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The San Juan Islands offer pleasure and adventure for residents and tourists alike. This article provides information and websites to plan and enhance your trip.
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of islands north and west of Seattle, facing Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The islands consist of 172 islands (at low tide). In the archipelago, four islands are accessible by passenger ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system. The majority of the San Juan Islands are quite hilly and wooded with some flat open rocky areas and valleys. With only about 16,000 residents in all of San Juan County, it's a very rural experience in a maritime setting. A photo gallery, travel/lodging information, an activities calendar and information on parks and other outdoor pursuits can be found on the website of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau at www.visitsanjuans.com Their toll-free number is 888-468-3701.
How much time to spend in the Islands? Depends on your schedule, but at least one night to explore any one of the three major islands, San Juan, Orcas or Lopez. If you want to explore more in depth and enjoy the outdoors, then three full days or more. Don't forget to bring your cameras and your binoculars to capture all the scenic natural beauty and wildlife.
The San Juan Islands get less rainfall than Seattle due to their location in the rain shadow of Olympic Mountains to the southwest. Summertime high temperatures are around 70 ° while average wintertime lows are in the high 30s. Snow is infrequent in winter, but the islands are subject to high winds at times mostly in the colder months but they can occur year-round. It is always good to plan to dress in layers while visiting as even in the summer it can be chilly at night or if you go out on a boat. The spring and especially summer and early fall months are the best seasons to visit the islands both because of the weather and because of the latitude as you will have plenty of daylight hours to explore.
Transportation To the 3 Major San Juan Islands
There are no bridges to the San Juan Islands; therefore, all travel from the mainland is either by water or by air. The islands are accessible by private boat, ferry, plane and private charters.
Traveling by ship
Washington State Ferry fares are round trip from Anacortes; i.e., there is no charge to return to Anacortes. Here is information in detail about the Anacortes ferry terminal and how to get to the ferry landing in Anacortes if you have a car (then you can either take your car on the ferry or park it there and walk on the ferry) as well as webcams showing you the current car holding lot http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/vesse... . The WSDOT bulletin page at Wa State Ferry bulletins carries special notices of cancellations and changes to the posted sailings. Webcams at the Anacortes, Friday Harbor and Orcas Island ferry terminals give you a chance to size up the ferry lines. Keep in mind the situation can change quickly. One can set up an email alert account with WSF: https://secure1.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/...
If you want to come out to the islands by Washington state ferry and you don’t have a vehicle the Airporter Shuttle has daily year round service between SeaTac Airport, downtown Seattle, and the Anacortes ferry terminal and as can be seen online by looking at their schedule at http://www.airporter.com/schedules/sc... they leave SeaTac and Seattle and arrive at the Anacortes ferry many times in a day. . This shuttle bus does make multiple stops and involves a brief transfer to a connecting bus to get to the Anacortes terminal. You'll need reservations. Airporter Shuttle: 1-866-235-5247
Tips Regarding Ferry Travel
Seattle to Anacortes: Plan on a two hour drive from Seattle to the Anacortes ferry terminal. Important: Year-round but especially during the warmer months of the year people traveling with a vehicle should be at the Anacortes ferry dock at least one hour before boarding; two hours is safer to better assure you get on the ferry you want. The ferries are not frequent and the wait for the next one is often hours long. Very early morning ferries are best as they usually involve less waiting time at the docks and they allow more time to be out at the islands. An Option: You can leave your car in the designated ferry parking lot(s) at or near the ferry terminal in Anacortes. Balance your needs for flexibility against the additional costs of bringing your own car http://www.visitsanjuans.com/
While waiting for your ferry, you can walk around the rural holding lot and down to the cove beach below. The ferry terminal has restrooms, a small snack bar type food service and a small gift shop.
When returning to Anacortes during tourist season , check with the ferry terminal staff on the island you are on and inquire at what time you should leave your car in the assigned lanes. While the car sits in its lane, you can walk around Friday Harbor (if on San Juan Island), have a meal or shop. Orcas island has a grocery store, a few restaurants and shops at its ferry landing area.
If you walk on the ferry and want to see more of the island that you are on there is cab service on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands. In the summer months on San Juan and Orcas a shuttle van service runs to the most popular tourist spots and hiking areas and their web site is at: http://sanjuantransit.com/ . Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is the only incorporated town and is a located at the ferry landing. Eastsound, on Orcas Island, and Lopez Village, on Lopez Island, are at some 15- 20 minutes driving distance from their ferry docks, which is one reason for many people bringing or renting a car.
There is also the Victoria Clipper passenger only boat which leaves from downtown Seattle (you'd have to make your way from SeaTac there) & comes directly to the town of Friday Harbor on San Juan. This is a fast moving boat so don’t expect it would be warm enough to sit outside during the trip, if that makes a difference to you. The trip takes around 3 hours each way. You can find out more by calling (800) 888-2535 or on their website at Victoria Clipper San Juan islands
Traveling by air
You can also travel to the islands by air. Here are links to websites for both scheduled and charter flight companies:
Kenmore Air takes you by van from SeaTac to one of their terminals (Boeing or Lake Union), where you board a land or seaplane bound for Lopez Island, Orcas Island, or for San Juan Island. Kenmore Air can be reached at 866-435-9524 or Kenmore Air San Juan islands
San Juan airlines has scheduled service to the islands from Bellingham and Anacortes and will do charters from Seattle. You’ll find out more at http://www.sanjuanairlines.com/schedu...
San Juan Island
San Juan is the most popular island for tourism, but that does not translate into crowds, as the ferry capacity is limited and folks disperse among the islands many sights. Friday Harbor is the major activity center for the island, which has a year-round population of approximately 7,500 people. SJI has far more access to shoreline than the other islands.
Things to Do and to See on San Juan Island
· English Camp From parking lot, walk trails to parade grounds and along shore. Find the Osprey nest at English Camp (with the bay behind, look at the top of a pole shaped tree). Hike to the top of Mount Young for great views.
· Roche Harbor (Hotel de Haro, lodging, dining, marina, gardens, mausoleum, air strip)
· Scuba Diving
· Sea Kayaking Tours
· Shopping & Gas
· Winery and tasting room. While there, see the camel(!) across street.
· Westcott Bay Preserve (outdoor sculpture garden, free) At entrance to Roche Harbor.
· Whale Museum
· Whale Watching, Best Times - see chart on this website: http://www.island-adventures.com/whal...
Places to Dine on San Juan Island
Places to Stay Overnight
See http://www.visitsanjuans.com Click on Places to Stay then click on San Juan. Many B&Bs and other lodging.
Lopez Island, with quiet pastoral roads, generally level terrain and scenic location is a popular get-away for bikers. Poppies, lupines, all manner of wildflowers line the roads. If you don't have a bike, you can rent bikes on the island.
Lopez Village is the chief activity center on the island.
Things to Do on Lopez
Places to Dine on Lopez (Not a complete list.)
Places to Stay Overnight:
See http://www.visitsanjuans.com .Click on Places to Stay and then click on Lopez.
Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands and is home to an eclectic community of artisans and small businesses. Eastsound Village is the major activity center on the island.
Things to Do on Orcas Island
If you go to Moran State Park be sure to see a good view not far below the top (the road ends at Mt Constitution parking lot). Pull over at the Little Summit trailhead and walk a very short distance to the view point there which is clearer of trees and also doesn't get the swarms of tourists milling about. See the map of Moran Park at http://www.parks.wa.gov/parks/?select... To walk with a youngster, there are some nice trails in Moran Park that are easy to moderate. The two trails around Cascade Lake and Mountain Lake are good ones. Lots of shade and nice views of the Lakes in many places.
Orcas has the large Land Bank area of Turtleback Mountain accessible to the public. The views from there in many places are considered by some to be superior to Mt. Constitution and as beautiful as the one from Little Summit. The hiking there is moderate with some steeper grades.
Places to Dine on Orcas Island (Not a complete list.)
A more comprehensive list of places selling food or drink is available at http://orcasislandchamber.com/dining
Places to Stay Overnight on Orcas Island
See http://www.visitsanjuans.com Click on Places to Stay and then click on Orcas.