Summer is the perfect time to go visit the gem of the San Juan Islands - the Yellow Island Preserve! This 11-acre preserve is among the most colorful of the Nature Conservancy’s preserves.

The native grasslands on Yellow Island are unique and an absence of grazing has preserved the diversity of native plants. More than 50 species of wildflowers, including broadleafed shooting star and hairy Indian paintbrush bloom on Yellow Island. The only cactus species native to western Washington, the brittle prickly pear cactus, also makes its home on the island. Bald eagles fly majestically above the island’s trees and harbor seals can be found on the rocks off the island’s west spit. Harlequin ducks and the black oystercatcher can be seen in the intertidal zone and mink and river otters are common on the island too. Further out in the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the island, marine mammals such as orca whales, harbor porpoises and sea lions can be seen swimming and feeding.

The Nature Conservancy acquired this island in 1979, allowing it to protect this beautiful and unique ecosystem. Ongoing ecological research on the island has focused on understanding the extent and rate of invasion of non-native species and developing strategies to restore native species. Results are shared with partner organizations and agencies to help maintain and restore grasslands in other regions of the Puget Sound lowlands.

Learn more about our work in Puget Sound.

The Yellow Island Preserve is open year-round from 10am until 4pm. Due to the unique species on this island, it is advised to keep your canine companions at home and stay on the established trails. Hop into your personal watercraft (boat or kayak) and please land and come ashore at the southeast beach only. Do not land on the west spit and the east spit is open to landings only in the spring and in the fall. No food is allowed on Yellow Island. Also, no camping or overnight mooring is allowed and for groups of more than 6 people, please contact the Conservancy at (206) 343-4344 for written permission.



  • Yellow Island can be reached either by private boat or by kayaking from Deer Harbor on Orcas Island.

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Written by Noelle van deer Straaten, Volunteer.