I always had a fascination with lighthouses. As a kid I knew lighthouses mostly from looking at pictures because I grew up in a landlocked country. I didn’t see one up close and personal until I was 18 on a graduation trip in the Netherlands. When I moved to West Coast of the United States in my early 20s the fascination grew. Now that I live up here in the San Juan Islands, I get to visit lighthouses every time the fancy strikes. We have two of them right here on island, and two more are accessible by boat on outlying islands.
Cattle Point Lighthouse
Driving down to the south end of San Juan Island, you will come down the hill to views of rolling grass-covered sand dunes giving way to brilliant blue waters. And right there in between the two sits the tiny white-washed structure of the Cattle Point Lighthouse! If you are lucky, the resident bald eagle will have taken up the spot on top of the lantern, surveying the landscape. A short walking trail weaving through the dunes brings you right up to the light.
The existing structure was built in 1935 and almost collapsed from erosion in the recent past. The lighthouse has been re-enforced and stabilized in 2017, thus it once again stands glorious and sturdy in its spot. The views are fabulous and wildlife watching is abundant.
Some of the rocks off of Cattle Point are home to Stellar sea lions. If the wind is just right, you can listen to their roaring and you might see some of them frolicking in the waters below. Seals, river otters, eagles and waterfowl are abundant. There is even a chance to see killer whales! Watch as the boats go by braving the strong currents during tidal changes. Come visit and stay for a while.
Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Lime Kiln Point State Park, also known as the Whale Watch Park, is located on the coveted Westside of San Juan Island and is home to Lime Kiln Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1919, and subsequently has been automated in 1962 by the coast guard. As a result of this automation the light keeper’s job became obsolete. The former keeper residences are now park ranger housing. The 38-foot tower stands tall on the rocky point, surrounded by madrone and fir trees. It makes for a fabulous backdrop for pictures, picnics and awe-inspiring San Juan Island sunsets. The rocks at its base are a favorite spot for whale watchers and wedding parties.
During the summer months a killer whale research team uses the lighthouse as its base and opens the doors for visitors from all over the world. The Friends of Lime Kiln Society (F.O.L.K.S) is a group of dedicated volunteers that will take people up the lighthouse tower on Thursday and Saturday evenings from mid-May through mid-September. This allows people to take in the views from a whole new perspective! F.O.L.K.S also runs an interpretive center and gift store during the warmer season right next to the parking lot.
Turn Point Lighthouse
The Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island has been around since 1893 and has a rich history. It marks the northern end of Haro Strait. The lighthouse is a fog signal building with a light tower further down on the rocks. A stately keeper’s residence is also still standing. The light is now automated and keepers are no longer needed.
Stuart Island is only accessible by private boat or charter tours. Tours from San Juan and Orcas Island will either take you past the lighthouse or dock at Prevost Harbor. From there a two mile hike takes you to Turn Point.
The Turn Point Lighthouse Preservative Society has been busy restoring the buildings and keeping their history alive. For example, they converted the mule barn into a museum with lots of historic pictures. The keeper’s quarters are part of a tour. Volunteer docents are available at the museum and for tours from 11am to 4:30pm Tuesday through Saturday from 4th of July weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Patos Island Lighthouse
Patos Island is the northernmost island of the San Juan Archipelago, therefore Patos Island Lighthouse is the most challenging to get to out of the four. It is part of Patos Island Marine State Park and only accessible by private boat or charter from Orcas Island or Anacortes.
The lighthouse sits at the northwestern tip of the small and hauntingly beautiful island with out-of-this-world rocky outcroppings and colorful madrone forests. It is only a few miles away from the international border to Canada.
The Keepers of the Patos Light is a volunteer run group taking care of the lighthouse and opening it up for tours from mid-May to Labor Day weekend. If you have ever dreamt of being a lighthouse keeper, here is your chance! Their docent program might be just what you are looking for to become a keeper for a weekend or a week. Since the keeper’s residence is no longer standing, the “modern” keepers are camping at the rustic state park campsite.
Cattle Point Lighthouse and Lime Kiln Lighthouse pictures courtesy of Carmen Wolflisberg. Turn Point Lighthouse and Patos Island Lighthouse pictures courtesy of www.lighthousefriend.com