Emily Butterfield
by Emily Butterfield
Posted June 15, 2018

Washington state is often known for its relentless rain, delicious apples, and stunning mountain vistas. Locals relish in their coffee snobbery and thrilling outdoor recreation, while visitors flock to peruse the flower and fresh fruit stands at Pike Place Market and ride the elevator to the top of the Space Needle. But did you know that Washington is home to the San Juan Islands, one of the most stunning archipelagos in the U.S.?

San Juan Islands, WA | Outdoorsy
Mount Constitution view of Mount Baker photo by RJ.

Located in the Salish Sea off the northwest coast of Washington, the San Juan Islands are home to old-growth forests, diverse wildlife, and miles of remote shoreline. San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw islands are accessible by car, while dozens of smaller islands are reachable only by boat. Whale watching, kayaking, and cycling are just a few of the activities you can enjoy on island time.

5 things to do for a quintessential San Juan Islands trip

Watch whales in their natural habitat

Killer whales—also known as orcas—reside in the San Juan Islands year round, making it one of the best places in the world to spot these mammals in their natural habitat. There are many whale watching outfitters on the islands, some of which even offer kayaking trips. You can also see humpback, minke and grey whales, and other sea life including seals and porpoises. If you’re lucky, you can catch them breaching!

Hike to the top of Mount Constitution

Orcas Island is home to the tallest point in the San Juans—Mount Constitution. You can reach the top of the 2,400-foot-tall peak by car, bike, or by hiking. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with expansive views of the surrounding islands and the mainland. Don’t miss a bonus climb up the lookout tower for an even higher panoramic view.

San Juan Islands, WA | Outdoorsy
Sunset kayak with Outdoor Odysseys. Photo courtesy of San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.

Go for a sunset paddle

Whether you bring your own or rent on the islands, kayaking the San Juan shorelines is a peaceful event. Launch from the west side of an island—try Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, Deer Harbor on Orcas Island, or Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island—for a sunset paddle excursion. Keep a close eye out for bald eagles, shore birds, and marine life.

Cycle the winding island roads

All three islands are popular to explore by bike and offer varying terrain. From the Lopez Island Ferry terminal, you can bike 4.3 miles into town to grab a cup of coffee or a bite at the farmer’s market. If you’re up for a longer route, there’s a 35-mile loop around San Juan Island offering a myriad of undulating views, including lavender fields and alpaca farms. On Orcas Island, pedal out to Doe Bay Resort on the southeast side of the island and enjoy lunch at their cafe or a dip in their soaking tubs.  

San Juan Islands, WA | Outdoorsy
Cycling past Pelindaba Lavender Farm on San Juan Island. Photo courtesy of San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.

Spend an afternoon on the beach

You could spend an entire vacation just exploring the shorelines of the San Juans. Check out Agate Beach on Lopez Island for rockhounding, Deadman’s Cove on San Juan Islands to watch for orcas in the channel, or Obstruction Pass State Park on Orcas Island for viewing tidepools.

Getting to the islands

The Washington State Ferries system is the only way to reach the four main islands by vehicle. In the busy summer months, the ferries can fill up fast. It’s recommended that you make a round-trip reservation from the Anacortes ferry terminal to one of the islands.

Reservation space is released in three tiers: two months before the start of the seasonal schedule; two weeks before the sailing date; and two days before the sailing date. Standby space is usually available, but could mean a long wait in line.

If you’re planning to walk on, no need to make a ferry reservation. Just park your car at the Anacortes ferry terminal and walk on; you can even bring your bike or kayak. There are a handful of other walk-on passenger ferries and also airline and charter planes with service to the islands.

San Juan Islands, WA | Outdoorsy
San Juan Islands orcas photo by Jim Maya.

Where to camp with your RV

San Juan Island

  • Lakedale Resort is an 82-acre resort between Roche and Friday harbors offering campers a plethora of family-friendly activities; water and electric hookups available.
  • San Juan County Fairgrounds is a short walk from San Juan Island’s main town of Friday Harbor on the east side of the island; water and electric hookups available.
  • San Juan County Park on the west side of the island provides views of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island; no hookups available.

Orcas Island

  • Moran State Park is located on the east side of the island. The 5,424-acre park is home to five lakes, Mount Constitution, and 38 miles of hiking trails; no hookups available.
  • West Beach Resort on the west side of the island offers power and water hookups. RV sites are a short walk to the beach.

Lopez Island

  • Lopez Islander Resort overlooks Fisherman Bay on the west side of the island; some campsites have electric hookups and freshwater is available for filling tanks.
  • Odlin County Park is a short distance from the ferry terminal on the north side of the island and accommodates small RVs but no hookups. The park is part of the Cascadia Marine Trail system.
  • Spencer Spit State Park is a 138-acre camping and marine park on the northeast side of the island; 50 campsites but no hookups.

Whether you’re looking for an action-packed excursion or a place to unwind for the weekend, you’re sure to find something to suit your island fever in the San Juans.

Start your trip to Washington off on the right foot by renting an RV from Outdoorsy to take you everywhere you want to go.

San Juan Islands, WA | Outdoorsy
Agate Beach on Lopez Island. Photo courtesy of San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.

Emily Butterfield

 

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