Sunsets (Either American or English Camp)
Unlike most parks on the island, San Juan Island National Historical Park is open fairly late at night. This means you are able to get good photographs of the sunset without running into issues from the authorities.
In American Camp, Mount Finlayson and South Beach are both good (be sure not to wander into the State Department of Wildlife Lands as those are off limits after sunset!). In English Camp I suspect that the view from Young Hill is probably very good, but haven't had the opportunity to try it yet.
Cattle Point Light (close to American Camp)
While it is not officially part of the San Juan Island National Historic Park, the Cattle Point Light is on land that adjoins American Camp, and is part of the grasslands that occupy the south end of American Camp.
The south end of San Juan Island, including Cattle Point, is a patchwork of State Department of Natural Resources Land, Bureau of Land Management Land, and National Park Service Land. The Cattle Point Light is owned and operated by the Coast Guard (part of the Department of Homeland Security). This patchwork means that you need to be careful as you walk from one part of the land patchwork to the other, as the rules change somewhat.
As an example, the area around Cattle Point Light is day use only, but American Camp itself is open into the evening hours. Therefore, if your hope is to get the Cattle Point Light with the sun setting behind it, it must be taken before the sun sets and you are no longer allowed on the land.
There are several tables in the general area, and a very few parking places and a small restroom building. The trail system connects through to the Mount Finlayson Trail, eventually connecting this site to the main part of American Camp as well as South Beach.
Web site for the State Department of Natural Resources:
Web site for the Bureau of Land Management area on which the Light sits:
The web site below is for the San Juan Island National Historical Park:
English Camp vs American Camp
San Juan Island National Historical Park is a single institution by name, but it is actually divided into two separate locations - and at completely opposite ends of the island. As seen on the map, American Camp is at the far southeast end of the island, while English Camp is quite far northwest.
English Camp has some reproduced buildings that show the basic arrangement of how things looked at the time of the Pig War. It has several hiking trails, including a trail to the top of Young Hill, which served as a lookout point of sorts.
American Camp has no such hill, and a significant portion of the property is open savanna. A small section of this section is forested land, but most of it is fairly new growth. There are views of the Olympic Mountains on a clear day, but the southeast side of the island is more frequently covered in fog.
Due to the differences in the location and features, I have separated the two locations in my various tips as it is important to know which location you are working with.
- National/State Park
English Camp Visitor's Center (English Camp)
Unlike the visitor's center at American Camp, the one at English Camp is only open seasonally. It is located inside the one recreated blockhouse (the largest of the barracks type buildings) and what is located here is fairly simple in terms of a few interpretive displays, and an auditorium type setting in the western section of the building for presentations.
In terms of the main bit of preserved artifacts, those are located in display cases at the American Camp Visitor's Center. Even there, the displays are not very extensive as there isn't a lot of money devoted to this national park.
- Historical Travel
South Beach (American Camp)
Unfortunately, there isn't too much to South Beach. It faces the winds of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and while it isn't as violent here as some places that are less sheltered, there is a lot of driftwood that blows in and clogs the beach.
You will want to BE CAREFUL AROUND THE DRIFTWOOD as it may float under the wrong conditions and seriously injure or kill someone around it, and it may also shift and cause the same injuries.
There are several small picnic areas along the beach with picnic tables. These also have fire pits in them.
There is a trail that connects South Beach to Robert's Redoubt, and from there to the main visitor's center. The San Juan Transit bus comes hourly during its operating days and times (very seasonal operation) and it is also possible to drive here by going south on Cattle Point Road. The South Beach parking area is not paved.
There are toilets here, but they are only pit toilets with no running water.
American Camp Visitor's Center (American Camp)
Coming south on Cattle Point Road, the first part of American Camp that you come to is the American Camp Visitor's Center. Here, there is a small parking area, and a small building that serves as the interpretive center for American Camp. Here there is a video that introduces visitor's to the park, as well as displays of historic artifacts that have been uncovered during the limited excavations performed in the ground here.
Literature is also available here, including the park brochure which features maps of both the English Camp section and American Camp section of the park.
Another popular attraction are the flush toilets, which are actually located in a separate building, connected to the main visitors center by a short walkway. This way, they can close the visitor's center but keep the restrooms open.
A small collection of items are also for sale here as memorabilia from your visit.
This location is also the trailhead for trails going to the officer's quarters and several other areas nearby.
The visitor's center is open 8:30 to 5:00 every day during the summer months. Depending on the National Parks budget during a particular year this may be cut back during the winter months.
- Historical Travel
Jakle's Lagoon and Trails (American Camp)
Past the main visitor's center and just past the signs for South Beach (by approximately 200 feet), you will come across a sign indicating the parking area for Jakles Lagoon Trails.
This is a gravel parking lot with no restroom facilities (the nearest ones are located at South Beach - but that is a pit toilet, or the flush toilets at the American Camp visitor's center). This location serves as a trailhead to a number of trails that wander through the southern end of the National Historical Park, including up to the top of Mount Finlayson. This is not a very high hill, but it was enough to serve as one of the lookout points for American Camp.
Most of the trails through here are fairly easy. However, it should be noted that there are some sections that are quite steep, and for those who don't want to climb steep hills it is best to follow the trails in a counter-clockwise rotation as seen on the map. So, if you want to do Mt Finlayson, you would start out going up the hill on the gradual slope trail that goes to the top of it, then come down the steeply sloped trail that connects it with the trail to Third Lagoon on the north coast of the area. There is a steep section right at the parking lot if you do this, but it is much shorter and much leas steep than the hill from Third Lagoon to Mt Finlayson (see photo of map of area - photo 2).
The trails start either at the maintenance road gate - which is to the right if you are facing the sign from your car, or to go directly to Mount Finlayson the trail for that is to the right and slightly behind you if you are looking at the sign from your car. The trail shown on the map that goes to Old Town Lagoon is currently not somewhere I would advise going as it disappears in a pile of thorny overgrowth and deer trails, so that it is very difficult to determine what is a valid trail. You are much better off not going there anyway, as anything you want to see can be seen from other locations.
Trails are well marked with signs (see photo 5) that also give the distances to various locations.
Brochures with maps of the area are available at the visitor's center, as well as the large scale map at the trailhead. Web site information is currently available on the National Parks web site by going to the San Juan Island National Historical Park (see web site below), then follow the tree on the left side of the web page to go to Things To Do -> Outdoor Activities -> Hiking Trails, and then select Jakle's Lagoon or Mount Finlayson (they are part of the larger network of trails).
- Hiking and Walking
- Historical Travel
Officer's Quarters (American Camp)
Unfortunately there isn't that much to the location of the old American outpost. The two buildings at this location are not currently open to the public on most days. The structures only serve as an indicator of what the rest of the area would have looked like.
On clear days the flag pole will serve as a good landmark in the sea of open prairie grass.
- Historical Travel
Young Hill Trail (English Camp)
Providing a viewpoint over a significant swath of the islands and lands and waters to the west and south, and to a somewhat less extent to the north, Young Hill is one of the more popular viewpoints in the San Juan Islands.
The trail isn't very long, but it climbs a significant amount in that short distance. Therefore, be prepared for some steep hills.
Most of the trail is in reasonably dense forest, and there are several clearings at viewpoints that open up and allow views to the south and west.
A branch trail leads up to the English Camp Cemetery, and an alternate loop trail provides a different access point to the summit viewpoint.
How to Get Here:
The leaves the main parking area in the northeast corner, near a set of picnic tables. It isn't obvious this is the start of the trail until it is approached quite closely. Soon after it leaves the parking area the trail crosses the highway, and climbs steeply up the hill to the summit.
Photo 1: Here is a look at the view from the summit of Young Hill.
Photo 2: Here is a map of the trail, but neglecting the less traveled but marked by small signs loop that goes further south for an alternate way to get to the summit of the hill.
Photo 3: The trail leaves the main parking area at the northeast corner, in a location that isn't obvious unless you look for it.
Photo 4: The steep climb up the hill is not obvious in this photo, but much of the trail climbs through forest.
- Hiking and Walking
Bell Point Trail (English Camp)
Running northwest from the north end of the clearing in which the primary part of English Camp sits, the Bell Point Trail runs through restored second growth forest that is quite mature, and therefore is a reasonable representation of the forest that might have been here before settlement. The trail is 2 miles (3.3 km) in length, and makes a loop that ends at the northern end of the cleared area.
While the forest is fairly dense along the trail, there are views available that look back along the water, providing a perspective of the remains of English Camp. There are also several viewpoints looking northwest (one right at the tip of Bell Point) and one looking north to privately owned marina areas. It is not unusual to see Bald Eagles, Osprey (in the warmer months) and other birds on the water.
The trail is mostly narrow and rough gravel, but it is fairly level for the entire loop around Bell Point.
The entrance to the Bell Point Trail is seen in Photo 5. This is the easiest point to find the trail. The point where the loop re-enters the clearing area is to the east of this point, and it is not as easy to find. The roughest part of the trail is walking from the east end of the trail back towards the main part of English Camp, as the open field is a somewhat rough surface.
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
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