Would you rather sail than drive on your next vacation? Check out Sucia Island Marine State Park.
Among the northernmost of the San Juan Islands, this horseshoe-shaped island is accessible only by watercraft. Boaters venturing into its coves and harbors quickly discover why Sucia Island is considered the crown jewel in the state marine park system and a boating destination that’s world class.
The main island, surrounded by picturesque rocks and smaller islands, gave pause to the Spanish explorers who navigated its waters in 1791. They called it “sucia” or “foul,” a nautical term describing navigational obstacles such as the rocks around the island. The island and its waters are, in fact, pristine, and the satellite rocks make for interesting diving and kayaking.
On April 10, 2012, part of a femur bone from a theropod dinosaur was discovered in a rock on the island. (Theropods are a group of meat-eating, two-legged dinosaurs, including T. rex and Velociraptor.) The 80 million-year-old fossil was spotted and excavated by paleontologists at the Burke Museum.
Known for its emerald waters and forested trails, its magnificent sunsets and sandstone formations, Sucia Island is prized by locals for its off-season beauty and solitude.
So, pack up the boat, leave the car behind, and blaze a watery trail to this northwestern paradise.
Sucia Island Marine State Park is a 564-acre marine park with 77,700 feet of shoreline and abundant camping and moorage. The main island and several smaller islands comprise the "Sucia group." There are no services on this island, and fossil collecting is strictly prohibited in this and all Washington state parks.
The park offers 25 picnic sites, five picnic shelters, potable drinking water at Fossil Bay early April through September, Echo Bay and Shallow Bay May through September and composting toilets. Day-use areas may be reserved nine months in advance by calling the park at (360) 376-2073.
Located in Puget Sound in San Juan County, Sucia Island has 48 mooring buoys, two linear moorage systems, and 2 docks. These are found at six locations around the island. Dock One is removed late October through March. Anchorage is available in all of the bays and coves, and there is no fee for boats riding on their own anchor. The bottoms are generally sandy mud, but in some locations eelgrass and seaweed may make setting anchor difficult. Moorage fees are charged between 1 p.m. and 8 a.m. Visit the permit page to purchase an annual moorage permit.
Echo Bay has 14 buoys and two linear moorage systems (800 linear feet).
Latitude: 48 45' 47.89" N (48.7633) Longitude: 122 54' 37" W (-122.9102)
Ewing Cove has four buoys.
Latitude: 48 45' 55" N (48.7652) Longitude: 122 53' 9" W (-122.8858)
Fossil Bay has potable water, 16 buoys, and two moorage docks (640 linear feet). One dock is removed from late October through March to prevent winter storm damage.
Latitude: 48 45' 0" N (48.75) Longitude: 122 54' 1.98" W (-122.9005)
Fox Cove has four buoys.
Latitude: 48 45' 9.97" N (48.7527) Longitude: 122 54' 47.88" W (-122.9133)
Shallow Bay has eight buoys.
Latitude: 48 45' 43.92" N (48.7622) Longitude: 122 55' 2" W (-122.9172)
Snoring Bay has two buoys.
Latitude: 48 44' 55.67" N (48.7488) Longitude: 122 53' 26.99" W (-122.8908)
Boaters should use caution when in the waters around this park. The word "sucia" is Spanish, meaning foul or dirty in a nautical sense. It refers to the numerous rocks and reefs which surround the island. These rocks and reefs have grounded and sunk numerous boats since European explorers first named the island in the 1790s. Boaters should check their charts frequently and pay particular attention to Clements Reef on the north shore of Sucia, as well as the entrances to Ewing Cove, Fox Cove, and Shallow Bay. There is a long reef which extends to the west of Little Sucia Island. Reefs also extend outward from Ev Henry Point, North and South Finger islands, and the Cluster Islands.
The park has 60 campsites, four reservable group camps, four picnic shelters, potable drinking water at Fossil Bay early April through September, Echo Bay and Shallow Bay May through September and composting toilets.
Visitors with disabilities may call the park at 360-376-2073 for moorage and camping accommodation assistance.
Four group camp areas may be reserved nine months in advance by calling 360-376-2073.
The coastal Salish tribes of North America occupied this area for thousands of years. There is evidence from archaeological surveys that Sucia Island was used by Native Americans for more than 2,500 years. Deer, shellfish, fish, marine mammals, plants, and herbs were harvested seasonally.
Europeans came to the island when the 1791 Elisa Expedition sailed into the area in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. The Spaniards named the island Sucia which meant foul or dirty in a nautical sense. This was in reference to the many rocks and reefs which "fouled" or "dirtied" the waters around the island. During the 1800s, white settlers homesteaded on the island, but their land claims were not legitimate because the island had been declared a Federal Lighthouse Reserve after the "Pig War" between England and the U.S.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission acquired about one-third of the island in 1952. Later, developers wanted to parcel up the remainder of the island into vacation lots. Seattle yachtsman Everett (Ev) Henry spearheaded a drive to raise money to purchase the island from developers. The Interclub (now incarnated as the Recreational Boaters Association of Washington) was formed, and $25,000 was raised to purchase the land. In 1960, that land was donated to Washington State Parks for use as a marine park. Washington State Parks acquired the remaining parcels of private property in 1972, and Sucia Island in its entirety was a state marine park.