The San Juan Islands are an iconic Washington State destination. Rising from the Salish Sea north of Puget Sound, this emerald archipelago is comprised of 172 named islands — only three of which offer visitor lodging and attractions. Travelers flock to the islands during summertime for an abundant dose of natural scenery, outdoor activities and culinary creations. But the islands (which receive twice as much sunshine as Seattle annually) are well worth visiting year-round.
The largest island in the San Juans is Orcas Island. Here, you’ll find a geographically diverse land of forests, farms, mountains and lakes surrounded by the sea. Orcas Island is a favorite first stop for foodies and outdoor adventurers alike in the San Juans. Here’s how to spend a weekend soaking it all up.
For most folks, getting to Orcas Island begins with a ferry ride from Anacortes. Usually about an hour long (depending on stops at neighboring Lopez and Shaw islands), taking the ferry to Orcas is half the fun. You truly feel like you’re getting away from it all while sailing through the Salish Sea aboard Washington State Ferries. Grab a snack or drink in the galley, peer out the window at seafaring scenery or settle in with a good book. Be sure to stand on the deck with the wind in your hair for unbeatable photo opportunities. You’ll be on Orcas Island before you know it.
Pro tip: make a ferry reservation in advance to avoid long wait times.
Where to Stay
Once you’re on the island, it’s time to check in for the weekend. Orcas Island offers countless lodging options, from full-service hotels and resorts to homey guesthouses and a campground. Here are a few of our favorites.
Cabins on the Point
Located near the hamlet of Westsound on Massacre Bay, Cabins on the Point offers adorable waterfront cabin accommodations. If you’re looking for a quiet and private getaway on the island, this collection of cabins and cottages is hard to beat. Built in the early 1900s, each little house features a fireplace and kitchen for that home-away-from-home feel.
Enjoy access to a private beach where you can launch kayaks or build a beach fire. There’s even a tiny hot tub tucked beneath the trees for guests of select cabins. Whether you’re looking for a romantic cabin getaway or a family cottage stay, there’s something for everyone here. Our favorite feature? The cabins’ location (at the base of Turtleback Mountain) means that there’s an excellent hiking trail near your doorstep. These cabins are (literally) on point!
It’s worth visiting the historic Rosario Resort whether you’re staying there or not. Located on the east side of Orcas Island near Moran State Park, Rosario is an excellent jumping-off point for outdoor adventure. But the resort’s charms extend well beyond its proximity to recreation.
Rosario’s 40 sprawling acres are home to a fascinating museum, music room, restaurant and spa in addition to classy and comfortable accommodations. Tour the mansion — built between 1905 and 1909 for former Seattle mayor Robert Moran — to take a step back in time. With waterfront rooms perched on the edge of Cascade Bay, Rosario Resort is always a sweet place to stay.
Camping at Moran State Park
If you’re feeling campy (or just looking for affordable island lodging), look no further than Moran State Park. Donated to the state of Washington by Mr. Moran himself, the parklands are Orcas Island’s recreation hub and a perfect basecamp for outdoor adventures. With 124 standard campsites, there’s plenty of room to spread out.
The San Juan Islands are world-famous for whale watching and sea kayaking. First-time visitors to the islands shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see orca whales in the wild! But if you’re looking for island views at your own pace, take a hike on Orcas Island. Don’t forget to pack the Ten Essentials when hiking, and always leave no trace.
Hiking at Turtleback Mountain
Skip the crowds with a trek at Turtleback Mountain Preserve. Located less than 5 miles from the Orcas ferry dock near Cabins on the Point, this 1,576-acre preserve is a convenient place to stretch your legs pre- or post-ferry ride. Enjoy island views from Turtleback’s grassy balds and rocky outcrops along the 2.9-mile loop hike to Ship Peak.
Hiking at Moran State Park
Endless trail opportunities exist at Moran State Park. With an extensive trail network featuring 38 miles of hiking trails, the hardest part is deciding where to go. Our favorite family-friendly hike is the 3-mile round trip trail to Cascade Falls — the tallest waterfall in the San Juans.
For a bigger challenge, a hike to the summit of Mount Constitution is the quintessential Orcas Island experience. Hike north from Mountain Lake, passing twinkling Twin Lakes before beginning a steep climb to the summit. You can also drive to the top of the mountain if you’d prefer to skip the 6.7-mile hike.
Views from the top are unbeatable: Mount Constitution is the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 2,409 feet. Climb the 52-foot stone tower for a grand panorama of the archipelago, Mount Baker, and even Mount Rainier in the distance.
Where to Drink and Dine
With so many eateries and craft producers on Orcas Island, it’s impossible to name the best one. Here are a few favorites to get you started.
Island Hoppin’ Brewery
Housed in a former metal shop above the town of Eastsound, Island Hoppin’ Brewery is the kind of place you seek out rather than stumble into. Perhaps this explains the laid-back, local hangout feel. You’re equally likely to run into islanders and tourists at the oldest brewery in the San Juan Islands. Try owner-brewer Nate’s award-winning Old Madrona Imperial Red: a big, boozy-smooth sipper that has become Island Hoppins’ signature beer. This family-friendly brewery offers light snacks and welcomes outside food.
Kingfish at West Sound
Highlighting “the abundance of Orcas Island,” the recently reopened Kingfish at West Sound is fast becoming a local fine dining favorite. Chef Raymond cooks up a seasonally-inspired surf-and-turf menu, utilizing local island ingredients wherever possible. When he’s not in the kitchen, Raymond can be found making the rounds of his restaurant, greeting each table with a warm smile.
Guests enjoy waterfront views from the wood-paneled dining room. You know it’s an authentic experience when you overhear locals greeting each other with the knowing phrase: “Welcome to the neighborhood restaurant!”
Doe Bay Wine Co.
When it’s wine time, Doe Bay Wine Co. is the place to go. A bottle shop offering wine tastings in the heart of Eastsound, Doe Bay pours exclusive wines from The Orcas Project — a collaborative effort between Pacific Northwest wineries and local Orcas Island artists. Bottles feature distinctive labels (depicting island animals like deer and otter) — the perfect souvenir or gift to round out a great trip.