Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area

Greenish / blue water wraps around the island.
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 5,230 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, 1072 acres of total conserved 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 Cypress Island Comprehensive Management Plan (12,349KB PDF) for both the natural area and the aquatic reserve around it.

Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve

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 Roberta Davenport, DNR’s Aquatic Reserve Program Manager.

Environmental Education and Public AccessThree paddle into the sunset.

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.
  • Dogs allowed on leash. 
  • Garbage service is not provided. Pack out what you pack in. 
  • Camping allowed year round. 
  • Enjoy campgrounds in approved fire pits in designated campgrounds only. 
  • Don't Move Firewood: Help protect Pacific Northwest forests by preventing the spread of invasive species. Firewood can carry insects and diseases that can threaten the health of our western forests. Please purchase firewood near your campsite. Find more information here.
Low-Impact Recreation Sites
One of the most popular attractions in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area, Cypress Head campground provides stunning views of the Bellingham Channel and Mount Baker. 
Located on Cypress Island in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area, Strawberry Bay is a day-use, beach access and hiking site. It provides access to the Strawberry Bay Trail.
Located on Cypress Island in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area, Secret Harbor offers day-use beach access, hiking along the north side of the harbor, and views of the Secret Harbor Salt Marsh Restoration Project.
Located in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area, Eagle Harbor is a quiet harbor nestled into the eastern shore of Cypress Island.
Located on Cypress Island in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area, Smugglers Cove offers day-use beach access and hiking on the Smugglers Cove Trail.
Pelican Beach Campground, located in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area, offers views of the San Juan Islands.  
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.

View from a vista looking out over the water.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. The project included 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 along the north side of the 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.