For all the years I’ve been visiting San Juan Islands, I have never been to Lime Kiln State Park. So that’s exactly where we decided to go this June. We booked a ferry reservation and set out early, leaving enough time to hang out in Anacortes.
It was a Saturday, so we strolled through the Anacortes Farmers Market, stopped by Pelican Bay Books (I can never visit Anacortes without purchasing at least a bag of books from this lovely, well-stocked independent bookshop), and grabbed a quick bite at Gere-a-Deli, an Anacortes lunch mainstay, before boarding the ferry.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
After arriving in Friday Harbor, we stopped at Kings Market to grab picnic fare before making our way to the west side of the island. The drive to Lime Kiln Point is stunning: pastoral scenery, idyllic farms, and the most breathtaking views of the water. (It’s worth pulling over at one of the view points for some photo opps).
Lime Kiln Point State Park is a day-use park spanning 42 acres, and considered one of the best places to view whales. Orcas are a common sight, most likely spotted May – September (with June and July being your best bets). Alas, we did not see any whales, but the beauty and uniqueness of the park made up for it!
Have your Discover Pass ready (or buy a day pass at one of the automated pay stations), park, and walk towards the lighthouse. The park’s 1.6 miles of hiking trails are fairly good for most skill levels, scattered with wild flowers and Madrona trees, with views from virtually every point.
The lighthouse is just as you’d imagine: perched meticulously atop a rocky bluff, its white frame striking against the deep blue sky. Built in 1919 and operated by the Friends of Lime Kiln Society, it still serves as a beacon for ships navigating the Haro Strait. And while the building is now used for orca whale research, it’s open for tours through the summer (see below for details). Or catch one of Dr. Bob Otis’ whale talks Fridays and Saturdays at 3 p.m. (mid-June – mid August).
For more cool and useful information, check out the Interpretive Center, situated near the lighthouse. Learn about orcas, the history of the lime kilns, and measure yourself against a replica of an orca’s dorsal fin (much larger than I would have expected)! There’s usually a naturalist nearby to answer questions. We found her at one of the picnic benches, surrounded by photos of and books about all the wildlife in the area. She was very friendly, and answered all of my kids’ questions about foxes, bats, deer, you name it.
The lime kiln
Way back in 1860, a lime producing operation began in what is now the park, and for the next 90 years, the area was quarried for limestone. Kilns were built to fire the raw rock into lime.
In 1996, one of the kilns was acquired by State Parks, and has since been renovated and kept as a part of history. Mind your step as you trek down the trail — there are steep drop-offs. We walked all the way down to the old kiln, where a couple of picnic tables beckoned to us. It was a fun place to lunch, surrounded by such natural beauty and tangible history.
After lunch, we made our (precarious) way down to the rocky shoreline. There was a low tide that weekend, so we hit the tide pooling jackpot. We saw starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs, and lots of shells.
After many more rounds of having the kids pose for photos, we bid farewell to Lime Kiln Point and headed back to Friday Harbor to grab some snacks for the ferry home. If you need snacks asap (hangry toddlers and all), check out The Blowhole – a snack stand near the park entrance — with the tag line, “Snacks with a Porpoise!” While you’re there, say hello to the owners’ resident hound dog, Huckleberry.
Find it: 1567 Westside Road, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 / (360) 378-2044
Hours: 8 a.m. – dusk (check here for winter schedule)
Lighthouse tours: Mid-May through Mid-September, Thursday – Saturday evenings, 7 p.m. until sunset
Interpretive Center hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily, between May 28 and Sept 11
Lunch: 12 picnic sites are scattered around the shoreline and lighthouse, available on first come, first served basis. The Blowhole snack stand is open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Every day except Tuesdays.
And remember: pack out what you pack in.
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