Planning a trip to Seattle and wondering what else there is to do besides visiting the Space Needle and Pike Place? If you have a few days to spare, make plans to head up north to the San Juan Islands! This little enclave of Pacific Northwest Islands is a popular vacation spot among local Seattleites. But it's a lesser known region to those who haven't traveled Washington State. Below, we'll tell you how to get to the San Juans, as well as some suggested activities!
How to Get to the San Juan Islands
By Car and Ferry
Located a little over 100 miles north of Seattle, the San Juan Islands aren’t particularly far away. But they do require crossing a body of water. For many, this means driving two hours north from Seattle to Anacortes and catching a Washington State DOT ferry the rest of the way. The good news is that ferries can take passengers traveling on foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle. But the bad news is that ferries tend to sell out in high tourist season. When all is said and done, you can spend 3 or 4 hours getting the San Juans, one way. This means you’d best stay a night or two to make the most of it.
By Seaplane or Landplane
From Seattle, most seaplanes are run by Kenmore Air. The company runs both scheduled and chartered flights daily, and they operate both seaplanes and land planes. This last bit is important: if you want to ride a seaplane in particular, you must fly in and out of specific areas. Some cities are only accessed by landplane, and vice-versa. Seaplanes can seat up to 10 adults, plus luggage (stored in the lower floats).
Finding accommodations on the various San Juan Islands is relatively easy. Popular islands such as Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez Island have at least one main hotel or lodge catering to visitors. Advanced reservations are always recommended.
Getting Around Orcas Island
Once you arrive on Orcas Island, you will probably need transportation of some sort. If you are flying into a resort where you intend to stay overnight, such as Rosario Resort or Deer Harbor, you can probably get by without a car. But if you have plans to explore the island, you will want to reserve a taxi or a rental car in advance. Our advice is to rent a car from Orcas Island Shuttle. Simply give them a call and they'll set you up with some wheels. Orcas Island is big enough that you can't quite walk from one part to another, yet it's small enough that you'll want to see as much of the island as possible.
Where to Stay on Orcas Island
There are three main resorts on Orcas Island that welcome visitors. All resorts are spread out on their own corners of the island, and they can fill up fast in the summer. Reservations are recommended. Alternatively, there are also Airbnb rentals, but you will definitely want to have a car and GPS to navigate. There are also some camping sites located throughout Orcas Island. It's best to reserve your camp site in advance and make sure you bring proper camping gear.
What to Do on Orcas Island
Here at Gemini Connect, we're keen on creating the best travel experiences possible. On Orcas, there are many experiences to keep you fresh and occupied. There are several key reasons why people flock to Orcas in particular.
1.To see Orca whales
What's a place called Orcas Island without Orca whale watching opportunities? Opt for a charter boat that will take you to sea for a few hours to find Orcas in the wild. Or simply park on the beach and look out towards the sea. It's not unusual to spot these giant killer whales from the shore.
2. To explore Eastsound
The biggest town on Orcas Island and second most populated in all of the San Juans is Eastsound. It's located smack dab in the middle of Orcas, and it even has a small airport for land planes (not seaplanes). Within Eastsound are several hotels, grocery stores, restaurants (including Hogstone and Aelder), and even a summer farmer's market.
3. To climb Mount Constitution
Orcas Island is home to the tallest peak in all of the San Juans: Mount Constitution. Sitting at an elevation of over 2,300 feet, this summit offers stunning views of all of the San Juans. On a clear day, you can even see the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Victoria in the distance! You can Mount Constitution summit either via a traditional hike or with a wheeled vehicle (bicycle or car).
4. To Hike
Besides Mount Constitution, there are a few other nature parks on Orcas Island that offer hiking trails. Moran State Park, which contains Mount Constitution, has shorter hikes near its base including a waterfall trail to Cascade Falls. Further west on the island is Turtleback Mountain Preserve, offering less populated hiking trails and equally stunning views.
Over To You
Have you ever visited Orcas Island or any of the San Juan Islands? How did you get there, and what did you do? Let us know in the comments below!