5 Must Do Hikes on Lopez Island
On Lopez Island, hiking is a favorite pastime for both islanders and visitors. It was challenging to narrow our list down to just 5 hiking opportunities on Lopez. Below, you will find four coastal hikes and one hike through the unique old-growth forest in the island’s interior. Being near water is a quintessential part of visiting an island, which is one reason we chose so many coastal hikes. Another reason is that our coastal hikes are always different. The dramatic tides, calm seas, or raging waves continually change the hiking experience and points of interest. As islanders who hike these trails weekly, we can assure you that each experience is unique. We hope you enjoy the best of what Lopez offers through one of these hikes.
– here’s our list of must-do hikes!
- Iceberg Point
- Shark Reef
- Watmough Bay
- Spencer Spit
- Lopez Hill
Iceberg Point, Lopez Island Hiking Trails
In the 19th century, sailors passing the southern peninsula of Lopez Island nicknamed it Iceberg Point due to smooth rocky bluffs that looked like glaciers rising out of the Salish Sea. Today, Iceberg Point is the jewel of the San Juan Islands National Monument, and the number one recommended hike while visiting Lopez.
Iceberg Point hike begins on a forested trail that leads to a windswept coastal meadow that ends abruptly at rocky cliffs. Hiking trails follow this rocky coastline high above the water. Keep your eyes peeled for whales breaching just offshore or bald eagles flying overhead. This treeless landscape was created long ago when native peoples would burn down this peninsula to plant Camas Lilies, a vital food crop for Native American residents of the San Juan Islands. Hikers can still enjoy the camas and chocolate lily blooms. The more observant may even spot Brittle Prickly Pear cacti, which were also planted by natives and were likely used in dyeing fabrics.
On a clear day, Iceberg Point boasts views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, including Mount Rainier, in one epic panoramic view. You can even faintly see the rocky shores of Vancouver Island, and don’t be surprised if your cell phone texts you, “Welcome to Canada.” Colonies of seals and sea lions are often seen here. Like Lime Kiln State Park, Iceberg Point is also considered a whale watch park, though spotting is less frequent. Make sure to visit the concrete obelisk that sits atop the highest point of Iceberg. It is a historical relic used in the International Border Survey of 1908 between the United States and the United Kingdom to better define their respected boundaries. The tip of the peninsula dips closer to the water’s edge and features a navigational beacon. Expect to spend 2 hours hiking the loop trail.
Park your car at Agate Beach parking lot and then continue walking up the paved road until it becomes private. Walk another 50 yards on the private road, and the trailhead will be on your right. This trailhead is poorly marked, so you need to look for the metal bar gate that backs vehicles from driving on the hiking trail. This trailhead is directly across from a road called Bat and Ball Lane. So many people have struggled to find the entrance to Iceberg Point that I have made a short POV video from Agate Beach to the Iceberg Trail. I recommend you watch it if you don’t want to get lost! A trail map is located at the end of the tree line, which is very informative.
Shark Reef Preserve, San Juan Islands Best Coastal Hikes
Arguably one of the best hikes in the San Juan Islands, Shark Reef is another must-do hike on Lopez. This hike begins with a nature trail through an old growth forest that opens up a rocky shoreline. A series of microislands are just offshore and are home to a colony of seals and sea lions. Cattle Point lighthouse on San Juan Island is in the distance across the straight of Juan de Fuca.
On a clear day, you can see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. Shark Reef has some of the strongest currents in the San Juan Islands, and during a moving tide, the water looks like a raging river. The seals and sea lions take advantage of this location to feed on bait fish swept up in the current. In turn, transient orca whales will sometimes hunt the seals and sea lions in this location.
Shark Reef is a leisurely hike, but bringing waterproof hiking boots during the wet season is a good idea. When you reach the water’s edge, follow the trail to the left. It will take you to mossy cliffs and a grassy ledge that offer spectacular views. This is also one of the best places in San Juans to enjoy a picnic or to watch the sunset or moonrise.
Spencer Spit -Forest to Beach Hike
Located on the Northend of the island, Spencer Spit State Park offers hikers a few hiking trails to choose from. The most popular hiking trail leads down a steep hill to a sandy spit named after the Spencer Family, who homesteaded in the area during the late 1800s. The cabin built at the point of the spit is one of the only buildings left for the Spencers. At a very low tide, you walk the beach on both sides of the spit and eventually loop back to the parking lot. At mid or high tides, hikes will walk to the end of the spit and then return the way they came. The surrounding islands of Frost and Flower and the Lopez Island Ferry landing make for a grand view. Learn more by reading this Spencer Spit State Park Blog.
Spencer Spit is a State Park and requires you to pay to park if you don’t have a parking pass. There are picnic tables and fire rings on the spit, and it is a beautiful place to have an iconic Pacific Northwest beach bonfire.
Lopez Hill Hiking Trails
Lopez Hill is a 500-acre preserve in the wild interior of Lopez. Only Moran State Park on Orcas Island offers a comparable trail network. A series of marked hiking trails lead hikers past old-growth forests and moss-covered boulders. You will experience elevation gain on all the trails on Lopez Hill, but the Hill Top trail brings you to the highest point of the preserve and views of the treetops below. In addition to hiking, mountain bikers and horseback riders will occasionally ride some of the trails.
Lopez Hill offers a shady hike that keeps you cool during hot summer days. If you plan a wet season hike, you will be delighted by the wide variety of mushrooms that dot the hiking trails here. Lopez Hill is the most intense hike on Lopez, so bring your hiking boots. While it is the only Lopez hike that doesn’t offer water views, the magical interior landscape of the island is well worth hiking through.
Hike Watmough Bay
Watmough Preserve is on the South end of Lopez. It is best known for its sandy cove beach but also offers two hiking trails with stunning views. Hikers will follow a flat path to Watmough beach from the parking lot. When you reach this beach, you will take the hiking trail to the right, taking you through thick old-growth forests with views of the rocky shoreline and grand views of the surrounding islands. This hike does require you to double back when the trail stops at the end of Watmough Bay Preserves border.
The Second hike at Watmough Bay takes you to the top of Watmough Head and offers the most epic view of Mount Baker from the San Juan Islands. This hike is an advanced hike due to its extreme elevation gain. Expect to scramble up a few rock faces to make it to the top of Watmough Head. Madrona trees along the trail make for a helpful hand as you start climbing. The trail begins just above the parking lot on the right. Only a tiny path should tell you how few hikers have attempted this hike!
Watmough Bay Beach is worth visiting, so build beach time into your hiking plans. At the top of Watmough Bay Head is a rope swing that will let you swing into one of the most epic views in all the San Juan Islands!