Turtlehead Preserve

Orcas Island
Year protected: 1990
Land protected: 30 acres
Public benefits:    Rocky balds, scenic views, forest

Rising dramatically from the west side of Orcas Island, Turtleback Mountain is perhaps the most recognizable landscape in the San Juan Islands. Shaped indeed like a turtle, the knob that forms the “head” of this island icon was donated to the Preservation Trust in 1990 by the landowner, Ruth Perkins, who wished to permanently protect the property for the scenic enjoyment of future generations. The “Turtlehead Preserve,” as we now call it, is one of the most familiar properties under our ownership.

Still called “Orcas Knob” by old-time islanders, the Turtlehead hillside is predominantly native grass savannah with Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine scattered throughout. Wildflowers abound on open slopes in the spring. The forest, which is nearing climax condition, remains diverse with abundant old growth despite some evidence of logging in the early 1900’s.

After a sustained trail-building effort in 2013, conducted by the San Juan Preservation Trust, the San Juan County Land Bank, the Washington Trails Association, the Washington Conservation Corps, and legions of local volunteers, a new 1+ mile trail provides a connector between the existing trail system on Turtleback Mountain and this lovely viewpoint. At the time of Ruth’s gift, the area had been a top priority for habitat protection among both conservation groups and government agencies. Help SJPT keep this well-known landmark in its natural and undisturbed state for the scenic enjoyment of all future generations by treating it with the respect that honors Ruth’s vision.


To download a Turtlehead Preserve map, click here.