Spend a day exploring this hidden gem of the San Juan Islands
It may be one of Washington’s lesser-known islands, but Vendovi Island Preserve is 220 acres of pure paradise.
With 13,000 feet of shoreline, Vendovi is an island preserve owned by the San Juan Preservation Trust. And while it’s open to the public for seasonal daytime use, you can only reach Vendovi Island by boat.
The island, which was under private ownership until 2010, is a beautifully intact and unspoiled habitat. Its only residents are two caretakers and their family. Because of its unique status, the island is relatively unchanged from 100, 200 or even 500 years ago.
Planning a trip to Vendovi takes a little coordination, but you will be rewarded with stunning views, Instagram-worthy landscapes, and a beautiful sense of stillness and quiet. Let’s explore the island.
Vendovi Island: Fast Facts
- It’s located in western Washington, east of Sinclair Island, southwest of the city of Bellingham, and between Guemes and Lummi Islands. (Bellingham is about 2 hours from Seattle.)
- Access is via boat only. There’s a 70-foot dock with moorage on a first-come, first-served basis. Kayaks can land on the beach.
- Two of its 217 acres are developed.
- It’s open to the public from April 1 through September 30, Thursday through Monday only.
- No passes are required, but groups of 10 or more must contact the caretaker before arriving.
Why visit Vendovi Island?
A day trip to Vendovi is a must for nature lovers. Deer are infrequent visitors, so there are fewer animals nibbling away at vegetation. As a result, there’s an abundance of wildflowers, and the trees and shrubs are resplendent with foliage.
Birders also feel the draw of the island, which offers dozens of secret perches to spot both migratory and non-migratory birds. Bring your camera and binoculars.
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How do you get to Vendovi Island?
You can only visit the island via boat. It’s a 40-minute water taxi ride from Anacortes. Reserve your boat transportation early, as only a small number of charters can take you there. Also, verify that the island is open to visitors. Typically, it’s open Thursday through Sunday, from April 1 to September 30, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. only. The island is closed to visitors on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
What can you do on Vendovi Island?
Explore the island’s forests, meadows, viewpoints and beaches, then hike along 2 miles of interconnected trails. You could see greenery such as tall salal, Oregon boxwood, sword fern and salmonberry. The island is virtually free of invasive plants; expect vegetation to look different.
If you’re visiting in spring, look for wildflowers such as camas, paintbrush and fawn lily. Appreciate the quiet and the soft sounds of waves on the shore. Photographers will also want to experiment with different lighting—head to Sunrise Beach and Sunset Beach for morning and evening light.
Can you spot wildlife?
The Pacific Northwest is blessed with an abundance of wildlife, including marine mammals and sea creatures. And, Vendovi and the San Juan Islands are among the top locations to see a wide variety of wildlife.
Orca whales live in the San Juan Islands year-round. You might even spot them on your boat ride to Vendovi. If you take a whale watching tour (or just get lucky), you could also see minkes, gray whales, humpbacks, or Steller sea lions.
Every summer, close to 2,000 seal pups are born in the San Juan Islands. In fact, many harbor seals give birth to their pups on Vendovi. If you encounter harbor seals and pups, remember to keep your distance and give them plenty of space.
You’re more likely to spot a wide variety of birds in spring and fall due to migration patterns. Some birds stay over summer, but many will have already made the journey to their nesting places by June. However, bald eagles and a wonderful variety of seabirds are easily spotted year-round. Birders sometimes see peregrine falcons and pigeon guillemots as well.
Who owns Vendovi Island?
The San Juan Preservation Trust purchased Vendovi Island in 2010 from the Fluke family. John Fluke Sr., a technology pioneer who invented the multi-meter, was the founder of Fluke Corporation, which manufactures diagnostic and electronic test equipment. He purchased the island in 1966 from private owners.
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How did Vendovi Island get its name?
According to an interpretive sign at the top of the dock ramp, Captain Charles Wilkes, leader of the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, named the island after Chief Vendovi (also known as “Ro Veidovi”). Chief Vendovi was a native of the Fiji Islands. He was accused of cannibalism and participating in the murder of 10 crewmen from another American ship. Wilkes and his crew captured him in Fiji and held him prisoner during the Expedition’s journey, which included time in the San Juans. Chief Vendovi endeared himself to the crew, and they named the island in his memory.
Plan a visit to Washington’s secret island
Visiting Vendovi doesn’t require a permit or parking pass, but you’ll want to take note of a few things first:
- There’s no restroom for visitors (due to limited water supply and septic capacity).
- Overnight moorage is not permitted, and you can’t anchor in the cove.
- No bicycles, beach fires or hunting are allowed.
- Pets are welcome but must always be on leash.
- Be mindful of this beautiful place and leave no trace of your visit (take garbage home with you).
- Kayakers should be aware of potentially rough crossings from the southwest (Guemes Island) and northeast (Bellingham Bay).
For more details and a map, click here.
Tip: Include a museum visit in your travel plans. You’ll be amazed by the variety of fascinating museums you can visit along the way. Click here for a list of new museum exhibits in Washington state.
It’s time to sail for Vendovi
There’s perhaps no better place in the San Juan Islands to experience the essence of island life than Vendovi Island. This pristine preserve is unlike anywhere you’ll visit in the region, and you won’t soon forget your time exploring.
If you’re visiting the greater Seattle area or are lucky enough to go on vacation in the San Juans, be sure to put a trip to Vendovi on your bucket list.
To learn more about Vendovi Island Preserve, click here.
— Written by: AAA Washington staff
— Top photo: Marcus Badgley/AAA Washington
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