Jones Island as Base Camp

I’ve just returned from a 4 day trip through the San Juan Islands. I had the pleasure of once again helping John Schaefer of Anew Outdoors guide the ‘Gritty Girls’ on their annual paddle. These ladies have been paddling together with John as their guide for 10 years. It’s a social gather as much as an outdoor adventure, but it’s always a hoot to spend time with them; this year was no exception.

Departing West Beach Resort on Orcas Island. Photographer: Steve Weileman
Departing West Beach Resort on Orcas Island. Photographer: Steve Weileman

This year they decided to return to their roots and paddle the San Juan’s. There was a time when paddling this island group was a wilderness adventure, but over the years with the heavy development it’s become more of a rural paddle, and as such, they’ve slid down the list of my favorite paddling spots. There was a time when you could paddle into any of the many waterfront parks and find plenty of room to set up camp. Not so now. Over the last few years, I’ve found that if you don’t arrive early you stand a good chance of not having a site available at all. A couple of years ago, I was on Cypress Head, and where my kayaks used to be the only ones on the spit, by days end there were 27 cockpits!

Carmen paddling across the southern bay of Jones Island with schooner in the background. Photographer: Steve Weileman
Carmen paddling across the southern bay of Jones Island with schooner in the background. Photographer: Steve Weileman

This isn’t to say that there aren’t pockets that provide an enjoyable paddle; it’s just that they’re getting smaller and harder to find. And regardless of the development of multi-million dollar homes on most beach fronts, the islands still have a charm all their own.

For this year’s trip, John had arranged for us to base camp out of Jones Island.  Located between San Juan Island and Orcas Island, Jones is one of the few Washington State Parks in the group that I haven’t had a chance to visit. The island was named by the Lt. Charles Wilkes during his United States Exploring Expedition in 1841, in honor of Captain Jacob Jones, U.S. Navy, who, while Master Commandant of the sloop-of-war USS Wasp, captured HMS Frolic on October 18, 1812.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) preening its feathers. Photographer: Steve Weileman
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) preening its feathers. Photographer: Steve Weileman

The island hosts 21 primitive camp sites, 1 water trail site, reservation group camp area, hiking trails, potable water April through September (seasonal droughts can influence water availability during August and September), 120 ft. pier, ramp, 12x 120 ft. moorage floats, 7 mooring buoys and toilets.

We choose to set up our base camp on the southern end of the island, and where lucky enough to have a couple of private sites locate on a finger of rock. Although we had started our trip on a Sunday to avoid the crowds, there where quite a few large kayak groups coming and going during our stay as well as sailing vessels. However, our camp site gave us plenty of privacy as well as a good vantage to view the sunsets. It also gave us ample options for day paddles in the surrounding islands and waterways.

A large portion of our first day was spent in getting group gear and food stored away. We launched around noon from the West Beach Resort which afforded us a short 2 hour paddle to Jones Island. The weather was perfect with warm temperatures and light wind.

John Schaefer cooking on an open fire after our stove died. Photographer: Steve Weileman
John Schaefer cooking on an open fire after our stove died. Photographer: Steve Weileman

Setting up camp was a quick affair and the only event marring an otherwise flawless day was the camp stove blowing its safety value after dinner! I can confess that I had a moment of panic thinking about how we where going to spent the next 3 days preparing meals for our group. This was a practically new stove and as such we hadn’t brought a back up. We decided to try our hands at doing it the old fashioned way over an open fire. It’s been since Boy Scouts since I tried cooking on an open fire, but in the end it turned out not to be a big deal after all. In fact it was enjoyable and I think the food was all the better for it.

Just glad we didn’t have foul weather or a burn ban!

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