As we continue to explore Washington state's San Juan Islands for an upcoming summer paddle, we had to stop by Roche Harbor. Located on San Juan Island, Roche Harbor has a lot going on. It is a popular port of entry for boats entering the US from Canada, especially in the summer. The historic buildings and lime kilns are what's left of a once thriving lime business - the company once upon a time shipped island lime to major west coast cities (read more about the industry in another ETC post here).
If you head to Roche Harbor by car like we did, you'll arrive in 'town' after you drive under a big resort sign. We actually avoided the road at first - not knowing anything about the history of the Harbor - but eventually had no other choice, there is pretty much just one road.
"I don't want to go to a resort," I said to my wife. "I want to go to Roche Harbor - the town."
Well, it turns out the resort is the town. The town is the resort…hmmm…interesting. The details of how this town/resort came to be is best explained here & here.
It's quite simple really. What you've basically got historically is a late 1800s British/American border feud that escalated into a full-blown pig war (with apparently only one casualty…uh…the pig), mixed later with a discovery of precious limestone and land claim by a Tacoma dude ("there's lime in them hills!"), a later purchase of the grounds by a family who started making the marina nice and welcoming guests, and then another purchase of the same land by some Seattle business folks who have really made the resort into, well, a resort.
Roche Harbor went from native land, to a pig war zone, to a bustling lime operation, to a boatel (before the old hotel was refinished), to what it is now - a great marina and resort village with condos sprinkled amongst ruins & a few 100 year old buildings (including the iconic Hotel de Haro).
Stuff to do. In the summer - tons. Check out the link here to see the varied activities available at the resort (we didn't see too much of this stuff, we were there in the winter/off-season).
The things that concern us are the kayak launch area at the marina docks - it looks great - and the trail system that connects the resort to nearby British camp and beyond. We plan to return to check out both the British & American camps on foot - a pretty extensive trail system makes it all happen. The other thing we somehow missed? The creepy - I mean interesting - mausoleum of the former Lime company founder from back in the day (read about it here…guess who's ashes are locked in the seats of the chairs?). Maybe we'll check it out at the summer solstice and see if the light on the table rumor is true…oh ya - by the way, there is a light on the table rumor...interesting.
So much history! I'll admit - once I found out the town was actually a resort I almost wrote it off as, well, a made-up town that is just a resort (Seaside Florida anyone?). After reading up on the history behind the place I am officially blown away. I know we'll be back on foot and by kayak. You should go too! Meet you at the mausoleum at solstice?
~Paul & Amber ETC www.rocheharbor.com
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