Orcas Island, Washington will make you feel like you’ve discovered your own little sliver of Pacific Northwest paradise. It is the perfect place to go for a socially distanced adventure in pandemic times. It is the perfect place to go to recharge, any time. I’d say a word to describe it is “fresh”. And it will leave you feeling so. Not too easy to access, it keeps the crowds away, but is absolutely worth the effort in getting there. The island is covered in lush forests, clear mountains lakes, breathtaking views, cascading falls and rocky shoreline with tide pools for days. You will likely feel you have them all to yourself. Go, but be warned, you’ll spend the rest of your life longing to return. Orcas Island has so many adventures to choose. Are you ready for yours? Here we go!
Timeline: all day. A really long day. In fact, stretch this in to an overnight, weekend, or week if you can. But if you can’t, or won’t, then plan to leave very early a.m. and return late p.m. Its totally doable, I’ve done it, but it requires an oversized willingness for adventure/stamina. There’s your friendly heads-up.
Dress code: outdoor casual. All purpose or hiking shoes/boots (keep them in the car to change). Layer light wind/rain jacket, fleece zip, tshirt. Stretchy pants 🙂 Its 2020, if you aren’t living in stretchy pants, tell me how you live. Even the nicer restaurants are casual, so don’t overthink it.
Bring: Snacks (pro tip, never leave home without them) and lots of them! You’ll work up an appetite with all the fresh air activities and while you can drive the island end-to-end in about 40 minutes, you won’t encounter many convenience stores (or stop lights). Rose’s Cafe in Eastsound is a great spot to pick up a bottle of wine, fresh baked goods and gourmet treats to-go in a pinch, or because I had you at “gourmet treats”. Camera with lots of room for lots of pictures (photo-ops at every turn). A book and a deck of cards in case you have to wait for the ferry, and for game time on board.
Getting there: Ferry from Anacortes, WA, slightly under 1.5 hour drive from Seattle. Then approx 1-1.5 hour ferry ride to the island. Watch for sea life and passing islands on the way. Find everything you need to know about taking the ferry here.
- Paddling: West Beach Resort– rent your own and paddle out. I can’t find actual prices listed, but I have done this here, and their website says they have all the gear, so you’ll just have to drive out and see for yourself, but trust that it will all work out, especially if you’re a planner. This will be a lesson in go with the flow. Make a reservation for a guided paddle with Shearwater Adventures in Deer Harbor, where you’ll learn that you can eat kelp and maybe get to touch a sea star. Watch out for low-flying bald eagles.
- Moran State Park and Mount Constitution summit: On a clear day, either hike, or drive to the summit of Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 2,399ft (731m) and, as my Wikipedia research has just revealed, the second-tallest ocean island mountain in the lower 48 United States. The views from the top are incredible, overlooking the San Juan archipelago’s 172 (named) islands, the North Cascades and Mount Baker. You might spot a pod of whales swimming down below. Truly a view you don’t want to miss.
- Hiking: On your way to, or from, the Mount Constitution summit, or on a tragically foggy day, hike the easy Cascade Falls Trail. This trail is mostly flat and wooded, along the Cascade Creek and as the name eludes, passes many waterfalls. While this is an easy and short trail, you could easily spend a good portion of the afternoon simply exploring. Hiking up over and through the creek, reaching out to touch the cascades, or if you’re feeling extra adventuresome on a hot day, standing right under.
- Head to the village of Eastsound and poke through shops, walk along the little shoreline and comb the beach for treasures, breathe fresh air and enjoy the view. Get lunch, or dinner (see Madrona Bar & Grill below).
- Doe Bay Cafe check their website for seasonal hours, but do stop here for a fresh, casual meal on a peacefully out of the way inlet. Enjoy a glass of Washington wine on the deck, while taking in live music. You might consider paying to enjoy their natural hot spring pools before or after. Maybe after several glasses of wine for the clothing optional area.
- Pack a picnic. Since you’re driving, its too easy to throw a cooler in the trunk. You can eat while gazing out over the San Juan islands at the top of Mount Constitution. You can have a boat snack on the ferry ride. Your ham and cheese sammy is guaranteed to taste better when eaten while gazing at a series of small cascading waterfalls on your hike. This is budget, and pandemic friendly.
- Treat yo’self at the Madrona Bar & Grill. Fresh seafood, steak, pasta and views of Fishers Bay in Eastsound. The seafood linguini comes with my highest praise.
- Should you stretch this in to an overnight, there is a room for every desire and budget at the Outlook Inn in Eastsound. The hotel is in the heart of the village within walking distance to shops and restaurants and Eastsound itself is central on Orcas, which makes it an excellent home-base for your island adventures. Stay in the budget-conscious historic building where you may share a hall bathroom, but won’t find anything lacking in charm. Or, enjoy a stay in a deluxe suite with balcony overlooking gorgeous Fisher’s Bay.
- If you’d like a peaceful B&B stay, I can recommend Otter Pond B&B. It is quiet, small, personal and breakfast will.not.disappoint. Tucked back in to the central island forest, with only 5 suites, you’ll feel like you have the place (and hot tub overlooking the pond) to yourself.
Budget: Since this is a choose-your-own-adventure, you can essentially choose your own budget. The only thing you’ll absolutely need to pay for is the actual ferry ride to the island. As of today, car and driver will cost $34 round-trip. Kids 0-5 are free, additional adult passengers $14, children ages 6-18 and seniors $7, round trip. When I visited the reservations website and plugged in my family (driver, adult, two kids under 6) it came to $48.35. A guided kayak tour will cost you more than renting your own. I’ve greatly enjoyed both self and professionally guided paddle experiences. Dine in (or out), or bring your own food. Stay overnight, or head back the same day. Its all doable, and its all up to you.
For parents: Nature is yours and your kids playground. Prepare to get a little dirty. Leave the stroller at home, you probably wouldn’t need it. But don’t forget to bring your kid carrier of choice, backpack, sling, etc. A bucket and shovel would be helpful for collecting shells, rocks and shoreline treasures. Sunscreen, if you don’t usually have that on you, because the San Juans benefit from being in the Olympic Mountain rain shadow and get a lot more sunshine than their neighbors in a famously rainy region.
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