After a whole season filled with false starts, either the result of visiting too early in the season, or having arrived too late in the day, Ron and I were finally able to make the hike to Eagle Cliff on Cypress Island (the trail to Eagle Cliff is closed between February 1st and July 15th to protect the fragile nesting environment found on that area of the island).
Cypress Island is unusual in the San Juan Islands. In fact, it is not technically considered “one of the San Juan Islands”, as it is actually located within Skagit County (along with Sinclair, Vendovi and Guemes Islands). As a result, the island is often overlooked by visitors to the San Juans, and their loss is our gain! Weather permitting, we usually like to spend the final night of our six day San Juan adventure moored in Eagle Harbor on the north- east side of the island. Here the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains a number of mooring buoys in the harbor. The island itself is heavily forested and virtually unpopulated. It is the fifth largest island in the San Juan archipelago, yet some 90% of land on the island is public. The island offers a scenic reminder of conditions in Western Washington prior to European settlement.
The hike from Eagle Harbor is a moderate to difficult 4.25 miles round trip; although the trail is well maintained and sturdy walking shoes are recommended but not required. The first half is a gradual accent on an old logging road, and then turns sharply upward, climbing somewhat steeply before leveling off again a bit just before the summit.
And what a view it is to behold! At 600 feet high, Eagle Cliff is not by any means the tallest point on Cypress Island (that would make for a very different sort of hike!), but offers a 360° view point that on a clear day allows you to see everything from Anacortes to Mt Baker, The Cascades, Bellingham, Lummi Island, Rosario Strait, Bellingham Channel, the Olympic mountain range, and all the major San Juan Islands to the west. Mt. Constitution may be famous for its views, but I feel this sure gives it a run for its money!
Cypress Island is managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and most of the land operated as a Natural Resources Conservation Area that’s reserved for outdoor recreation like the hike to Eagle Cliff, and the rest is protected as a Natural Area Preserve.
Cypress Island protects more than 5,100 acres of high quality forest, wetland and grassland communities and surrounding state-owned tidelands, and includes the only protected low-elevation serpentine forest in Washington. Cypress Island includes land in both NRCA and NAP (Natural Area Preserve) designations. The NAP areas on the island comprise about 1,100 acres, and protect rare examples of grasslands underlain by basalt bedrock, and other plant communities and wetlands underlain by serpentine bedrock.
If you have a sense of adventure and enjoy hiking, we highly recommend adding a trip to Eagle Cliff to your San Juan Island itinerary!