Hiking on Orcas Island

“In 1933 the United States was already in the 4th year of the Great Depression. Millions of people were without jobs. In March 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt became President of the United States. Just 5 days after taking office he proposed a solution to address the nation’s unemployment woes. ‘I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and other similar projects.’ Young men were equipped, mobilized and assigned to 1,400 camps around the nation. One of these camps was Camp Moran on Orcas Island.”

Orcas Island Mount Constitution

Last October my husband and I spent over week in the San Juan Islands. Aside from visiting the five lighthouses of the San Juans, we did a lot of beautiful walking and hiking, including hiking on Orcas Island. Orcas Island offers the two highest mountains in the San Juans, with great hikes for exercise, fresh air, nature, and very scenic views. And both of these mountains have interesting stories behind them.

Moran State Park/Mount Constitution

While Robert Moran, a shipbuilder and former mayor of Seattle, and his wife, Millie, donated the much of the original land in 1921 for Moran State Park, many of the trails, as well as roads and bridges, were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps from President Roosevelt’s solution. Moran State Park, filled with old-growth forest and alpine meadows, is currently a 5,252-acre park, with more than 38 miles of trails. From gentle forest loops to steep ascents, including the 2,409-foot Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

Mount Constitution Orcas Island Mt Baker

Mount Constitution Mt Baker

My husband and I started our hike up Mount Constitution via the left side of the Mountain Lake Loop trail, to Twin Lakes, and up to the summit. At the top, there are spectacular 360-degree views of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, including Mt. Baker, which we clearly were able to see, and Mount Rainier, which was not visible that day. There are also views of the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island.

We hiked down via Little Summit Trail, which passes by Summit Lake and a lookout near Little Summit for some more great views. Back at the car, this route makes a full circle. This loop hike could be done in the opposite direction as well.

Mount Constitution Orcas Island

A few days later, we walked the four-mile Mountain Lake Loop trail around the entire lake, as another example of the many other hikes offered in Moran State Park built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Turtleback Mountain Preserve

With the likelihood of Turtleback Mountain, the second highest mountain in the San Juan Islands, becoming developed with luxury homes, “in 2006 the citizens of San Juan County purchased the property through the San Juan County Land Bank with the assistance of The San Juan Preservation Trust and the Trust for Public Land.” Along with more than 1,500 private donors, the property of Turtleback Mountain became permanently protected from development. “The preservation of Turtleback Mountain’s ecological and cultural resources is a significant accomplishment in conserving the unique natural heritage of the San Juan archipelago.”

Turtleback Mountain Orcas Island

My husband and I spent almost five hours hiking on Turtleback Mountain, with its 1,520-foot summit, and its 1,718 acres of land. With over eight miles of trails, we covered around six miles, and had a day where the weather cooperated and allowed us some magnificent views, including of the San Juan Islands beyond, the farmland below, and the plants and trees throughout.


Orcas Island Turtleback Mountain

There are two trailheads for Turtleback Mountain. The north end area is not as steep for hiking as the south end, so we opted to start at the south end because of the steeper ascent, and the possibility for more views. We hiked on a crisscross of looping trails including the South Trail, the West Overlook Trail, and the Ship Peak, Ridge, Center Loop, Raven Ridge, and Lost Oak Trails.


Turtleback Mountain Preserve

I was intrigued when I learned about the story of Turtleback Mountain, and how the people of San Juan County came together to preserve their beloved area in nature. I felt inspired. And I have always been fascinated with President Roosevelt and the Civilian Conservation Corps, which created all the many, many trails that were built around 80 years ago, that I know that I hike on a lot, well beyond Moran State park. It is something that I so very much appreciate each time I get out in nature.

In fact, the Civilian Conservation Corps has “led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation’s natural resources. [The] volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, and constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks.”

By the way, the five lighthouses we visited in the San Juan Islands were Burrows Island, Cattle Point, and Lime Kiln, as well as Patos Island, and Turn Point.

Sweet Travels!

For more about the San Juan Islands, and visiting five lighthouses of the San Juan Islands, please see my San Juan Islands and Lighthouses categories.

Some information in this blog obtained from trail signs and informational signs at both locations, the brochure from Moran State Park, and the following websites:

Visit San Juans: Hikes on Orcas Island

SJC Land Bank: Turtleback Mountain Preserve Map

Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy

Park Benches of Sucia Island State Park
Lighthouses of the San Juan Islands: Patos Island and Turn Point

3 Replies to “Hiking on Orcas Island”

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