View from the new trail on the south side of Turtleback Mountain | Staff Archive

The Turtleback Mountain Preserve has been undergoing restoration work all over the mountain recently, but the newly re-routed trail on the south side of the mountain is the cherry on top.

The San Juan County Conservation Land Bank has been hard at work with the Washington Trails Association (WTA), Land Bank and Preservation Trust staff and volunteers to decommission and restore the steepest section of the old fire-road trail, while also rerouting the Morning Ridge Trail. There’s a new bench where the old trail ends (with new interpretive signage to come soon).

The rerouted trail takes in the best south-facing views from near the old fire road, combined with the Morning Ridge Trail’s vistas over West Sound and Crow Valley. The new route offers the best of both worlds, making one of the best trails in the islands even better! Decommissioning the old trail also diverts human and canine traffic away from the center of the sensitive Garry oak prairie habitat that the SJPT-Land Bank partnership (with help from the WTA) has been working to restore for many years.

From the Morning Ridge Trail turnoff, the rerouted “south trail” winds its way through thinned stands of fir and madrona trees, where the return of an oak savannah ecosystem is taking shape, before switch-backing past a native-plant-filled deer exclosure and up to the viewpoint at the top of the ridge. There are striking views the whole way up, as well as a few new benches where hikers can stop to take it all in.

There is still more tree thinning and girdling that will take place in the coming years to encourage the native prairie landscape to take hold, with an emphasis on connecting established oak stands and installing groves of native understory plants. The trail will also see some minor adjustments and improvements as it settles into place.

Volunteers hiking down the new trail during a First Friday Fieldwork event | Staff Archive

Renovated viewpoint at top of new “south trail” | Staff Archive

A restoration area where the old trail was recently decommissioned | Staff Archive

We’ll be doing another edition of our First Friday Fieldwork with the Land Bank on Friday, December 1, from 9am to noon, starting at the southern trailhead. We invite you to join us!

Register by sending an email to Tanja Williamson (, Land Bank Volunteer/Outreach Coordinator. We hope to see you out there!