Johns Island – Home of Camp Nor’wester

We sped across Spieden Channel from Roche Harbor in our inflatable, eager to hike the trail to Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island. Warm sunshine and calm wind beckoned us across the smooth water. Above the roar of the Suzuki outboard, we heard a bell ring at noon from Camp Nor-wester. Throttling back the engine, I steadied the camera to snap a photo of the village of tipis on the western end of Johns Island.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary (1935-2015), Camp Nor’wester is a co-ed residential summer camp for girls and boys ages 9-16. Traditional camping and outdoor skills are taught through waterfront activities including sailing, canoeing, and kayaking, as well as biking, archery, arts and crafts, singing, and drama. Weekly work projects are balanced with a fun-filled overnight camp-out on a nearby island. Each age-level group takes a turn leading Sunday chapel. Click here for more camp information and lots of photos!

Campers live in three-person tipis or tents in small units, but meals are eaten together in the main lodge. An Indian big house, craft center, barn, and medical clinic also sit on the picturesque 135-acre property.

Established in 1935 as Camp Henderson by Frank and Lucile Henderson on Westcott Bay, San Juan Island, the camp was moved to the Sperry Peninsula, Lopez Island, when their lease ended ten years later. Upon their retirement in 1967, the camp sold to a group of camp-related families who renamed it Camp Nor’wester—the name it’s known by today.

In 1980, Chuck Curran purchased the camp and hired a variety of directors to run it until 1996 when the Sperry Peninsula was bought by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. At this point, the Board of Directors for Camp Nor’wester formed the profit-making camp into a 501(c)(3) organization and considered buying land on Cortez Island in British Columbia, Canada. They dismissed the idea after Nell Robinson’s sheep ranch became available on Johns Island, acquiring it in 1999.

Because Johns Island is not a ferry-serviced island, it takes more effort to run the camp than at its former locations, but the rewards are numerous. Camp Nor’wester is surrounded by over 10,000 feet of saltwater, and includes wetlands, meadows, and forests. Both the Cascade and Olympic Mountains can be seen from the camp. Add in a sandy beach on the south side, small coves to the north, and Nell’s house for the caretaker’s residence and it’s hard to imagine a more suitable site for a seaside camp!

Johns Island is a private island without electricity or water, a step back in time. Several vacation homes dot its eastern landscape and a handful of residents live here full-time. Would you?

Photo courtesy of Washington State Dept. of Ecology

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1 – NKJV)

Thank you for reading!



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4 Responses to Johns Island – Home of Camp Nor’wester

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  3. Melissa L Parhm says:

    I have family in San Juan Island but I currently live in Northern California, and I would like my child, who turns 13 in April to join the camp this summer.
    Love to know how to make this happen.

    • Deb Garland says:

      Hi Melissa, Thanks for contacting me about Camp Nor’wester. You can find more information by visiting their website at, calling their Edmonds, WA office at (425) 670-1935, or writing to them at PO Box 1055, Edmonds, WA 98020. I hope your child can join in the fun on Johns Island this upcoming summer! All the best, Deb

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