Turning into Active Cove between Patos and Little Patos islands, you’ll feel like you’re landing on the moon. A pebble beach leads to a bare, gray, rocky outcropping. Once you have beached your craft or dinghy, walk to the top of the butte and savor the out-of-this-world views.
The landscape shifts as you wander up, into a colorful forest of Pacific madrone trees and follow the half-mile path to a lonely lighthouse run by the U.S. Coast Guard (USGS). The dramatic rock formations at the point are punctuated by yellow lichens and kelly-green moss.
Up for a scavenger hunt? Find the USGS international boundary marker in front of the lighthouse and take the paved path back to a former Coast Guard station, now a ruin, and spy the former helicopter landing pad. Patos is only a couple miles from Canadian waters, and is the northernmost of the San Juan Islands.
If you’re planning on a longer stay, grab one of the park’s first-come, first-served campsites, pitch your tent and take in the beauty of this rare, haunting isle.
Patos Island is a 207-acre marine park with 20,000 feet of saltwater shoreline that is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Washington State Parks manages the campground at Active Cove on the west side of the island and maintains the two mooring buoys and a 1.5-mile loop trail. The group campsite is often reserved for the local volunteer group that maintains the lighthouse. There is no potable water on the island and visitors must pack out what they pack in.
There is no potable water or garbage service on Patos Island. Visitors must pack out what they pack in.
Water activities & features
Lighthouse tours are offered on most weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day (weather and tide permitting). Please call Sucia Island State Park at (360) 376-2073 for information and availability.
A recreational license is required for fishing and shellfish harvesting at Washington state parks. For regulations, fishing season information, or to purchase a recreational license, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Located in San Juan County in Puget Sound, Patos Island has two mooring buoys in Active Cove.
The moorage area at Active Cove has strong currents flowing through it and is exposed to strong westerly winds from the Georgia Strait. Boaters should check weather reports and avoid anchoring at this site during weather forecasts which call for high pressure systems and westerly winds exceeding 12 knots in southern Georgia Strait. Boats commonly drag anchor and may go aground during these conditions.
The two offshore mooring buoys are in service year-round. Please observe mooring limitations posted on the buoys and at the onshore bulletin boards. Moorage fees are required from 1 p.m. to 8 a.m. Boaters must register and pay moorage onshore at the pay station.
Latitude: 48º 47' 6" N (48.785) Longitude: 122º 57' 58.96" W (-122.9663)
The park offers seven campsites, one picnic site, one composting toilets, and one vault toilet at Active Cove. Campers must register at the bulletin board near the beach. There is no potable water or garbage service on Patos Island. Visitors must pack-out what they pack-in.
Patos Island lies within the traditional territory of multiple Coast Salish tribes whose presence in the area dates back more than 10,000 years.
The island was named by Juan Pantoja y Arriaga, the first pilot on Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza’s 1791 expedition, which charted the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca. He called the island “Isla de Patos,” Spanish for “Island of the Ducks,” due to the many waterfowl the crew saw near the island.
In 1841, American explorer and naval officer Charles Wilkes named the island “Gourd Island” during the United States Exploring Expedition. The Spanish name was reestablished by in 1847 by explorer and British naval officer Henry Kellet and formalized by the United States Coast Survey in 1854.
The Patos Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1893, but it was mostly rebuilt in 1908. Harry Mahler became the lighthouse’s first keeper upon its completion in 1893. His assistant, Edward Durgan went on to become the lighthouse’s third head keeper in 1905. One of Durgan’s 13 children, Helene Durgan Glidden, wrote an account of her family’s isolated life on Patos Island titled The Light on the Island. The Patos Island Lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October 1977.
Active Cove, to the south of the lighthouse, was named for the U.S. survey ship Active in 1853 by Admiral Sir George H. Richards, a captain and explorer for the British Royal Navy. Richards also named Alden Point, the site of the Patos Island Lighthouse, for James Alden, the commander of the Active.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission began operating Patos Island as a state park in 1974 under a lease from the Bureau of Land Management. The Patos Island Lighthouse was automated the same year.