The tips of submerged mountains collectively thrust above the sea where two straits--Georgia and Juan de Fuca--meet up with Puget Sound, forming the San Juan Islands. Of the 700 or so islands, islets, rocks, and reefs that make up the San Juan Islands, fewer than 200 have garnered official names. The large islands of San Juan, Lopez, Orcas, and Shaw make up more than 80 percent of the landmass. Of the rest of the land, much of it wave-drenched, 83 pieces are included in the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for gulls, cormorants, guillemots, puffins, brants, oystercatchers, auklets, bald eagles, and harbor seals. Of these 83 specks of land above the line of mean high water, 80 have been designated Wilderness: Aleck Rocks, Bare Island, Barren Island, Battleship Island, Bird Rock, Black Rock, Boulder Island, Brown Rock, Buck Island, Castle Island, Center Reef, Clements Reef, Colville Island, Crab Island, Davidson Rock, Eliza Rock, Flattop Island, Flower Island, Fortress Island, Four Bird Rocks, Gull Reef, Gull Rock, Half Tide Rock, Hall Island, Harbor Rock, Lawson Rock, Little Sister Island, two named Low Island, Matia Island (with the exception of the five acres camping area managed under an Memorandum of Understanding with Washington State Parks), Mouatt Reef, Mummy Rocks, Nob Island, North Pacific Rock, North Peapod Rocks, Parker Reef, Peapod Rocks, Pointer Island, Puffin Island, Rim and Rum Islands, Ripple Island, Secar Rock, Sentinel Island, Shag Rock, Shark Reef, Skipjack Island, Skull Island, Small Island, South Peapod Rocks, Swirl Island, The Sisters, Three Williamson Rocks, Tift Rocks, Turn Rock, Viti Rocks, White Rocks, and Willow Island, along with various unnamed islands, islets, rocks, and reefs.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the San Juan Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates Fish and Wildlife Service wildernesses) - Public law 94-557 (10/19/1976) To designate certain lands as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System and to provide designation for certain lands as Wilderness Study Areas
San Juan Wilderness consists of islands. The waters surrounding the islands are outside the Wilderness and are open to boating. To provide undisturbed habitat, boaters are asked to stay 200 yards away from the islands while observing wildlife.
Most of the Wilderness is closed. However, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission operates 5 acres on Matia Island as Matia Island State Park, with two buoys, a dock, a ramp, and a campground. A 1-mile hiking trail from the campground allows visitors to walk through the Wilderness. Please stay on the designated trail.
Matia Island State Park 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. The only access is a dock at Roche Cove. The dock is in place from April to mid-October. All other shoreline areas are closed. The campground has 6 campsites, a sandy beach, a picnic site, and a composting toilet. There is no potable water on Matia Island. The nearest potable water, on Sucia Island, is available from April to September. Garbage must be packed out. For further information on regulations, hours, moorage fees, and camping fees, please see the Matia Island State Park website or call 360-902-8844.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Matia Island temperatures are moderate, rarely exceeding 80 degrees in the summer or falling below 30 degrees in the winter. Ocean conditions can be challenging at any time of the year, but especially from mid-October to the end of March. Annual rainfall averages 25-28 inches. The driest months are June, July, and August.
Safety and Current Conditions
Boating safety should be foremost in the minds of visitors in the waters surrounding the islands. Check for National Weather Service storm warnings at http://www.weather.gov/, and always wear personal flotation devices. Visitors to Matia Island should be especially fire cautious during the dry summer months.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.