Turning into Active Cove between Patos and Little Patos islands, you’ll feel like you’re landing on the moon. A pebble beach leads to a bare, gray, rocky outcropping. Once you have beached your craft or dinghy, walk to the top of the butte and savor the out-of-this-world views.
The landscape shifts as you wander up, into a colorful forest of Pacific madrone trees and follow the half-mile path to a lonely lighthouse run by the U.S. Coast Guard (USGS). The dramatic rock formations at the point are punctuated by yellow lichens and kelly-green moss.
Up for a scavenger hunt? Find the USGS international boundary marker in front of the lighthouse and take the paved path back to a former Coast Guard station, now a ruin, and spy the former helicopter landing pad. Patos is only a couple miles from Canadian waters, and is the northernmost of the San Juan Islands.
If you’re planning on a longer stay, grab one of the park’s first-come, first-served campsites, pitch your tent and take in the beauty of this rare, haunting isle.
Patos Island is a 207-acre marine park with 20,000 feet of saltwater shoreline that is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Washington State Parks manages the campground at Active Cove on the west side of the island and maintains the two mooring buoys and a 1.5-mile loop trail. The group campsite is often reserved for the local volunteer group that maintains the lighthouse. There is no potable water on the island and visitors must pack out what they pack in.
There is no potable water or garbage service on Patos Island. Visitors must pack out what they pack in.
Water activities & features
Lighthouse tours are offered on most weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day (weather and tide permitting). Please call Sucia Island State Park at (360) 376-2073 for information and availability.
A recreational license is required for fishing and shellfish harvesting at Washington state parks. For regulations, fishing season information, or to purchase a recreational license, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Located in San Juan County in Puget Sound, Patos Island has two mooring buoys in Active Cove.
The moorage area at Active Cove has strong currents flowing through it and is exposed to strong westerly winds from the Georgia Strait. Boaters should check weather reports and avoid anchoring at this site during weather forecasts which call for high pressure systems and westerly winds exceeding 12 knots in southern Georgia Strait. Boats commonly drag anchor and may go aground during these conditions.
The two offshore mooring buoys are in service year-round. Please observe mooring limitations posted on the buoys and at the onshore bulletin boards. Moorage fees are required from 1 p.m. to 8 a.m. Boaters must register and pay moorage onshore at the pay station.
Latitude: 48º 47' 6" N (48.785) Longitude: 122º 57' 58.96" W (-122.9663)
The park offers seven campsites, one picnic site, one composting toilets, and one vault toilet at Active Cove. Campers must register at the bulletin board near the beach. There is no potable water or garbage service on Patos Island. Visitors must pack-out what they pack-in.
Archaeological sites indicate Native Americans used the island for thousands of years as a shellfish harvesting site. Europeans first discovered the island during the late 1700s when the Spanish Elisa Expedition surveyed the area. The island was named Patos Island which is Spanish for duck. Alcid sea birds, sometimes referred to as ducks, are abundant in the area. A rock formation in the small east cove near Toe Point is shaped like a duck's head.
In the 1890s, a lighthouse station was established at Alden Point and the existing lighthouse was finished in 1918. The lighthouse station was occupied and operated by Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard staff and their families until the late 1960s. Civilian employees then Washington State Parks staff lived and operated the site until it was finally automated in the 1970s. Numerous buildings were constructed at the station over the years, but all facilities except the lighthouse have been razed and burned by the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The last remaining support building, a 1950s duplex residence, was burned on November 18, 2005. The BLM intends to re-establish native flora to the site.