The San Juan Islands – northwest Cascades thrust system in Washington and British Columbia is composed of previously accreted terranes now assembled as four broadly defined composite nappes stacked on a continental footwall of Wrangellia and the Coast Plutonic Complex. Emplacement ages of the nappe sequence are interpreted from zircon ages, field relations, and lithlogies, to young upward. The basal nappe was emplaced prior to early Turonian time (∼93 Ma), indicated by the occurrence of age-distinctive zircons from this nappe in the Sidney Island Formation of the Nanaimo Group. The emplacement age of the highest nappe in the thrust system postdates 87 Ma detrital zircons within the nappe. The nappes bear high-pressure – low-temperature (HP–LT) mineral assemblages indicative of deep burial in a thrust wedge; however, several features indicate that metamorphism occurred prior to nappe assembly: metamorphic discontinuities at nappe boundaries, absence of HP–LT assemblages in the footwall to the nappe pile, and absence of significant unroofing detritus in the Nanaimo Group. A synorogenic relationship of the thrust system to the Nanaimo Group is evident from mutually overlapping ages and by conglomerates of Nanaimo affinity that lie within the nappe pile. From the foregoing relations, and broader Cordilleran geology, the tectonic history of the nappe terranes is interpreted to involve initial accretion and subduction-zone metamorphism south of the present locality, uplift and exhumation, orogen-parallel northward transport of the nappes as part of a forearc sliver, and finally obduction at the present site over the truncated south end of Wrangellia and the Coast Plutonic Complex.