San Juan Island National Historic Park (English Camp – WA)

Each summer Laddy and I take off on a 2-week trip with my folks on their sail boat. One of our favorite places to go is San Juan Island, WA. San Juan Island is home to Roche and Friday Harbors, which are both favorite weekend get-aways for Seattlites. It is a pretty short ferry ride over from Anacortes and the island is easy to navigate. When we moor near Roche Harbor, we usually make a trip to English Camp, which is part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park. Sometimes we even drop anchor in Garrison Bay, which is in front of English Camp.

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English Camp is one part of San Juan National Historical Park and is located on the Northwestern shore of the island, closer to Roche Harbor. American Camp makes up the other half of this park, and is located on the Southeastern tip of the island, south of Friday Harbor.

There is no camping allowed in this section of the park. But there is hiking and lots to learn.

One hike at English Camp will take you up a relatively steep hill (there are steps), where the officers homes once stood. Many of them brought their families over from England, since their tours were so long, and the danger level was low. The houses are no longer on the hill, but placards tell you about their locations and what they looked like. As the wives and children were along for the ride and started missing England dreadfully, the men decided to establish a little piece of England in the form of formal gardens for their wives to enjoy. Even back then it was “happy wife, happy life!”

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View of the English flower garden from where one of the officer houses stood

The flower gardens have changed in appearance over the years, but they have remained, as have several of the buildings. Last summer they were building replica structures to replace buildings that had not survived. They were building them in the same way, with similar tools the English had access too. They have also been doing repair work on existing buildings.

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There are other hikes around the area and wildlife is often spotted. We have seen several deer, lots of bird varieties, seals and otters in the bay, and every year we check on the nesting Osprey pair. There is usually a scope set up at the Ranger Office so you can get a look at their nest and see what activity might be happening. The Ranger office is also a great place to pick up a Jr. Ranger packet for the kids. You can even download it here before you come if you want to get a head start!

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For being a small Island, San Juan Island is very rich in history, dating back thousands of years to when the continental plates were shifting and the ice sheets were melting. The Lummi people came to this area and island provided everything a people would need to survive and thrive. There is evidence that the first encounter with a European, through Marine means, happened roughly 2,500 years ago. As was common, exposure to the Europeans meant disease, and the First Peoples numbers drastically reduced, leaving only a few small villages. There is lots of information on the these first people on the NPS website (here is the link).

There is also lots of information on The Pig War, which is a huge theme at English Camp. I was trying to write you up an abbrevated version, but I wasn’t doing it justice. Lets just say, a pig being killed sparked an international incident, but the end result was a peaceful one. The whole story, is a short click away.

Before you come, you might want to check out this brochure from the National Park Service about this Historical Site. It gives all sorts of great info, maps, contact info and ideas for planning your trip. I found it to be really helpful, and covers American Camp, which I really need to get to one of these days!

If you are in the island and exploring, you might also consider checking out the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, and the Outdoor Sculpture Park at Roche Harbor.

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