To prevent disturbance to sensitive seabirds and marine mammals, all islands within the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, excluding public use areas on Matia and Turn Islands, are closed to public access, and the surrounding waters within 200 yards are closed to watercraft.
What you need to know before you go:
While most islands in the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge are closed to protect sensitive habitat, two are open to the visiting public. Turn and Matia Islands offer visitors both daytime and overnight opportunites to experience the Refuge's unique environments.
Campgrounds on Turn and Matia Island are managed by cooperative agreement with Washington State Parks. Turn and Matia Island State Parks are open to camping and moorage year round. Day use is allowed from 6:30 a.m. to dusk in the summer and from 8 a.m. to dusk in the winter. Quiet hours are from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. No generators may operate between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Pets are not allowed anywhere on either the island. The Refuge does not charge fees, however both State Parks charge moorage and camping fees.
All other rocks, reefs, and islands within San Juan Islands NWR are closed to visitation. A 200-yard buffer zone is enforced around them to protect nesting, resting, and feeding birds. Consult the Refuge map for a general overview of the islands within the Refuge. "Rocks, Reefs, and Islands within San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge" gives a detailed description of the lands administered by the Refuge. Maps of Turn and Matia Islands give an overview of available camping and hiking opportunities.
San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is located in Northern Puget Sound. Best access to the islands is by boat from Anacortes or Friday Harbor. Several of the Refuge islands can be viewed from Washington State Ferries that traverse the area.
Matia Island is reachable only by boat. It is located 2.5 miles north of Orcas Island and 1.5 miles east of Sucia Island. The closest launch sites are in Blaine, Obstruction Pass on Orcas Island, Squallicum Harbor in Bellingham, and in Anacortes.
Turn Island is also reachable only by boat. The closest access point is Jackson Beach on San Juan Island. The closest "mainland" access is Washington Park in Anacortes.
Wildlife Comes First
Keep in mind wildlife comes first on National Wildlife Refuges. Public access to the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is very limited. Only Turn Island and a small portion of Matia Island are open to visitors. All other rocks, reefs, and islands in the Refuge are closed. Please keep 200 yards away from these wildlife sanctuaries to reduce disturbance. This regulations is in place to protect plants and animals while allowing people an opportunity to enjoy this unique resource.
Visiting San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is an adventure! Here are some of the recreational opportunities available at the Refuge.
The San Juans offer unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife. The key element to successful spotting is patience. Options to watch wildlife from land exist on trails of Matia and Turn Islands. Otherwise, visitors may observe wildlife on all other refuge islands by boat, maintaining a 200 yard buffer from the shoreline. Species to watch for include gulls, cormorants, pigeon guillemots, tufted puffins, brants, black oystercatchers, rhinoceros auklets, bald eagles, and harbor seals.
The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness. - John Muir
Trails on Matia Island and Turn Island weave through lush forests, allowing occasional glimpses of the sparkling sea. Visitors who venture to these islands will be treated to a serene island experience unlike any other. Due to the sensitive nature of these Refuge Islands, pets are not allowed. Please stay on trail to reduce human disturbance.
From car ferries to kayaks, there are many ways visitors may view the Refuge islands from the water.
Whether you are watching for marine mammals, photographing wildlife, searching for seabirds, or simply enjoying a peaceful paddle, a boat trip through the San Juans is an amazing way to view the Refuge and its inhabitants.
Visiting the islands by boat is well worth the advanced planning involved. The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau maintains information about boat rentals, moorage, and charters. The Washington State Ferries section of the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway carries passengers past Refuge islands while they sit back and scan for everything from orcas to cormorants. For human-powered boat adventurers, the Cascadia Marine Trail passes by Refuge islands, offering unsurpassed views of Pacific Northwest scenery and wildlife while providing access to pullouts, campsites, and other public amenities along the way.
Wildlife Comes First!
It is the responsibility of boaters to maintain a 200 yard buffer zone from all Refuge islands except for portions of Turn and Matia Islands. Small watercraft, such as kayaks, can be especially disturbing to wildlife because of their ability to come close to shore and access shallow areas. Many birds nest on the shorelines and will flush when approached too closely, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to predators such and gulls or crows. If this happens repeatedly the nests may be abandoned forever. Part of what makes this Refuge special is the diversity and abundance of wildlife. Please help do your part to preserve the wild nature of this place by maintaining the appropriate distance.
Campground facilities managed by Washington State Parks are available on both Matia Island and Turn Island.
Special Use Permits
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits under various wildlife laws and treaties at a number of offices throughout the country. Permits enable the public to engage in legitimate wildlife-related activities that would otherwise be prohibited by law. Service permit programs ensure that such activities are carried out in a manner that safeguards wildlife. Additionally, some permits promote conservation efforts by authorizing scientific research, generating data, or allowing wildlife management and rehabilitation activities to go forward. Contact the Refuge Office at (360) 457-8451 for more information.
Be a good steward, practice these Leave No Trace principles.
Other Facilities in the Complex
- Dungeness NWR
- Protection Island NWR
- Copalis NWR
- Flattery Rocks NWR
- Quillayute Needles NWR
San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of 83 rocks, reefs and islands spread throughout the San Juan Islands archipelago. Only Turn and Matia Islands are open to visitation. All others are closed to the public to protect sensitive wildlife. Boaters wishing to view closed areas should stay at least 200-yards from shore to avoid impacting wildlife.
Washington Maritime NWRC Headquarters
715 Holgerson Road (Mail only, not for navigation or public access)
Sequim, WA 98382
For electronic navigation use the following address:
600 Voice of America Road
Sequim, WA 98382
- From U.S. Highway 101, 3 miles west of Sequim, turn north on Kitchen Dick Road.
- Continue north for approximately 3.2 miles. The road turns sharply to the right and becomes Lotzgessel Road.
- In .2 miles turn left into the Dungeness County Recreation Area on Voice of America Road.
- Continue through the campground to the end of Voice of America Road and the Refuge parking lot.
- Follow the brick path to the right of the Refuge Entrance and Fee Station for 30 yards to the office building.