Camping in the Beautiful San Juan Islands
Over Memorial Day weekend I finally penciled in a visit to a place that has been on my list since I moved to the Pacific Northwest: the San Juan Islands. I remember seeing an amazing photograph of dozens of islands stretching into a mountainous horizon (similar to the image above) on an Alaska Airlines flight back to Montana. That photo is what landed the islands on my list and it didn’t take long to decide that I needed to see them in person.
So on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend we loaded the car and headed north to catch the last ferry out of Anacortes. The only thing I knew about ferries was from what I had seen on Grey’s Anatomy. And I knew that this ferry probably wouldn’t be as carefree and romantic as crossing the Sound with McDreamy so I did a little research on my own. Everything I had read suggested that we get there at least an hour in advance, maybe even earlier because it was a holiday weekend.
We followed the recommendations to get there early and landed a spot on last ferry out of Anacortes…just in time to watch the sunset disappear into the horizon. The ferry brought us to Orcas Village on southwest side of the horse-shoe shaped island (the spot on the map that says “Ferry Dock”). We stayed at a cute little campground called the West Beach Resort on the northwest corner of the island. On the map it looks like a long drive between the ferry and the resort but it was a quick six miles.
On Saturday morning we drove to Eastsound – the largest village on the island – to checkout the local farmer’s market and Bite of Orcas (a scaled down version of Bite of Oregon). We tried our first oyster shooter, enjoyed some wood fired pizza, and a rhubarb upside-down cake before browsing through some of the local shops. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the dock of our resort fishing and drinking a beer…or two.
The next day we were all ready to see more of the island. The manager at our resort recommended a drive to the top of Mount Constitution for the amazing view or a hike around Obstruction Pass. We were up for both and had gotten a good start on the day so we headed towards Mount Constitution first. The closer our car climbed to the top, the foggier it got. When we reached the watch tower at the top of the mountain we immediately headed for the observation deck but found that it was just as foggy up there. We had heard so much about the view that we decided to wait it out and see if the fog would burn off. While the fog never completely cleared, we were able to get a nice view of BC and the surrounding islands.
Then it was off to Obstruction Pass for a nice hike on a trail that wrapped around the shoreline through beautifully colored madrona trees. The trail down to the shore itself was a bit rocky but we braved it to get a closer look at the dozens of bright orange starfish scattered across the rocks (visible from 25 feet above the shoreline). Seeing all of the boaters out on the water made us yearn to be out there. But since we didn’t have access to a boat, we opted for the next best thing: a kayak. When we got back to camp we rented tandem sea kayaks and paddled around the cove at the resort. The current was strong but it was fun to be out on the water. What an amazing weekend!
My Orcas Island Travel Tips:
-Don’t forget the regulator for your gas grill. But if you happen to land yourself in that situation, go to the Ace Hardware in Eastsound. There is a sweet old man there who’s full of wit and loves to tease. He will hook you up.
-Don’t leave any food out when you’re not around. Not even a sealed bag of POP chips. The black birds will be ALL over it.
-Always tie down your canopy well so it doesn’t catch wind and blow into your neighbors campsite…and break.
-Don’t lock yourself out of the car when you’ve got a ferry to catch. But if you do, prop the window open with a spatula from a fellow camper’s grill and attempt to use a clothes hanger to roll down the window. If that doesn’t work, contact the West Beach Resort managers. They will cruise on over in their four-wheeler and take care of business in less than ten minutes….on a holiday. Yep, they’re awesome.
-If you’re leaving Orcas Island on a Sunday (or Monday holiday), be prepared to wait anywhere from 4-6 hours at the ferry terminal. Bring cards or some form of entertainment.
-For those of you who think the inflight magazines are worthless, I would probably have to agree with you 80% of the time. But once in a while I find a really great article or image that sparks my interest.
-Go to Orcas Island, you won’t regret it!