Skull Island, San Juan Islands WA

  • Pocket Beach on Skull Island WA

    Pocket Beach on Skull Island WA

A self-supported trip created by Paddle-on_Lads

Trip Overview

One side effect of the current pandemic is that instead of driving to some wild distant paddling destination I have had to refocus my paddling closer to home. That’s not too limiting for me because I live on Lopez Island in the Central San Juan Islands of WA. From here I can get to some of the most sought-after paddling terrain in the area by just launching about 2 miles from my house. I have visited most of the public-access islands here but one that was always on my list is Skull Island. It is a little chunk of rock administered by the BML and little known amongst even locals. I first checked-in with the BLM to see if it was OK for me to visit. I was told that it is open to access and even overnight camping but that classification might change with some of the proposed land use plans. They asked me to file a trip report with them and let them know what I found.

From Lopez Island it is a 14nm round trip from Odlin County Park beach which is easily in my daily paddling range. I decided to do a little recon trip out there for the day to see the lay-of-the-land with a future overnight trip in my mind. I picked a cold clear day with a local high pressure locked in over the area providing sun and calm seas. My plan was to get there about mid-tide since I didn’t know the shore line and from looking at charts it looked like no beaches for landing, just rock. Great paddling in the protection of Harney Channel and the shores of West Sound on Orcas Island. No worries, just the occasional boat going by to watch out for. Watch over your shoulder for the State Ferries, they are surprising fast and can sneak up behind you. Stay out of mid channel and hug the shore for prudence.

I got there in good order, no issues and began paddling around the islands counter clockwise. Sure-enough the shore appeared to be solid rock most of the way so I began looking for a place I could get out in knee deep water and carry my boat up the rock shore. I was pleased to see a small section of white shell beach on the north east tip of the islands and upon close inspection it was a perfect kayaker’s pocket beach. Mid-tide it appears and is ready to receive you with just enough room for 2 boats side-by side. The hill side at the beach is also easy to climb and because the island is mostly unforested its easy to walk around.

I was there just as the migrant wild geese were nesting so I was careful to watch where I was walking and not get too close to any nesting birds. I saw lots of nests. The environment is very fragile and easily trampled. Even the moss on the rocks can be destroyed by just careless foot prints. I didn’t see any obvious signs of other humans and no well-established campsites so I decided even though it would be fun to camp there It would be harmful to the island to do more than a day trip. I suspect that at some point this place will be closed to camping which is a good thing, but I hope they leave it open to visiting for the day.

The whole trip took about 4.5 hours with some time to chillax and eat a picnic on the island.

Paddle-on Lads

Safety Notes

Watch the weather and know your tides


Mellow and well suited for intermediate paddlers

Trip Details

  • Trip Dates: 4/15/2020
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean

Trip Location