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San Juan Wilderness

Posted on Jun 4, 2024 in Washington's Wilderness Areas

Just north of Puget Sound, where the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca converge, lies the San Juan Islands, an archipelago of some 700 islands, reefs, islets, and rocks. The largest four islands—San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw—account for more than 80% of the total landmass amongst the peaks of this sunken mountain range. Scattered throughout the Salish Sea, 83 other specks of wave-drenched land comprise the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, 80 of which are designated as Wilderness, providing a sanctuary for countless marine species and a birder’s paradise to catch sight of gulls, cormorants, guillemots, puffins, brants, oystercatchers, auklets, and bald eagles.  

The San Juan Wilderness was designated in 1976 and is managed by the Fish & Wildlife Service’s Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  

Turn and Matia Islands are the only two islands in the Suan Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge open to the public. Managed by WA State Parks, both are open to camping and moorage year-round. All other rocks, reefs, and islands are closed to public visitation with a 200-yard buffer zone enforced around each to protect nesting, resting, and feeding birds, although you can spot several of the refuge islands from Washington State Ferries that traverse the area.