I love the island life. My island doesn’t have umbrella drinks, hot sandy beaches or reggae music. My island has foggy mornings, evergreens and conifers, and orcas. I can drive to my island. San Juan is my island. Situated below Victoria Island in Canada and northwest of Seattle it is famous for orcas, mild weather, a laid back atmosphere, and beautiful forested scenery.
The journey gets it start on a ferry. While it may seem as though the ferry is still part of the getting-there, this ferry frequently has surprises in store. As the highest peak north of Seattle, Mount Baker is one of those surprises. One of the volcanos in the Cascade mountain range, it’s snowy peak can be seen from the water on nearly the entire journey from Anacortes all the way to Friday Harbor. It’s majesty can easily be eclipsed by a pod of resident or transient orcas. While I strongly recommend a trip on one of the whale watching boats (I call them the whale paparazzi) during your visit, it is still possible to spot orcas, dolphins, and other large sea life on the ferry going to Friday Harbor. Another surprise might include a tall sailing ship in the Salish Sea as you traverse the distance. The Spike Africa is one of the schooners you’re likely to spot.
Once on San Juan Island, you’ll find multiple opportunities to visit an island that is both a tourist destination and has an agricultural economy. Don’t miss a drive around the island to view the coastline but look to the interior as you go. If you from an urban area, it’s almost like stepping back in time. Highlights in your circumnavigation of the island include Roche Harbor and Lime Kiln Point State Park. The lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park is one of the locations the resident pods of orcas have been studied for decades. The folks in the lighthouse are anxious to talk about their observations if you strike up a conversation.
A big plus when stopping at Lime Kiln is the immediate depth of the water. I have stood at the viewing location and seen orcas go by so close it seemed I could reach out and touch them as they went by. Don’t count of seeing the orcas so close but it is common. If you miss your chance I highly recommend you spend your $100 a head to join the whale paparazzi boat for a 3-4 tour. Regardless if the orca are one of the three resident pods or a transient group, the boats will find them. On a recent visit we ended up in Canada in the search for orcas. Of course since we were on the boat we didn’t need passports to enter Canadian waters.
One of the joys of a visit to San Juan Island is the opportunity to rent a kayak and paddle the waters around the island. You can pick a short one hour paddle or go out for multiple days. Outfitters will show you how to paddle the boats, you’ll be with a group of people, and the guides are ready to point out the seals, bald eagles, and other abundant wildlife during your paddle.
I know the islands that get all the press are the ones with hot sunny white sandy beaches and lots of umbrella drinks. I like those islands too, but stretch you life experience a little and check out the islands of Pacific Northwest. Don’t forget your camera.