About the Refuge

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Scattered pearls in a sparkling sea the San Juan Islands nurture layers of life. Black oystercatchers scold kayakers as harbor seals lounge on sandy beaches and sea stars stalk the water’s edge.

Island Wonder

The rocks, reefs and islands of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge were set aside in 1960 to provide important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Black oystercatchers, Brandt’s cormorants, rhinoceros auklets, and pigeon guillemots are among the bird species that nest on Refuge islands. Harbor and elephant seals regularly use the shorelines to rest, molt and give birth to pups. Additionally, the untrammeled islands are home several rare plants including brittle prickly-pear cactus, bear’s foot sanicle, and California buttercup. 

Select opportunities to explore the Refuge islands may be found by foot, boat, and car. Most of the Refuge consists of small, wilderness islands whose fragile habitats are closed to human activities, enforced by a 200 yard off-shore buffer zone. Two refuge islands, Turn and Matia, have overnight campgrounds operated by Washington State Parks and short hiking trails for adventurous visitors. The Refuge is within the bounds of the Cascadia Marine Trail, a premiere water trail for non-motorized boaters. For those travelling by car, the Washington State Ferry routes from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands wend past several refuge islands.