Explore the San Juan Islands
San Juan Islands, the San Juans. Whatever you call them, the San Juan Islands are the maritime heart of the Pacific Northwest. A visit to the San Juan Islands should be on the top of everyone’s list of things to do while exploring Washington State. Tucked into the protected waters of an inland sea, over 400 rocks and islands that comprise the San Juans beckon visitors to head out on a journey of discovery.
The San Juan Islands reveal themselves in subtle ways. Intimate marine passages open into long reaches between forest covered island slopes, exposing startling vistas of several mountain ranges which encircle and protect residents of the San Juan Islands from the vagaries of weather systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean. The Olympic Mountains to the south are a major influence on weather patterns in western Washington, and the San Juan Islands in particular. Most oceanic weather fronts approach the state from the southwest. The Olympic mountains pose a formidable barrier which forces the warm moist air to rise, cool, and form precipitation. In doing so the mountains literally wring the clouds dry, by the time the weather systems reach the San Juan Islands they have little moisture left in them. Consequently, in the San Juan Islands we enjoy a climate more akin to a desert than to the temperate rainforest that surrounds the San Juans. Only 18-20 inches of rain falls in the average year in the San Juan Islands. Compare that to the 35 inches of rain in Seattle and Bellingham, or nearly 200 inches on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. While Washington State may have a reputation for being wet, the San Juan Islands don’t really fit the stereotype. In fact, the San Juans enjoy nearly 250 days of sunshine per year. To give you perspective on that statistic consider that Tucson Arizona averages just under 200 days of sunshine!
San Juan Islands summer weather patterns typically include sunny skies, calm winds, and moderate temperatures. The inland sea, with its cool water temperature, acts as a fantastic heat sink which prevents the air from getting too hot or too cold. Near the Puget Sound it is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime, and around 55 F at night. It rarely climbs above 80 degrees. It is hard to imagine a better summer climate than that found here in the San Juan Islands. The winters in the San Juans are also relatively mild. The water surrounding the San Juan Islands acts as a moderator and keeps temperatures well above freezing most of the time.
San Juan Island visitors are often startled to see small colonies of cactus growing here in the islands. The San Juans are actually the northernmost outpost of cactus in North America. There are ethnobotanists who think that these plants were actually brought to the San Juan Islands long ago by early inhabitants of the islands. If that is so then we are looking at a living artifact, and a direct link to ancient times in the San Juan Islands. The theory is that the juice of these diminutive plants may have been used as a fixing agent for the natural dyes that were manufactured.
In the San Juan Islands are also the northernmost specimens of Manzanita that grow in the Pacific Northwest. Related closely to the beautiful Madrone (Madrona, Arbutus) trees that the San Juan Islands shorelines are famous for, these red barked shrubs are more commonly seen in the American Southwest.
Cactus, Manzanita, ancient trees, abundant wildlife, and great scenery, the San Juan Islands have much to offer the casual visitors and full time residents alike.