Just off the coast of Washington State in the northwestern part of the United States you can find yourself in a true PNW environment. A cluster of islands that entice visitors and locals alike with their mystery and magic just begging to be discovered make up the San Juan Islands. Orcas Island, the largest of the bunch, is home to sweet cafes, welcoming locals, secret book shops, safe harbours and lush hiking.
How to Get to Orcas Island
We crossed the border from Canada into Washington State at Peace Arch Border crossing early in the morning to beat the border line up. From there, we drove for just under 1 1/2 hours to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal. From Anacortes, you can catch ferries to the surrounding islands, as well as cross an international border bound for Sidney on Vancouver Island, BC.
The crossing from Anacortes to Orcas Island is approximately 1.5 hours, and tickets can be booked online in advance on the Washington Ferries website. You will arrive on the lower west side, from where you should drive up the left-hand 'fin' of the island to Eastsound, the central hub on the island.
Where to Stay on Orcas Island
If you're looking to be centrally located with a bit of bustle, Eastsound is the place to be. Conveniently placed in the centre of the island's fins, Eastsound looks out onto a natural harbour while maintaining ease of access to all the highlights of the island. Book a stay at the family-owned Outlook Inn, right on the waterfront.
However, if it's more of a #cabingoals retreat you're in search of, get onto AirBnB where many property owners rent out their space while they're away. Orcas Island is typically a holiday destination, rather than a year-round living situation, so many cabins are empty during low season. Or, if you're like me, have friends who own their own slice of cabin perfection on the island (win-win!).
Must-Do Activities on Orcas Island
Mount Constitution, Moran State Park
Calling all hiking lovers! Orcas Island is nature's paradise, so strap on your hiking boots and get out into the massive Moran State Park that covers nearly a third of the island. Of the many hiking trails, an easy short trail is up to Ellsworth Storey's Tower where you will be greeted with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding islands and across to mainland Washington blurred with the Canadian coastline.
Hike the Coast
Pick any one of a number of trails that lead out towards the coast line and find yourself in undiscovered territory, completely alone and at peace. Take in the views of the water rippling as far as the eye can see to the other San Juan islands.
Boating in West Sound
Thanks to the fin-like shape of Orcas Island, there are a number of natural and safe harbours dotted around. The central one of course leads out from Eastsound, but there is also a smaller harbour to the west at (you guessed it) West Sound. Kayaking is highly popular here; small rental shops will be able to provide you with what you're looking for. Our friends own a small engine-powered boat and we spent a day out on the water. I find that on the water is the best place to clear your head, get some writing done, and find some peace.