Traveling to the San Juan Islands This Summer
The San Juans are a tiny treasure in very northwest corner of Washington state. Nestled between the state’s mainland and Canada, they stretch an area that is only accessible by boat or Washington State Ferry.
There are four major islands on which the ferry stops. These are Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan Island respectively. Every island brings it’s unique personality and set of attractions.
Lopez is the first island that the Washington state ferry will stop at on it’s way across the islands. It is tranquil and beautiful, with calm beaches covered in clam shells and tiny crabs skittering across the sands.
It is small and quiet with a single village on the island named Lopez Village. Here, visitors will find everything they need for other activities that include camping, fishing, hiking, and more. The village includes a few independent restaurants (no chains here), and a few food stores. There are also gift shops, an ice cream shop, and a bakery.
There are two major camp grounds on Lopez, and dozens of other accommodations such as bed & breakfasts, and cottages for couples and families. The two camp grounds are at Spencer Spit State park and at Odlin County Park.
Shaw is a tiny island in the middle of the three major San Juan Islands. There is no commerce on the island outside of the Shaw General Store. The island’s population is less than two hundred. There are no amenities on the island apart from campgrounds. There are 12 sites in total at the Shaw Island County Park.
Making a stay on Shaw Island will assure that the visitors will truly be able to escape into nature. But be aware that the ferry only makes so many stops per day for this island, and many ferries will skip this island while making their way to their final destination of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, so be sure to check with the ferry schedule before making plans to visit Shaw.
Orcas is a larger island than both Lopez and Shaw. It boasts more villages to visit and more tourism. It offers two major campgrounds, and many more accommodations for visitors. The ferry Lands at Orcas Village and leads into a road called Orcas Road that runs the entire length of the horseshoe-shaped island.
At the top of the Island is the largest town, Eastsound. Eastsound offers food, lodging, craft stores, gift shops, and a beach to walk along as well as other attractions. It also offers several grocery stores and other places to get supplies for camping.
The two largest campsites on the island are Moran State Park and Obstruction Pass State Park. Moran State Park campsites are closer together, while Obstruction Pass campsites are more primitive and private, but are first come first server. Moran State Park also offers a lake and trails. Another perk to staying at Moran State Park is that the park rangers drive through the campsites once per night to sell firewood so that people don’t have to make the journey to buy it themselves. It should be noted that the gathering of firewood or driftwood is prohibited on all of the San Juan Islands.
San Juan Island
San Juan Island is the last of the islands serviced by Washington State Ferries. It has the highest population of any of the islands. Friday Harbor is the largest town on the island, but Roche Harbor on the other side of the Island is also known for being a tourist destination.
This Island boasts more amenities than any of the other islands. Most everything offered on other islands can be found here in terms of shopping and lodging. Among the island’s major attractions are the British and American Camps on opposite sides of the Islands. Other attractions include wildlife watching, state parks, shopping and dining and more.
The San Juans are a wonderful place to visit for families, couples, or groups of friends. There is so much to do on each individual island, that parties visiting may want to visit again and again. It’s a great way to immerse oneself in nature and get away from it all. Keep in mind that these four islands are only the islands that the Washing State Ferry system makes stops at. There are 172 islands with names, and many more without names. Most other islands are accessible by boat, and there are many charter boat services across the islands. It is a destination that should not be missed this summer!