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A Brief History

Posted in Misc, Kayaking_Tours

Nestled in the Salish Sea off the northwest coast of Washington state, the San Juan Islands boast a rich tapestry of history dating back thousands of years. This archipelago, comprising approximately 743 islands and reefs (at low tide!), holds significance for indigenous peoples, early explorers, and modern-day adventurers alike.

Long before European settlers arrived, the islands were home to indigenous Coast Salish peoples, including the Lummi, Samish, and Saanich tribes. These tribes thrived on the abundant resources provided by the land and sea, engaging in fishing, hunting, and gathering activities. The islands served as vital trading hubs, connecting coastal communities and fostering cultural exchange.

In the late 18th century, European explorers, notably Spanish and British navigators, began charting the waters of the Pacific Northwest. In 1791, Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza named the archipelago “Islas y Montañas de San Juan,” honoring Saint John the Baptist. Subsequently, British Captain George Vancouver conducted detailed surveys of the area, contributing to the region’s cartography and naming many of its prominent features.

The San Juan Islands became a focal point of territorial disputes between the United States and Great Britain during the 19th century. The signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846 established the international boundary between the United States and British North America (Canada) at the 49th parallel, but the boundary through the San Juan Islands remained ambiguous. This ambiguity led to the “Pig War” crisis of 1859 when an American farmer shot a British pig that had trespassed on his land, escalating tensions between the two nations. Diplomatic efforts ultimately prevented armed conflict, and the islands were peacefully resolved to U.S. jurisdiction in 1872.

Throughout the 20th century, the San Juan Islands evolved into a popular tourist destination renowned for their natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and vibrant communities. Today, visitors flock to the islands to kayak through pristine waters, explore scenic hiking trails, and savor fresh local cuisine. Despite modern developments, the San Juan Islands retain their timeless allure, serving as a testament to the enduring legacy of their storied past.

We would love to guide you around the San Juan Islands and go more in depth about the vast history! Book a tri with us today at

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