Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington

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On the Ferry to Orcas!

Orcas Island is part of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in northwest Washington, accessible only by ferry. These islands are known to be quaint, relaxing, areas with beautiful scenery and ocean wildlife. We skipped the whale-watching and kayaked instead, but there are tours guaranteeing orca sightings.

Orcas_PaddlingMoreWe were hoping to stay at least two nights, one in a state park and one at a camping “lodge”, and ended up staying four days after we realized that lodge was incredible. There, we camped in the yard but have full use of the house, including a kitchen, shower, and patio with wifi. While there, we had a blast biking around the island, visiting Moran State Park, kayaking, and trying a few local restaurants.

This stop was a unique one for us. I would recommend Orcas Island or the San Juans for someone wanting to experience a beautiful place, with a relaxing small-town feel, with some nice shops and restaurants, and who had the time and foresight to plan the trip including the ferry. We heard about bike and kayak trips around multiple islands that sounded great, as coordinating ferry logistics is a little tricky.

We checked out most of the island, and here’s some of the spots we especially enjoyed. The island is small, it’s only about 20 miles from the ferry terminal in the SW all the way around the horseshoe to the SE end of the island.

On the map above, you can see some of our favorite sites.

Eats: Without going into any foodie-porn details here, since this just isn’t that kind of blog, we ate at Mijitas for upscale Mexican, Hogwoods for organic and local wood-fired pizzas, the Lower Tavern for very cheap brews and live music, and the Island Hopping Brewery, for a flight of brews with a standout called Old Madrona. I would recommend any of these if you don’t have an ogre handy who would prefer to cook perfectly crispy roasted chicken and veggies back at the lodge.

Moran State Park and Mount Constitution: On our first night on the island, we camped at Moran State Park. Since we were heading over via ferry, I wanted to have a spot pre-arranged to sleep, so we found a reservation in one of the last remaining spots at the park. While the park was nice and there were many activities there, the camping fees added up to $43 after the $30 base rate, the $5 out of state charge, and the $8 reservation fee. While there, we did an easy 2-3 mile walk around the lake and the lagoon, and then hiked the ~7 mile round trip up and back Mount Constitution.

It was a little foggy and hazy at the top of the mountain
It was a little foggy and hazy at the top of the mountain

The top of Mount Constitution has an observation tower at the peak, with helpful signs pointing out sites in the nearby area. From there, we had a great view of the surrounding fog. We were told that some of the haze was from Canadian wildfires.

While there, we also hiked around Cascade Lake, which was a shady, 2-3 mile flat trail that passed the other campsites as well as a beach area where you can rent paddleboats and buy ice cream.

If you visited the park and were not camping, the fees are $10 a day and they’re self-assessed at the trailheads and parking lots. We crossed our fingers that our campsite receipt would get us through both days without trouble. It worked out, but I am not sure if we were really supposed to pay the $10.

If I were back on the island, I wouldn’t bother camping at Moran. In addition to being expensive, there weren’t enough bathrooms for the campsite, and specifically there was only one coin-operated shower that had a long line in the mornings and evenings.

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Just catching lunch

However, I would hike some hikes and then hit up Buck Bay Shellfish. While it’s more of a fresh seafood store, they will provide you with everything you need to enjoy your shellfish right there on their patio. It’s the first (perhaps unofficial) BYOB place we’ve been since leaving Chicago, so we were happy we had a few beers in the car to pair with our lunch.

Funny side note, this was the second time we’ve been mistaken for “runners”, probably because I was wearing a running outfit and Adam has gotten quite lean lately. We may have been out here too long!

Hard at work shucking
Hard at work shucking. He probably needs a beard net.

Orcas_PaddlingOur next great adventure was a day out Kayaking with Outer Islands Expeditions. Adam is very easily frustrated with the pace of group tours, so we decided to rent a tandem kayak ourselves for the day and paddle around the island. While it’s only a few miles across to the nearest other islands, you’re not allowed to cross the channel in a rented kayak since, among other things,the weather can change extremely rapidly and become quite dangerous.

Orcas_kayak

We spent the day paddling around Doughty Point and then to another beach resort where we pulled in the kayaks and grabbed some ice cream. We also saw a bald eagle flying across the channel and back to it’s nest and some otters popping in and out of the water. All were too far away to photograph, especially from the kayak. We pulled into a quiet, rocky beach and spent some time just hanging out there and enjoying the view before heading back.

Overall, we had a really great few days of relaxing on the island, cooking, and catching up with our online lives. I’m glad we hit this more remote destination when we had the time to get out there.

2 thoughts on “Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington”

  1. We went bike riding on Orcas last summer. We stayed over in Friday Harbor area last summer and the summer before and loved it. Beautiful area! !

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