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San Juan Island
Hwy 99, Exits 20/28, to Hwy 17 (left at 56th St.)
Dead end alert:
you won't want to turn around.
Slightly less than five square miles in size, Point Roberts is not exactly Metropolis, U.S.A. With nary an outlet center in sight, the charm of Point Roberts is non-commercial to the extreme. With just a smattering of restaurants, cafes, gift stores and food markets, Point Roberts is a tropical retreat in a mercantile sea. This does not mean there is nothing to see or do during your visit.
Separated from the U.S. mainland by two border crossings and 17 miles of Highway 99, the potential for development has historically been limited. The Point is home to about 1,300 permanent residents but its summer population swells by two or three thousand as Canadians come down to their summer cabins.
For such a small place, the Point is rich in parks and public access to the beaches. Each corner of the Point has a park with unique attractions. The latest addition, Lily Point Marine Park, sits at the southeast corner and was purchased through the efforts of the Whatcom Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy and Whatcom County. Much of the Point’s history is concentrated here: the Indians used to camp here while fishing for salmon and collecting clams, crabs and other creatures of the sea.
Around the turn of the 20th century, elaborate weirs and traps were constructed each season to capture and can millions upon millions of soon-to-spawn salmon intercepted on their way to the Fraser River. The fish would miss the turn towards the Fraser and would mill around in Boundary Bay before resuming their journey. The traps were outlawed in 1934 as the salmon stock declined and the buildings and machinery were taken away or left to rust.
Even during the height of the summer the park is a quiet refuge where the eagles soar overhead while Great Blue Herons wade in the shallows feeding on small fish hiding in the eelgrass. Trails in the uplands wind through the trees taking walkers from shaded glens to dramatic lookouts over the Salish Sea, Lummi, San Juan and Gulf islands. To the southeast stands the magnificent glacier-shrouded Mt. Baker, named for one of Captain George Vancouver’s officers.
A newly built trail leads down to the foreshore through groves of Maple trees to where the cannery once used to be. Icelandic poppies peek through the overgrown grass marking the location of a long ago home. Driftwood is piled up on the beaches providing a convenient resting spot after a swim in the warm tidal pools.
A 20-minute walk north will take you to Maple Beach Park (also accessible by road). Sand flats extend a half-mile off-shore and when the tide comes in at the end of a warm summer day, the water temperature can get up to the mid-80s. Here you can go clamming or catch crabs in the shallow waters between the sand bars. The bay’s typically calm surface provides the perfect spot for wake boarding, kite surfing and skim boarding.
On the southwest corner, you will find Lighthouse Marine Park. The bracing waters of Georgia Strait rush against the shore bringing salmon and resident pods of orcas looking for fresh salmon sushi. They usually show up in mid to late afternoon but have been known to come by in the morning on their way to other happy hunting grounds. Check with Ben, the always genial and informative park manager, or other park attendants, to see if they are still visiting at the time of your trip – you will be surprised at how close they come to shore especially if they feel like seal for dinner. Don’t think of this as just a day stop – sleep under the stars in the park’s campground, and enjoy the orca interpretive center, a boardwalk and viewing tower, barbeques and trails.
On the northwest corner of the Point is Monument Park. Here stands the first of many monuments that mark the U.S. and Canadian border between Canada and the U.S. from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. Here again, there is a newly built trail down to the beach; it’s a nice walk to Gulf Road where you can have a cold drink on the patio at Kiniski’s Reef Tavern while watching the sunset.
For more info, visit pointrobertschamberofcommerce.com.
GRAB A CLUB: Play a round of golf at Point Roberts Golf & Country Club and then swim at Maple Beach.
COOL OFF: Rent a bike at Pedal Pushers on Gulf Road and ride to the Shell center on Tyee for an ice cream cone.
PACK A PICNIC BASKET: Pick up organic goodies at Brewster’s and dawdle down the trail at Monument Park and watch the sun go down while you sip on your favorite refreshment.
FOR ART'S SAKE: Drop by the Blue Heron Gallery on Gulf Road to view works by regional artists.
STAY A WHILE AND RELAX: Boaters will want to check into the 1000-slip marina while everyone will want to order a wood-fired pizza at the Pier Restaurant.
PADDLE OUT: For kayakers and stand up paddle boarders – get on down to Lighthouse Marine Park and go for a paddle. With a little luck, you’ll be out on the water when the whales come by. Don’t have a kayak or SUP? No worries – have dinner on the lawn at South Beach House and watch the whales go by.