Just across from British Columbia's stunning Stunning Southern Gulf Islands are the United States' stunning San Juan Islands. They are located between the State of Washington and Vancouver Island. If given the chance check out Canada's islands as well - including the stunning Saturna Island (see here for where to stay there).
Of the staggering 172 or so-named islands and reefs, 4 of them are accessible to vehicular and foot traffic by the Washington State Ferries system. The climate here is a temperate year-round climate and the mood on the islands is peaceful and mellow. Temperatures are around 70° in the summer and around 40° in the winter. They form a marine wildlife playground.
The Main Islands
The three largest islands are all very different from each other, Orcas is the hilliest, Lopez is the flattest (and easiest for cycling and San Juan Island is a mix of both hills and flatlands.
- Three Main Islands: Lopez Island, Orcas Island, San Juan Island
These three ferry-served islands are the most populous and host by far the majority of lodging, activities, dining options, and everything else on the islands. The fourth island is Shaw Island, it is also accessible by ferry, but visitors' facilities and camping options are rather limited.
- Mount Constitution: Highest Point On The Islands Rises To 2,407 Feet or 734 Meters (On Orcas Island)
On Lopez Island, enjoy the rolling pastoral views and its easily bikeable roads.
Orcas Island is where much of outdoor adventure is. It has a number of accommodation and tourist activity options including resorts (like the Rosario Resort and the West Beach Resort). It has the beautiful Moran State Park and cozy secluded forest cabins.
San Juan Island is home to three harbors - the busy Friday Habor, the charming Roche Harbor, and the tranquil Snug Harbor. There are various accommodation options on this island as well.
One needn't choose between the islands, they are all connected by ferry so visit them all!
The shorelines on these islands are a combination of sandy, rocky and pebbly beaches. The islands are perfect for kayaks and small motorboats as well as sailboats and yachts. The two main tourist attractions are orca watching and sea kayaking.
Orcas (aka Killer Whales) And Other Wildlife Watching
The islands are famous for their resident pod of killer whales. The three resident pods feast on the abundant salmon around the islands (there are five types of salmon Pacific, Sockeye, Silver, Pink, Chum, and King Salmon). The killer whales also dine on the occasional harbor seal when they get the chance.
It's not just the killer whales that the islands are famous for, the rich waters make it one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Gaze out in wonder at the many marine animals calling the archipelago home - including Steller sea lions, river otters, Common minke whales, and Dall's porpoise. The Northern sea otter was exterminated in the area but has since been re-introduced.
- Bald Eagles: The San Juan Islands Have The Greatest Concentration of Bald Eagles In The Lower 48
While the islands are best known for orca watching, their Lime Kiln Point State Park is also a prime whale-watching site. See here for a guide to whale watching in Puget Sound near Seattle.
There are scores of companies offering whale and orca watching tours (including some of the sea kayaking companies below). Here are a couple of examples of orca and whale watching tours by San Juan Safaris.
Classic Whale Watch And Wildlife Tours
This is their most popular tour and is great for everyone.
- Adult: $119 (Aged 13 and Up)
- Child: $89 (Aged 2-12)
Duration: 3-4 Hours Searching for Whales, Orcas, other Wildlife
Whale Watch Tour On A Rigid Inflatable Boat
While most whale watching boats are on large craft, this tour offers a rigid inflatable boat that can cruise at an impressive 35 knots.
- Pricing: $139 Per Person
There are kayaking rental companies on all three main islands. A few examples of the rental companies are:
- Lopez Island: Outdoor Adventures Lopez Kayak & Bike
- Orcas Island: Crescent Beach Kayak Rentals
- San Juan Island: San Juan Kayak Expeditions, and San Juan Island Outfitters
These companies often provide a selection of options including equipment rentals, day tours (three to six-hour tours), and multiday kayaking adventures. For a couple of examples of a multiday adventure, here are two examples from San Juan Kayak Expeditions:
2 Day Orca Quest
This is a super-popular overnighter tour that covers some 19 miles cutting right through the heart of the "orca country". Note this trip is only for the fit and adventurous.
- Overnight: On A Seaside Campsite
- Other: After Dinner Hike To a "Secret Lookout" to Watch The Sunset
- Cost: $449 Per Person Plus Tax
5-Day "The Ultimate"
Camp at remote campsites and see wild coastlines. Only for the fit and those up a real challenge (must be muscle-toned and active). Go sea glass hunting, whale watching, sea kayak sailing, enjoy stunning sunset hikes.
- Cost: $949 Per Person Plus Sales Tax