Sucia Island, Cruising the San Juan Islands:

I thought it would fun to share some of our more favorite destinations in the San Juan Islands.  We have been cruising here since 2008 so we have many “favorites” but Sucia Island is a regular and we try to make at least three or four visits a year there.

Map of Sucia Island

Incredible scenery, miles of shoreline, excellent facilities, and solid holding grounds.  With docks, mooring buoys, camping, hiking, fishing, crabbing, clam digging, diving, sea kayaking and more.  Sucia offers it all.  No wonder this park is consistently ranked one of the top boating destinations in the world.

Sucia Island is located about 2.5 miles north of Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. It is actually the largest island in an archipelago of ten islands including :  Sucia Island, Little Sucia, Ewing, Justice, Herndon, the Cluster Islands islets, and several smaller, unnamed islands.  Named in 1791 by Spanish explorers,  Sucia, in Spanish, means “dirty” or “foul” in a nautical sense.  No doubt derived from the reefs and hidden rocks caused by a geologic folding of the earth’s crust.  This folding has brought many interesting marine fossils to the surface, examples of which can be found on Sucia’s southeast arm in the aptly named Fossil Bay.

With this in mind exercise caution, always have a current set of charts at hand, and pay particular attention to Clements Reef on the north shore of Sucia, the entrances to Ewing Cove, Fox Cove and Shallow Bay. There is a long reef which extends to the west of Little Sucia Island, and reefs also extend outward from Ev Henry Point, North and South Finger islands and the Cluster Islands. Ken and I have anchored in most every bay on Sucia, keeping a close eye on the depth finder and our charts we have experienced no problems so far.

Anchored out

Sucia’s many isolated coves and bays have been used over the years for seal hunting by the Lummi Indians, as well as hideouts for smugglers, rum runners, and drug trafficers.  The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission acquired one-third of the islands in 1952. When developers wanted to parcel some lands into vacation properties, these were purchased by the Puget Sound Interclub Association in 1960, and donated to the state of Washington for protection as a marine state park.  The remaining private parcels were acquired by the State Parks in 1972, and Sucia Island is now entirely a state marine park.

On the map below I have marked a couple of the hikes that Ken and I particularly like. I thought it would be fun to have the people reading this article add their favorite spots too. So please, click on the link below the picture and add to it!

View Sucia Island Map in a larger map

Accessible only by boat, Sucia’s five bays offer two docks, two linear moorage systems,  forty-eight mooring buoys, and plenty of good holding ground for those that prefer to anchor out.  The bottoms are generally sandy mud, although there are some locations where eelgrass and seaweed may make setting anchor difficult. Sea-kayaking toursare also available for the more adventurous among us, and Sucia offers these hearty souls a multitude of campsites, drinking water (April-September), and toilet facilities. Many enjoy the wonderful hiking that Sucia’s group of islands offers including two trail systems consisting of a little more than six miles of trails. There is a really nice short walk from Echo to Shallow bay, and a longer hike from Echo to Fossil Bay, only to name a couple. There is even an underwater scuba park, located, I believe, in the Northwest corner of Fossil Bay. There is a locator buoy.

An eaglet with parent

Wildlife abounds both on the island and in the waters around it.  Nesting on Sucia are many types of birds; Bald Eagles, Oyster Catchers, and Rhinoceros Auklets, (the name being derived from a horn-like extension on the beak visible on breeding adults), to name just a few.  In the Spring there is the opportunity to witness bald eagles raising their young, and often eaglets can be spotted in the nest or feeding with their parents on the shore.  A couple of years ago, Ken and I were with our friends Chris and Annie Troutner in mid May. We had rafted up and were enjoying a rest after some fishing. I noticed a large male eagle swoop and bring up a huge sculpin about fifty feet from our sterns and start to feed. Soon his mate was in on the action and we were really have a great time taking pictures. Finally their eaglet lighted on the rocks and the adult birds commenced teaching this baby to eat the fish. We spent about an hour and a half watching this little family and snapping tons of photos. Sea Lions, porpoises, and seals are also common on the shores and in the waters around the island.

Boats in Shallow Bay

Whales have been spotted around Sucia Island as well. We have not as yet seen any whales at Sucia ourselves, but I am hopeful that sooner or later we will get lucky. If you are not fortunate enough to spot whales from your own boat, there are many whale watching tours available most of which guarantee sightings.

There are no accommodations on Sucia Island itself, but there is a private ferry service available from Orcas Island. There are groceries and fuel available seasonally at West Beach Resort on Orcas Island. There are full service sites located at Blaine, Deer, Roche and Friday harbors as well.

With so much to offer it is no wonder that I list Sucia Island as one of the top five on my list of places to explore every year.

I hope you found this article helpful and informative.  Let me know how I’m doing by leaving a comment. I really enjoy hearing from you!

Related posts:

Controlling Fear While Cruising
Fixing a Cracked Tiller
Dragging Anchor
2 Responses to “Sucia Island, Cruising the San Juan Islands:”
  1. Chris says:

    Great article, Sherrie!

    I love the map! I added my favorite spot to watch the sunset. It’s on a cliff on the south-east side of Sucia Island, and there is an easy hiking trail to get there. I hope other people add information to the map too. This could turn out to be a great map of Sucia Island.


    Chris Troutner

    • Sherrie says:

      Thanks for the feedback Chris, I surely hope more people add their favorite spots to the map, that would be wonderful. I will definitely check out your spot when we go next time!

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