- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. (AP) - One of the nation’s best viewing spots for orca whales, Lime Kiln Point State Park, on the west side of San Juan Island, draws thousands of visitors annually, especially during June and July, the peak orca-watching season near the shoreline.

Unbeknown to many tourists, the public also has access to trails abutting the park in Limekiln Preserve, thanks to the San Juan County Land Bank, a public-lands preservation agency funded by local real-estate excise taxes. The Land Bank has obtained 250 acres surrounding the state park and converted service roads or created new trails totaling 3.5 miles, with more paths coming next year.

Facilities: Parking available at the entrance to the state park, where there’s an interpretive center and lighthouse. Restrooms at the state park and at Deadman Bay. Dozens of picnic tables are scattered along trails.

The hike: The south end of the preserve offers spectacular water views while the north end offers more tranquil hikes through the forest and to a lake (“Westside Lake” is one of a number of names it goes by). On clear days, the preserve offers views of Haro Strait, Vancouver Island and the Olympic Mountains.

At the south end is a picturesque stroll overlooking the strait and connecting with the Land Bank’s Deadman Bay Preserve, where you can walk among sun-bleached driftwood. In addition to whales, you might get glimpses of seals, sea lions and otters a few yards from shore. Deadman Bay’s 1,600 feet of shoreline is a great place to watch for whales when crowds hover around the state park’s main viewpoint and near the century-old lighthouse.

If you want more solitude, hike in the preserve’s north end. Start at the state park’s main viewpoint near the lighthouse. Walk about 100 yards and crowds will start to thin out as you transition from the touristy state park to the preserve, where you’ll see rubble and remnants of old lime quarries and kilns, “one of the oldest industrial sites in Washington state, dating to 1860,” said Doug McCutchen, steward of the preserve.

Keep hiking along the pine-needle-carpeted trail through switchbacks to find a viewpoint. From there, the trail opens up to meadows. Then it’s a flat hike as you walk through big-leaf maples toward the lake.

Restrictions: Open 8 a.m. until dusk. Discover Pass ($10/day or $30/year) required to park at the state park. Or park for free, space permitting, at pullouts along Westside Road. The trails in the preserve are not wheelchair-accessible. Leashed dogs allowed. No bicycles.

Directions: From the Friday Harbor ferry landing, turn left onto Spring Street and continue out of town. At 1.7 miles, turn left onto Douglas Road. Road name changes at 3.5 miles to Bailer Hill Road, then at 7.5 miles to Westside Road. At 9 miles, Lime Kiln Point State Park will be on your left. Also look for parking pullouts along Westside Road.

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The original story can be found on the Seattle Times’ website: http://bit.ly/244LOUJ

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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