Island Vacationing at its Best: Washington’s San Juan Islands

Feb 06 - 2015

The San Juan Islands are an undiscovered gem, often completely unknown by people not living in the Pacific Northwest. Admittedly, I had never heard of them before moving to Oregon. It’s likely that the inhabitants of the islands preferred it that way!

The San Juan Islands are comprised of over 400 islands, with four islands hosting the majority of the population and representing the bulk of the landmass. The 478 miles of coastline receive far less rain than neighboring Seattle, Washington due to their location in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. Their history is as interesting as their geography and ecology, with the islands having been fought over and claimed at various times by the British, Canadians, Spanish, and Americans.

The words “Pacific Island” usually conjure up images of palm-treed white sand Hawaiian beaches rather than the idyllic largely “untouched” wonder that is the Pacific Northwest archipelago of the San Juan Islands sandwiched between the U.S. and Canada. While these island identities are distinct, they share the wonders of the sparkling blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and deep green forests combined with a plethora of possible activities. There are a great many activities one could cram in to a vacation on the San Juans:

Cycling: the San Juans are a unique and undiscovered cycling destination, with rolling farmland, quiet roads, hidden coves, and a generally pastoral setting – perfect for leisure and intermediate riders or more advanced riders simply looking to get away from the usual routes. The size of the islands and the diversity found on each make them well suited to a multi-day cycling vacation. Island hopping will be part of the experience, with Washington State Ferries shuttling you from island to island. On each island you’ll cycle past a natural diversity as well as a series of unique small towns with very distinct and colorful identities.

Whalewatching: three pods of orcas call the San Juan Islands home from April to October, and it’s highly unlikely you would visit the islands without encountering them at least once. You will have multiple opportunities to observe these majestic mammals, whether from the sea level view of your kayak, from the saddle of your bicycle on a twisting coastal road, from a boat on a whale watching tour, or from a hilltop on a coastal hike.

Kayaking: the proximity of the 400 islands to one another and the calm waters make this a unique destination for sea kayaking. Paddle on your own or join an outfitted trip: choices are abundant. From your sea-level vantage point you’ll not only have the opportunity to gaze at the natural beauty of the islands but will also likely encounter see-dwelling creatures including orcas, sea lions, a large variety of birds, porpoises, and otters.

Fishing: salt water and fresh water fishing opportunities abound on either your own boat or a chartered one. Both salmon fishing and bottom fishing are bountiful in the San Juans and depending on the season you visit you are highly unlikely to be disappointed.

Getting to the San Juans is part of the pleasure, with the most common options being a high speed ferry from Seattle, a car/passenger ferry ride from Anacortes, a flight onto Orcas Island, or a seaplane flight from various originating points.

San Juans Cycling Vacations
Coastal San Juan Islands
Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Lime Kiln Lighthouse
friday harbor from the air
Friday Harbor