Turn Island – A Washington State Marine Park

Boat camping in the San Juan Islands is a lot of fun! Toss a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear ashore and sleep under the stars beside the sea. Sound idyllic? It is—especially after sailing, paddling, or kayaking to your destination with family and friends. One summer, good sailing friends took pity on us when we had to leave our sailboat in a dusty boatyard to have its hull resealed. They invited us to sail to the islands aboard their twenty-foot Flicka. Without room for all four of us to sleep aboard, my husband and I pitched our backpacking tent on the beach. We experienced the best of both worlds and so can you!

440px-SanJuanIslandAtNightReef Point near Turn Island – Wikimedia Commons

Turn Island and Matia Island are the only islands in the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge open to the public and available for year-round camping. Access to the 35-acre island is by boat from Jackson Beach on nearby San Juan Island or from Washington Park in Anacortes on the mainland. It is easiest to go ashore to camp or hike in the northwest cove where there are three mooring buoys. Curious raccoons and deer visit the 12 campsites with picnic tables during the day or night, making it essential to store food in animal-proof containers or hang it out of reach from a tree branch. Camp stoves are allowed, but no campfires. Due to wildlife concerns, neither are pets.


Photo credit: Washington State Parks

Originally thought to be a point of land and named Salisbury Point by Charles Wilkes for one of his officers during the Wilkes Expedition in 1841, Turn Island was later discovered to be an island where San Juan Channel changes direction. For this reason, the British Admiralty Charts of 1858-59 named it Turn Island.


Photo credit: Washington State Dept. of Ecology

The University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratory conducts marine research at three study sites around Turn Island, monitoring fish living among its sub-tidal rocky reefs. Other underwater creatures found here are the Rainbow Star, Diamond Back Tritonia, and Clown Nudibranch shown respectively in the below photos.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

On a recent ferry ride to Friday Harbor, we happened to spot the charter schooner SPIKE AFRICA sailing past Turn Island under full sail in a strong wind. Built by Bob Sloan over 40 years ago and possessing the functional elegance of 19th-century coastal schooners, the ship has hauled freight, won yacht races, and starred in films.


SPIKE AFRICA sailing past Turn Island

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 – NKJV)

Thank you for reading!



Photo credit: Washington State Parks
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4 Responses to Turn Island – A Washington State Marine Park

  1. Peggy Wirgau says:

    Another good post, Deb! Interesting how Turn Island got its name.

    • Deb Garland says:

      Thanks, Peggy! Turn Island is hard to distinguish from San Juan Island, because they are so close to each other and almost the same height. Unless you scout it out completely or have a chart, you don’t know you can paddle around it!

  2. What a beautiful picture of the Spike Africa! Wish I could do some sailing and camping up there. Sounds wonderful!

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