San Juan Islands Kayaking: Saddlebag Island
Although I’m not much of a kayaker, I know many people who are. The San Juan Islands are a sea kayaker’s paradise, particularly in mid to late summer when the winds calm down and the water becomes smooth as glass, like in these photos from Randy Reese. One easy, beginner sea kayak trip that is really popular are short trips to Saddlebag Island, which is a Washington State Park.
The easiest place to launch a sea kayak is from Fidalgo Bay Resort. To get there from Seattle, take I-5 north until you get to the Burlington/Anacortes/San Juan Ferry exit. Then take hi-way 20 west until just before Anacortes. You can also check their directions. They have a launch ramp an the beach, which overlooks Padilla Bay. Saddlebag Island is a strait shot from there. Call ahead to make arrangements for your vehicle and possible camping arrangements.
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Be sure to check the tides and currents before you leave. Kayaks are highly effected by ocean currents; particularly on open water. The best tide to attempt this will be on a flood tide or slack tide. It can be done on an ebb tide, but you’ll be fighting the current more.
Saddlebag Island costs $12 per night per campsite. The island has 5 regular campsites and an additional ‘marine trail’ campsite on the north beach. This campsite is specifically reserved for those sea kayaking San Juan islands. The island also boats a very nice and well maintained toilet. However, there is no water on the island or trash cans, so ‘pack it in, pack it out’ is a must here.Saddlebag island is one of the best san juan kayaking islands. The Guemes and Fidalgo islands block this exposed piece of land from the dominant southwesterly winds. However, southeast and northeastern winds can rock the island pretty hard at times. The hiking, bird watching, and wildflower viewing are all excellent on this island.
If you’re feeling adventurous, little Dot Island and Huckleberry Islands are not far away. In fact, it’s fun to see if you can hit Dot Island with a rock while standing on Saddlebag Island. Warning: you’re going to need a strong throwing arm, but it is possible. Huckleberry is difficult, but legal to hike. Dot Island however is a bird sanctuary, so please don’t hike on it.
The fishing and crabbing around all three islands is excellent. I’ve got hundreds of pounds of crab and dozens of pounds of fish from this area over the last few years. From my experience, Cabezon tend to prefer the western side of Saddlebag. Lingcod and Greenling can be caught all around Huckleberry Island. Flounder and Sole grow in abundance east of Dot and Saddlebag Islands. The water on the east side of Dot is shallow and stretches out to create many acres of eel grass bed. This kind of fishing is best from a sea kayak as it’s too shallow for boats in many parts.
Also be sure to check out our other pages on kayaking the San Juan Islands.