Tidepooling in the San Juan Islands

Family Looking in Tidepool in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Zargon Design.
A family looking in a tide pool finds any number of treasures. Photo by Zargon Design.

The rocky shorelines that ring the San Juan Islands create a diverse habitat that’s rich with life. Throughout the crevices and pools, sea anemones live next to mussels and barnacles grow next to starfish. Seaweed varieties abound and shore crabs scuttle.

“Tidepooling” is a favorite pastime of exploring these small microcosms, each unique and changing with the tide. Explorers never know what they’ll find, even in the same cove (or pool) from day to day. And while this can be a fun and environmentally friendly way to learn about the ocean, a few key safety guidelines should be kept in mind:

Animal Safety while Tidepooling

  • If you touch animals, touch them as gently as you would your own eyeball. No poking, squeezing or removing from a surface with any force.
  • Do no pursue any animals actively swimming away or hiding.
  • Do not remove any items from the tidepools or add any. 

People Safety while Tidepooling

  • Pay attention to the tide, so as to avoid getting caught stranded.
  • Use caution while walking, as rocks can move and surfaces can be slick, especially those covered by algae and seaweed. This includes leaping from rock to rock.
  • Wear sturdy, thick-soled shoes that can get wet.
  • Keep dogs out of tidepools. Sharp stones, barnacles, and mussels can cut their paws.
Tide pool filled with sea urchins. Photo by Zargon Design.

Top Places to Tidepool in the San Juan Islands 

San Juan Island

  • Grandma’s Cove – Two rocky headlands create a protected crescent-shaped beach that offers fabulous tide pools and smooth driftwood perfect for exploring. 
  • Cattle Point Lighthouse & Natural Area – You can access the rocks beneath the lighthouse by the steep trails that descend from the bluff above. 
  • Lime Kiln Point State Park – During low tide, the rocks beneath the lighthouse can be reached for exploring. These tidepools are not recommended for small children or those with poor footing, as the rocks are steep.
  • Eagle Cove – A favorite among islanders, this protected, sandy beach is located along the coast near American Camp. 

Orcas Island

  • Indian Island – The small island sits just off the beach from Orcas Island’s Eastsound. Accessible at low tide, you can find a plethora of exciting things to explore, especially starfish.
  • Obstruction Pass State Park — Just a short .5 mile walk through a lush forest takes you to arguably Orcas Islands’ best beach. 

Lopez Island

  • Agate Beach – Located on the southern edge of Lopez Island, this small park is a fabulous spot to explore during low tide. 
  • Otis Perkins Day Park – One of the longest stretches of beach on Lopez, this is the perfect place to wander and picnic. It’s also a favorite at night, where the expansive beach is perfect for stargazing.
  • Odlin County Park – This 80-acre waterfront park is a favorite for families, offering exceptional opportunities to explore along the beach and a variety of inland trails. 
  • Lopez Village Beach – Nestled along Lopez Island’s sleepy downtown, Lopez Village Beach offers tidepooling opportunities with crabs, clams, sea stars, and anemones galore. 

More Fun Things to do in the San Juan Islands