Imagine a green fairy forest of moss-covered rocks, cedar trees with human-sized hollows, black licorice slugs that look like tiny tire treads and a paradise cove with swirling sandstone formations.
You have now conjured an image of Matia Island Marine State Park in the San Juan Island chain, featuring old-growth trees and rainforest vibe. Motor on in, tie up to the dock or a mooring buoy and start exploring.
This island features an interior walk under an evergreen canopy, on a fern-edged trail. The path opens up to a dramatic cove, and forms a loop back to the dock. While the trails are perfect for hide and seek games among children, the family dog is not permitted in Matia’s fantasy forest, or anywhere else on the island. The island, owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has campsites, restrooms and trails maintained by State Parks,
Accessible only by boat, Matia Island Marine State Park is a 145-acre marine park with 20,676 feet of saltwater shoreline on the Strait of Georgia. The island is part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Under a mutual agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, 5 acres at Rolfe Cove are available to boaters as a marine park.
Matia Island has use restrictions that are different from most Washington state parks. Fires are not allowed on the island. With the exception of the campground at Rolfe Cove, the loop trail and its beaches, the island is closed to public access and is used to protect habitat and wildlife.
There is no potable water on Matia Island. The nearest potable water is on Sucia Island and is available from April to September. There is no garbage service to the island. Visitors must pack out what they pack in.
Open fires are not permitted on the island, even in the campground. Gas stoves may be used for cooking. Please check the campground bulletin board for current information.
Located in San Juan County on Puget Sound, Matia Island has two buoys and one dock at Rolfe Cove. The dock is 64-feet long and provides 128-feet of overnight moorage. Dock removal begins in October and installation begins the end of March. All floats will be installed no later than May 1.
Boats must self register and pay moorage fees at onshore bulletin board / pay station. Moorage fees are charged year round from 1 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Latitude: 48º 44' 56.98" N (48.7491) Longitude: 122º 50' 53.87" W (-122.8483)
Rolfe Cove on Matia Island offers six campsites, a sandy beach, one picnic site, and a composting toilet. There is no drinking water available on the island. The nearest potable water is on Sucia Island and available from April - September. There is no garbage service to the island. Visitors must pack-out what they pack-in.
Pets are not permitted.
Open fires are not permitted on the island, even in the campground. Gas stoves may be used for cooking. Please consult the campground bulletin board for current information.
Matia Island is one of many San Juan Islands known to have been used by Coast Salish peoples beginning more than 10,000 years ago. Camas bulbs were harvested on Matia Island, as well as several other adjacent islands.
The origins of the name “Matia” are complex. Juan Pantoja y Arriaga, first pilot on Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza’s 1791 expedition to chart the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, named the island Mal Abrigo, Spanish for “poor shelter.” Eilza allegedly changed the name to Isla de Mata, but the name does not appear in his written accounts of the voyage.
In 1841, American explorer and naval officer Charles Wilkes included the island as part of the Edmund Group in his charts of the San Juan Islands along with nearby Puffin Island possibly in honor of his son, Edmund Wilkes.
Matia Island received its current name in 1847 from explorer and British naval officer Henry Kellet, who may have been attempting to restore Eliza’s purported name for the island. The name was later formalized by the United States Coast Survey in 1854.
In 1875, Matia Island was set aside by the federal government as a lighthouse reservation. It was never opened to homesteading but there is evidence of Euro-American squatters on Matia Island dating as early as 1888. The first known resident of the island was Elvin Haworth Smith, known as the “Hermit of Matia Island.” In 1892, Smith, a Civil War veteran and captain in the Union Army, built a cabin on the island and began raising sheep, chickens and rabbits, travelling back and forth to Orcas Island for supplies. By 1920, friends insisted that he stop living alone for his safety, so George Carrier, a friend of his from the Civil War Union Army, lived with him. They disappeared heading back to Matia Island from Orcas Island during a supply run in early 1921. While they were never found, some of their cargo washed ashore on Sucia Island a few days later.
In 1923, a fox farm was established on the island. In 1936, the island was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is now owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is part of the San Juan National Wildlife Refuge. Use of Matia Island as a state park began in 1959 under a lease with the federal government.