Turtlehead — It’s one shell of a view from this Turtleback Mountain summit

Quick Facts:

Location: Orcas Island, San Juan Islands

Land Agency: San Juan County Land Bank

Roundtrip: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1295 feet

Contact: San Juan County Land Bank

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash; trail (partial) open to bikes (even days) and horses (odd days)

Access: Take Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island. Then head north on Orcas Road turning left onto Nordstrom Lane. Continue to Crow Valley Road and turn right. Reach trailhead after 1.6 miles.

Good to Know: snow-free winter hike, kid-friendly, dog-friendly, summer wildflowers, Practice Leave No Trace Principles, One of the 100 Washington Classic Hikes


Stand atop Turtleback Mountain’s head for one shell of a view. It’s one the finest in the San Juan Islands. Stare out across the Salish Sea to countless islands extending to British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. A great winter hike; be sure to return in the spring when brilliant wildflowers make this peak a painted turtle.

Start your hike on an old skid road that almost become a private drive to scores of showy ridge top homes. But this road to 1519-foot Turtleback Mountain and 1,578 acres surrounding it became one of the largest protected parcels in the San Juan Islands, thanks to a campaign spearheaded by the San Juan Preservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and the San Juan County Land Bank.  In 2007 the Turtleback Mountain Conservation Area was officially opened to the public. And thanks to the San Juan Preservation Trust it has since grown to 1,718 acres.

Follow the old road now known as the North Trail.  After some gentle climbing, come to a junction. The short spur right leads to the North Valley Overlook. Consider it for a good view of Orcas’ Mount Constitution, Entrance Mountain, and Mount Woodard.

The North Trail continues climbing, winding through mature timber. The grade eases as the trail brushes up along a grassy wetland. At 1.6 miles, come to a junction with the Turtlehead Trail and the Waldron Overlook Spur. Check out the overlook first by hiking a short distance to a cliff top promontory with a stunning view of Waldron Island’s impressive Disney Cliffs across President Channel. Keep children and dogs close by as it’s a sheer drop behind the split rail fence.

When done viewing, return to the junction and continue hiking on the Turtlehead Trail.  Opened in 2013 and built by a consortium of folks including the Washington Trails Association, Washington Conservation Corps and the Orcas Island Youth Conservation Corp; it traverses land acquired to expand the preserve to the Turtlehead (also known as Orcas Knob) with its stunning views.

Follow the well-built trail through a cedar grove gently descending to a gap. Then regain lost elevation winding around ledge and traversing attractive forest emerging on the grassy, rocky 1005-ft bald. The views from this prominent landmark are simply sublime. Stare out at San Juan, Shaw, Jones, Spieden and Stuart islands; and BC’s Salt Spring, Moresby, Sidney and Vancouver Islands too.  Savor this Salish Sea splendor!


For detailed information on this hike and 99 other outstanding hikes in the state, pick up a copy of my

100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books).


For detailed information on this hike and 135 others in the San Juan and Gulf Islands, pick up a copy of my Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands—the most comprehensive hiking guide to these islands.

Book also  contains chapters on Anacortes and Victoria, BC, too. Get your copy today!

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