islands. Compare that to the 35 inches of rain in Seattle and Bellingham, or nearly 200 inches on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. While Washington State may have a reputation for being wet, the San Juan Islands don’t really fit the stereotype. In fact, the San Juans enjoy nearly 250 days of sunshine per year!
In the San Juan Islands the summer weather patterns typically include sunny skies, calm winds, and moderate temperatures. The inland sea, with its cool water temperature, prevents the air from getting too hot or too cold. Near the Puget Sound it is usually about 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime, and around 55 F at night. It rarely climbs above 80 degrees. It is hard to imagine a better summer climate than that found here in the San Juan Islands. The winters in the San Juans are also relatively mild. The water surrounding the San Juan Islands acts as a moderator and keeps temperatures well above freezing most of the time.
San Juan Island visitors are often startled to see small colonies of cactus growing here in the islands. The San Juans are actually the northernmost outpost of cactus in North America. There are ethnobotanists who think that these plants were actually brought to the islands long ago by early inhabitants. If that is so then we are looking at a living artifact, and a direct link to ancient times in the San Juan Islands. The theory is that the juice of these diminutive plants may have been used as a fixing agent for the natural dyes that were manufactured and therefore were an essential part of the culture.
In the San Juan Islands are also the northernmost specimens of Manzanita that grow in the Pacific Northwest. Related closely to the beautiful Madrone (Madrona, Arbutus) trees that the San Juan Islands shorelines are famous for, these red barked shrubs are more commonly seen in the American Southwest.
With unique plant communities, abundant wildlife, and plenty of activities to enjoy, the San Juan Islands have much to offer visitors to Washington State. Come see for yourself!