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James Island Marine State Park
James Island Marine State Park sits low on the horizon, small and unassuming next to its neighbors in the San Juan archipelago. This tiny marine state park, accessible only by boat, may be the ideal retreat.
Remote as it seems, James Island is not to be missed. Featuring emerald coves, forested trails, spectacular views and an isthmus with two white sand beaches, the park offers only 13 primitive campsites – three for travelers arriving by human- or wind-powered watercraft and 10 sites clustered in two areas on opposite sides of the isle, and moorage is available on both sides.
You've worked hard to get here. Now it is time to relax and experience the lightly touched beauty of this watery paradise.
James Island Marine State Park is a 581-acre, marine camping and moorage park with 12,335 feet of saltwater shoreline on Rosario Strait. Much of James Island has been designated a Natural Forest Area and is closed to public access, except for designated recreational areas and 1.5 miles of high bluff trails with extraordinary views.
Located in San Juan County on Puget Sound, James Island has four mooring buoys in the East Cove. Mooring buoys remain in place year-round. Moorage fees are charged year round from 1:00 PM to 8:00 AM on a first come, first served basis. All boaters must self-register and pay required fees upon arrival. Boaters must also pay for boats rafted to another boat. Boaters need to obey rafting limits posted on mooring buoys. West Cove has a dock with a 128-foot moorage float (256 linear feet). The dock remains in place year-round. No boats more than 45-feet are permitted on buoys. Please observe rafting limits posted on each buoy.
Salmon and bottom fishing is good in waters adjacent to James Island State Park.
Latitude: 48º 30' 46.98" N (48.5130) Longitude: 122º 46' 23.88" W (-122.7733)
This park offers phone in buoy registration
How it works:
- When you arrive at a buoy, call the number on the mooring ball.
- Provide your buoy number and length of stay (3 nights maximum).
- Pay with credit or debit card or provide your Annual Boat Moorage permit number.
- There is a $4.50 convenience fee to register by phone.
- All buoys are first come, first served and $15 per night.
Picnic & day-use facilities
West Cove has a composting toilet, while East Cove has one pit toilet.
- 1.5 miles of hiking trails
Water activities & features
- Fishing (saltwater)
- Oyster harvesting
- James Island offers short hikes with dramatic views from high bluffs. Hikers with children should be aware of fall hazards due to rocky high banks and cliffs, and surrounding waters that are deep and swift.
- A recreational license is required for fishing and shellfish harvesting at Washington state parks. For regulations, fishing season information, or to purchase a recreational license, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- San Juan Islands state park brochure (PDF).
James Island has 13 campsites at three locations on the island. Camping is available on a first come, first served basis. Water Trail Site is on a hill above a pocket cove of the West Cove and has three campsites (sites 11-13) and a pit toilet. These campsites are part of the Cascadia Marine Trail and are strictly reserved for use by boats arriving by human- or wind-powered watercraft.
The Saddle area spans from the West Cove shoreline across the island to the East Cove. There are six campsites (sites 5-10), a picnic shelter and two picnic sites, composting toilet facilities, pay station, and moorage dock. A trail leads to the East Cove where there are four offshore mooring buoys. The loop trail system starts and ends here. The bottom structure at the West Cove is rocky and steeply sloped. It is not a good anchorage site.
The East Cove campground is a short walk from the Saddle area and has four campsites (sites 1-4), one pit toilet, bulletin board, and pay station. From here, the loop trail leads southwest to the Water Trail campsites on the southwest side of the West Cove. Boaters moored in the East Cove are exposed to wakes from boat traffic in Rosario Strait.
Check-in time is 2:30 p.m.
Check-out time is 1 p.m.
There is no potable water on the island and no garbage service. Visitors need to pack-out what they pack-in. Boats may not use dinghies to reserve moorage space on the dock or buoys. Campers and boaters must self register and pay fees at the bulletin board / pay station. The nearest fuel and groceries are at Anacortes.
For fee information, check out our camping rates page.
James Island was named by the American explorer and naval officer, Commander Charles Wilkes, during the United States Exploring Expedition in 1841. The island was named for Reuben James, a U.S. sailor who saved the life of naval officer Stephen Decatur—the namesake of nearby Decatur Island—during a battle with Tripoli in North Africa.
In 1875, the federal government set the island aside as a lighthouse reservation. No lighthouse was ever built on the island, however. The property was transferred to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission in 1964 and officially named James Island State Park in 1974.