If not for a preservation effort by San Juan Islands residents, a hike on Turtleback Mountain today might be nothing more than a stroll through residential neighborhoods. Instead, Turtleback Mountain Preserve offers a hike through the trees and some of the most dramatic views on Orcas Island.
In 2006, the community banded together to save the 1,718-acre tract. Organizations such as the San Juan Preservation Trust and the San Juan County Land Bank raised $18.5 million in six months.
There are plenty of hiking options in the preserve including Ship Peak, a short loop highlighted by views of the San Juans, British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and Orcas Island’s highest point (Mount Constitution).
Starting from the trailhead on Wildrose Lane follow the South Trail to an old road and continue upward on the well-marked route. After about 1.2 miles you’ll reach a scenic spot called the West Overlook. A home once stood on this spot.
Continue upward a short way to an intersection with Lost Oak Trail on the the broad, open peak. Turn right and continue a few steps to the Ship Peak overlook and its sweeping view.
Return through the forest of oaks and firs by heading back to the intersection and following the Lost Oak Trail down to the old road where you started your ascent. Turn right and continue to the trailhead.
The Lost Oak Trail also offers options, by linking to the Ridge Trail, for extending your hike deeper into the preserve.