Cypress Island NRCA
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Cypress Island NRCA 



To find out about seasonal openings and closures at Pelican Beach Campground and Cypress Head Campground, please visit DNR's recreation page.

Features Protected:  Roemer’s fescue-field chickweed-junegrass grassland; Douglas-fir/balding rosehip-oceanspray forest; Douglas-fir-western hemlock/salal forest; Douglas-fir/salal-oceanspray forest; Douglas-fir-lodgepole pine serpentine woodland.

Ecoregion: Puget Trough

Description: Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA) is the largest relatively undeveloped island in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. In these islands close to the greater metropolitan areas around Seattle, extensive undeveloped shorelines and uplands are becoming rare.  Cypress Island contains unusual geological characteristics, outstanding examples of native biological communities, critical habitat for federally protected species, and significant marine and cultural resources. Cypress Island protects more than 5,100 acres of high quality forest, wetland and grassland communities and surrounding state-owned tidelands, and includes the only protected low-elevation serpentine forest in Washington. Cypress Island includes land in both NRCA and NAP (Natural Area Preserve) designations. The NAP areas on the island comprise about 1,100 acres, and protect rare examples of grasslands underlain by basalt bedrock, and other plant communities and wetlands underlain by serpentine bedrock.

The island offers a scenic reminder of conditions in Western Washington prior to European settlement.  Steep Island topography provides vistas of the San Juan Islands, mainland Washington and the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges.  Cypress Island is a popular destination for boaters, offering recreation opportunities, scenic viewpoints, lakes, and miles of trails.

One of the first to be established following creation of Washington State’s Natural Resources Conservation Areas Act, instituted by the legislature in 1987, one of the first for protection in conservation status in the late 1980s as part of the initial launch of the program under the act.

Here is the comprehensive management plan for both the natural area and the aquatic reserve around it. Cypress Island Comprehensive Management Plan (12,349KB PDF)

The Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve was established on August 1, 2007, and a joint management plan was adopted for the upland NRCA and NAP and the Aquatic Reserve.

The aquatic reserve site includes the state-owned tidelands and marine bedlands surrounding Cypress Island, Strawberry Island and Cone Islands to a water depth of 70 feet below mean lower low tide or one half mile from the extreme low tide, whichever is further seaward. The site is bounded to the west by Rosario Strait, on the south and east by Bellingham Channel, and on the northeast by an unnamed channel.

Like the upland NRCA, most of the aquatic lands are in very good condition and management goals include conservation, removing derelict creosote pilings and other structures, and minimizing negative affects to the aquatic habitats, particularly eelgrass.

Public and private universities, other research institutions or individual researchers may contact DNR to propose a research project at the site. If you are interested in pursuing research at Cypress Island NRCA, please contact David Wilderman, Natural Areas Ecologist, at If you are interested in pursuing research on aquatic lands within the Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve, please contact Kyle Murphy, DNR’s Aquatic Reserve Program Manager, at

Environmental Education and Public Access
Environmental education is a central theme in all public access development through interpretive signs and areas. The NRCA is accessible by boat only.  Recreation sites are primitive and are not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. The island has a rich history of tribal and post-European-settlement use. Many environmental education opportunities exist at Cypress Island NRCA, and will be developed as circumstances permit.

Volunteer and Stewardship Opportunities
If you are interested in volunteer or stewardship opportunities at Cypress Island NRCA, please contact the Northwest Region Natural Areas Manager.

Restoration at Cypress Island NRCA
In 2009, lands were acquired at Secret Harbor, at the south end of Cypress Island. The property was first homesteaded in the mid-1800s, and has been affected by various uses ever since. Past human activities included construction of a dike to restrict tidal flow, filling a salt water marsh, and draining wetlands. At the time of purchase, the property included more than 30 structures, most of which have been removed as part of a years-long restoration, public access, and environmental education effort that is currently in the design phase of development. The project will include removal of the dike and marsh fill to restore functional salt water marsh habitat, restoration of hydrology in tributary wetlands, and development of public access and environmental education facilities.

Design concepts for developing public access and environmental education in and around Secret Harbor
If you would like more information about this project, or to participate in planning for public access and environmental education facilities, please contact the Northwest Region Natural Areas Manager.

A Washington State Discover Pass is required for parking at this site. This funding helps DNR manage these important natural areas across the state.

Location map for Cypress Island NRCA 

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Paul McFarland
Northwest Region Natural Areas Manager


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