• American Camp parade ground looking west

    San Juan Island

    National Historical Park Washington

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  • English Camp Visitor Contact Station on Summer Schedule

    The English Camp visitor contact station in the Royal Marine Barracks is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily through September 1. Grounds are open daily from dawn to 11 p.m.

  • American Camp Visitor Center on Summer Schedule

    The American Camp visitor center is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through September 1. Grounds remain open daily from dawn to 11 p.m More »

  • Brief American and English Camps Visitor Center Closure

    The American and English camps visitor centers will be closed from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, August 27. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Prairies and Grasslands

Prairie at American Camp with Mt. Finlayson in the background.
The prairie in the summer at American Camp, looking toward Mt. Finlayson with the Strait of Juan de Fuca at right.
Lucas Pellant Photo

The vast, open prairie landscape of America Camp is uniquely beautiful and rather unexpected in the western portion of the Pacific Northwest, where evergreen forests dominate the cliffs to the shoreline. Here you can stroll through the same spring wildflowers and ruffling grasses that the native peoples experienced hundreds of years ago.

Prairies were once fairly common in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea regions. As glaciers retreated, grasses and other prairie plants were first to colonize the landscape, and exposure to harsh conditions of direct summer sun, drying effects of wind, and low precipitation in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains allowed the prairie to thrive intact.

But landscapes constantly evolve in response to climate change, geologic processes, and human impact. In this case, when Europeans brought livestock and cultivation to San Juan Island, they upset the delicate balance created by native peoples, who routinely set the prairie on fire in order to enhance the growth of camas, a diet staple, and maintain the prairie ecosystem overall. Settlers introduced invasive, non-native plants that choked out native prairie plants and animals such as the European rabbit, which has transformed acres of delicate native wildflowers into barren landscapes. You can see this in the park’s American Camp prairie above South Beach.

To restore this increasingly rare and valuable open spaces, San Juan Island NHP is in the initial stages of prairie restoration at American Camp.

Did You Know?

Rear Adm. R. Lambert Baynes

British Rear Adm. R. Lambert Baynes immediately superseded Governor Douglas’s orders to land Royal Marines on San Juan Island, cautioning his captains only to fire if fired upon. “Tut, tut, no, no, the damned fools,” he was heard to say on first hearing of the standoff. More...