Strawberry Island, San Juan Islands, WA 3–5 May 2019


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
I arrived at Washington Park, the best launch point for kayaking the eastern San Juans, at 10:30 at night on Friday. I'd driven up from Seattle after dinner to give myself an early launch Saturday morning. As usual, the Washington Park campground was full of chugging engines, slamming doors, and cackling drunks—the typical, hellish car camping cacophony, with a $21 campsite fee to boot. On most San Juan trips, I put up with the campground misery because it's worth it to maximize my time in the islands.

The wind was still, the skies were clear, and the flood current had just begun to run. Though the night was moonless, the weather and water conditions would never be better for a midnight paddle to Strawberry Island. When a ranger came down to bother me about parking my car in the beachfront parking lot after-hours, it was just the push I needed to make up my mind. I wasn't going to pay $21 to listen to drunk people and be hassled by rangers about which parking lot to use. I was going kayaking.

00 Route map.jpg

00 Map. I did move my car to the overnight lot after I'd unloaded. Rules are rules.

The paddle up Rosario Strait was one of the best I've had, which is saying something, because I've had a lot of beautiful times in Rosario. It was the night before the new moon, so moonlight was absent and tides were strong. I had been a little dubious about whether I'd be able to see well enough to navigate, but there turned out to be plenty of light. Between the light from the stars, the blinking navigation beacons, and the light pollution from Anacortes, Bellingham, Victoria, and Vancouver, the major islands were easy to discern. I didn't even bother with a compass or GPS. I just pointed my nose at the southwestern tip of Cypress and paddled till I hit the shore. From there, all I had to do was head north, hugging the shore until I got close enough to Strawberry Island to distinguish its mass from the mass of Orcas behind it.

The stars put on a brilliant show as I paddled, and there were also meteors. I was so busy looking up at all the lights overhead I didn't notice at first the additional lights coming from below: bioluminescent plankton that shot green sparks wherever the water was disturbed. My paddle blades and my hull were surrounded in a halo of magical light.

I had some misgivings about encountering boats. I had only the puniest of flashlights, and my route took me directly across the busiest part of the San Juan ferry route. One of these fast-moving behemoths wouldn't see or even feel me if I got in its way. Luckily, just as I was entering the ferry channel, their schedule ended for the night. The last boat of the evening crossed a quarter mile in front of me, unloaded its cars at the terminal, and turned off its lights. I was left alone and free on the water with the stars, the meteors, and the glowing green sparkles.

I slept out under the stars on Strawberry Island. In the morning, I woke up in a field of blue common camas. Having already accomplished my first day's paddle the night before, I decided not to go anywhere else. I spent the whole day on the island, reading a friend's new novel and exploring the various little mountain ranges and forests that make Strawberry Island such a beautiful place to visit.

01 Alex on Strawberry Island.JPG

01 Alex on Strawberry Island. This is the best campsite in the world.

02 Common camas.JPG

02 Common camas. Strawberry Island is host to all sorts of interesting members of the lily family, including this lovely specimen and also a delicious native onion.

03 View north up Rosario Strait.JPG

03 View from Strawberry Island north up Rosario Strait. This bluff is the best place in the state to sit and watch harbor porpoises.

04 Sunset over Rosario Strait.JPG

04 Sunset over Rosario Strait. I love sitting on an island and watching the sun go from one side of the sky to the other over the course of a day.

05 Departing Strawberry Island.JPG

05 Departing Strawberry Island. With proper use of tides, the transit between Washington Park and Strawberry Island can be almost effortless.

Just as there had been last year, there were a dozen or so house wrens on Strawberry Island. These little birds are drab in plumage, but they have lovely voices. They sang me through the forest while I explored.

Rufous hummingbirds gave their own acoustical performance. The males of this species fly high into the sky and then dive at terrific speed. Just before hitting the ground, they pull up into a hover. They flare their tails when they execute this maneuver, and the wind rushing through their tail feathers makes a distinct skittering, buzzing sound like nothing else in the world. One male took a special interest in me while I sat on the high rocks, reading. He must have buzzed me twenty times, but unfortunately, I am not a lady hummingbird, so I had nothing to offer him.

After a full day of sightseeing, and a second night of stargazing, I caught the tail end of the late-morning ebb back to Washington Park. Even during its weaker half, the current hustled me along at four miles an hour (6.5 kph), much faster than I was expecting. That new moon sure does get the water moving! In fact, the westbound ebb out of Guemes Channel was so strong, I was nearly pushed past Washington Park altogether and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Luckily, I ran into a large eddy near shore that allowed me to sneak back east to the launch beach.

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Dec 28, 2012
Alex, I really enjoy all your trip reports but I found this one very special. You took me along on your journey. I had my first night paddle last September with the bioluminescence and it was truly magical. Thank you for sharing.



Mar 26, 2010
North Idaho (Sandpoint)
I have a problem with the reports written by Alex. Kayaks are expensive and I could have saved a lot of money by not buying any. Alex's reports are just about as good as having a kayak. I would have saved some bucks had I discovered them earlier. As Astoria Dave said "You really put me there, Alex."


Sep 17, 2012
My only night paddling experience was a "class" put on by a well known kayak shop in the Huntington Beach (but I don't think in Huntington Beach) area. The rule was, "NO HEADLAMPS". They had green or red glow sticks and rubber banded them to the paddle shaft. They said the soft glow on the moving shaft would be easily visible and easy to "keep the ducks in a row". We paddled around some person made canals in a fancy (to me) apartment/condo area. In route, we paddled up to a restaurant where we could dock and get treats. It wasn't "nature" and there was no bioluminescence; but it sure was fun.

Thank you Alex for another great report and excellent, bar raising, graphics.