Four Days in the Haze: Camping on Sucia Island
Words and photos by Chris Zimmerman
For the past two summers, the Pacific Northwest has been inundated by smoke from ever-increasing wildfires, shrouding this scenic region with a thick, choking haze. Living in a constant smokescreen is not only unhealthy, it also saps motivation to get outside and enjoy summer. While we did take this into consideration, we weren’t going to let the smoke ruin our trip to Sucia Island. But as we slowly motored through the haze across the Strait of Georgia, the claustrophobia of the smoky skies began to set in. With burning eyes and below a neon orange sun, time spent on Sucia felt like its own world, life in a bubble due to the thick wall of smoke surrounding us.
Located on the outskirts of Washington’s San Juan Islands, Sucia Island lies off the northern edge of Orcas Island, is only accessible by personal boat, and is car-free, aside from one lone park service pickup. The claw-shaped, glacial-scarred island contains over 10 miles of hiking trails and 60 hike-in campsites spread out over the various peninsulas, along with 48 mooring buoys across six different bays. This limited accessibility and relative remoteness, along with the island’s many naturally sheltered bays, make Sucia Island Marine State Park a popular summer boating and camping destination for those in the know.
A hallway of moored cabin cruisers and sailboats greeted us as we arrived in the glassed-off Fossil Bay. After finding a space at one of the only two docks, giving us easy access to the island without having to dinghy in, we unloaded our camp gear and proceeded to pick out a spot to post up for the next four days. While one would think the pace of island life to be slow and lazy, we spent the ensuing days hiking, kayaking, crabbing and swimming. Between watching seals and otters swimming in the bays and great blue herons hunting in the shallows, nature was on full display. As great as it would have been to enjoy views of Mt. Baker, Orcas Island and Vancouver Island, spending a few days in a smoky haze helped to make us feel far removed from the rest of the world.
While Sucia may seem pretty inaccessible to those without a boat, there is a twice-daily passenger ferry coming from Orcas Island. With plenty of hiking trails and campsites spread out across the entire island, backpacking is a great way to enjoy this state park. Another popular way to explore the island is by kayak, and we saw quite a few fully loaded sea kayaks hiked up onto beaches, either as a stopover on a longer trip or the final destination. Campsites are first-come-first-serve, but generally available, although mooring buoys can take a bit more searching out.
Even with all the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, smoke or not, it’s nice to find gems like Sucia Island that are worth exploring. If you’re looking to enjoy a bit of island life, stretch the legs on a hike and potentially swim with seals, look into making a trip to Washington’s Sucia Island State Park.
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