*This post originally appeared on the blog in December 2017…We have re-posted for the enjoyment of all during our ‘Summer re-runs” while Brian and Sylvia are in search of new adventures.
The San Juan Islands / Mt. Constitution
Located about halfway between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia, The scenic San Juan Islands are a popular destination for boaters, sea kayakers, whale watchers and road bikers. There are hundreds of islands in the chain, but only four are large enough to host permanent communities. We visited two of these…San Juan and Orcas Islands.
We were drawn to the San Juan’s after seeing them on TV several times and being impressed by the gorgeous scenery, the ethereal blue of the water against the backdrop of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Also inviting is the mild climate (the islands get half the rainfall the mainland does) and the chance of seeing wildlife (the isles are most famous for local pods of Orcas, but gray whales, seals, dolphins and bald eagles are seen regularly.) We decided to check it out ourselves to see what the fuss is all about.
There is no way to reach the islands that does not involve crossing water, no bridge or causeway connects them to the mainland. Unless you have a private boat, most will arrive (along with their cars) via the Washington State ferry system, which links the islands with the port of Anacortes, Washington. After spending the first night in sunny Seattle, we sped north to catch the Ferry. Typically, you make a reservation (as we did the night before.) If you don’t, you risk being left behind. In summer, the mid-day ferries leave jam-packed and cars often wait in lines for hours. We hoped that by travelling in mid-September, outside peak season, we could avoid the crowds. Mostly we were successful; the islands and ferries were relatively uncrowded. (I am only guessing what peak season must look like.)
We stayed in a small bed and breakfast about 20 minutes outside of the town of Friday Harbor on San Juan Isle proper. Friday Harbor is the largest town in the San Juan’s, though it only has a population a little over 2000 permanent residents.
On San Juan, we did some sea kayaking, which was an interesting experience. The kayaks that belonged to the tour company we hired had external rudders that kept fouling in the kelp beds floating offshore…several times we found ourselves bobbing like corks in the wakes of passing ships or spinning in circles. For Brian, who sinks much better than he swims, there were some anxious moments. But we made it back mostly dry and in one piece. No whales were sighted, but we did have some close encounters (touching distance) with seals.
After kayaking, we did some walking along the coast at Lime Kiln Point State Park.
The highlight of the San Juan’s however was a hike up 2,500 foot Mt. Constitution, the highest point of Orcas Island…the largest in the chain. The vertical relief of this mountain from the ocean, and the views from its summit, are stunning.
To get to Orcas Island we had to take another Ferry, then drive some 20 minutes to Moran State Park. The peak can be hiked or driven to…Since the entire hike would have taken hours, we drove up and intersected the trail beyond the halfway point, and so just walked the most scenic section of trail.
Views of the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and Georgia are jaw dropping. Across the water to the west lies wild Vancouver Island, and the Capitol of British Columbia, Victoria. And to the east lies Vancouver city itself. Behind it is the peaks of the North Shore Range. Southward, the Olympic Range and Hurricane Ridge stretches.
Dominating the skyline to the east is the northernmost of the big Cascade Peaks in the lower 48…distinctive Mount Baker.
Atop Mt. Constitution is a stone lookout tower. From its top we could just make out, through the haze, Mt. Rainier some 75 miles to the South.
Our only issue on this trip was that we mistimed the ferry and had to wait hours for the next one back to Friday Harbor, effectively marooning us in the tiny town of Orcas. We cooled our heels for a while in the historic Orcas Hotel and I helped myself to a few Rainier Beers, but apart from sightseeing there is little once can do in this tiny town. Finally, the ferry came took us back to Friday Harbor in the dark.
Sylvia and I spent several days that September exploring the San Juans…we were told that the weather usually turns foggy toward the middle of the month, but we had unusually clear days the entire time. We very much enjoyed it, but I would strongly counsel not leaving wet shoes or sandals outdoors because massive banana slugs are legion and they LOVE an occupied pair of wet shoes. Just sayin’. Apart from this it was a VERY enjoyable trip.
Friday Harbor by the way is a great place to sit, enjoy a meal, have a few beers (I had one or two* Alaskan Ale Ambers, unavailable in our home state of NC) and just watch the boat and seaplane traffic come and go. EVERYTHING that comes to the islands must come by ferry. It is interesting to see what comes off the ferry every time it unloads…ambulances, construction equipment, dump trucks, armored cars, cement mixers, oil trucks, fish, milk, live chickens, etc. And of course, plenty of tourists.
After a few days in the San Juan’s we headed inland to a place and a thing that had been on my radar for many years. THIS GUY.
*maybe eight? Nine?