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The largest of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago off Washington State’s northern coast accessed by ferry, Orcas Island is a green paradise local often refer to as the “gem of the San Juans.” The 57-square-mile island is rural and hilly, with winding roads that meander through dense forest, passing fields with old apple barns and art studios. It’s also home to the highest mountains in the San Juans, as well as a number of charming hamlets. While you could sit back and simply enjoy the scenery, you’ll find plenty of other things to do here as well.
What Is It? The San Juan Islands are renowned as one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching, particularly orca whales that come and stick around to dine on Chinook salmon.
Why Do It? The Southern Resident killer whales as they’re known are most often seen from late May through early October. The best opportunity for a close-up view is to take a kayak tour, a much more intimate experience than you’d get by joining your typical boat whale watching tour.
Good to Know: As you paddle through the calm waters, in addition to orcas, you’re likely to spot all sorts of other wildlife, including bald eagles, porpoises, seals, and sea otters.
What Is It? Orcas Island, along with San Juan and Lopez islands, is ideal for wine enthusiasts with the opportunity to sip local wines.
Why Do It? Orcas Island Winery hosts a tasting room that serves a variety of different varietals. Purchases are only available on-site, so this is your chance to pick up a bottle or two to bring along on a picnic.
Good to Know: Doe Bay Wine Company is another option, with both a tasting room and a bottleshop on the island. Check the website for pairing events and tastings, private classes, and more.
Climb to the Summit of Mount Constitution
What Is It? Mount Constitution, rising nearly a half-mile from the landscape, is the tallest mountain in the San Juans, located in Moran State Park on Orcas Island.
Why Do It? By climbing to the summit, a 3.4-mile trek each way, you’ll be rewarded for the effort with a 360-degree view that includes many other islands, as well as glimpses of the North Cascades and soaring Mount Baker.
Good to Know: There are some 38 miles of hiking trails in the park, so you’ll have many other options as well if the trek to Mount Constitution sounds too challenging. That includes the Cascade Falls Trail, an easy, 3-mile round trip hike that provides picturesque views of the falls from several vantage points.
Hit the Course
What Is It? Avid golfers can tee off on the Orcas Island Golf Course.
Why Do It? The 9-hole course is open to the public that also offers an outstanding selection of golf club rentals, a practice range, and golf lessons.
Good to Know: Located near Eastsound, it not only enjoys a stunning setting across from Crow Valley but well-groomed fairways and challenging holes for golfers at all skill levels.
Catch a Glorious Sunset
What Is It? The natural beauty of the San Juan Islands, including Orcas, provides an idyllic setting for some of the most breathtaking sunsets you’ll ever lay eyes on, with the colors splashed across the Salish Sea.
Why Do It? There are some great spots for watching, like from the summit of Mount Constitution, where you can catch the light shining on Mount Baker, as well as West Beach, which offers expansive views across the bay to the other islands.
Good to Know: North Beach is a favorite too, as looking west you’ll see Saturna Island and the sunset, while Matia and Sucia islands can be seen to the north. If the tide is low, you can even make your way further out to capture an especially spectacular view with the sun casting its final rays of the day over Mount Baker.
Picnic Along the Shore at Obstruction Pass State Park
What Is It? Obstruction Pass State Park is the less-visited state park that sits at the south end of the island.
Why Do It? One of the few places on Orcas Island with access to more than a mile of publicly-owned saltwater shoreline, a short, half-mile trail will you lead you from the parking area to beach access.
Good to Know: Unique to the area, this stretch is made up of fine gravel pockets rather than rocky shoreline and offers beautiful views that are ideal for enjoying a picnic or quiet contemplation.
Play at Cascade Lake
What Is It? Orcas Island isn’t all about saltwater, in fact, it’s home to a number of lakes offering freshwater activities, though the most popular is Cascade Lake, located near the entrance of Moran State Park.
Why Do It? Here you’ll find a variety of watercraft rentals, including pedal boats, traditional boats, paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks, along with a large swimming area.
Good to Know: You might try your luck at fishing too, with stocked rainbow trout found here in abundance.
Wander Through Eastsound Village
What Is It? Eastsound is the central hub of life on the island.
Why Do It? It’s the place to go to mingle with locals, enjoy strolling with beautiful waterfront views, and check out the many art galleries and local shops. There are multiple eateries and bakeries with especially delectable treats.
Good to Know: Much of the activity takes place in the Village Green, like the Saturday farmers market where you can pick up organic produce, arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, pottery, and more, all of which have been crafted or grown by local farmers and artisans.
Explore the Orcas Island Historical Museum
What Is It? The Orcas Island Historical Museum is housed inside a series of six original homesteader cabins that date back to the 1880s.
Why Do It? It’s focused on the local history of both Orcas Island and the other San Juans, with an interesting collection of historic photographs, weapons, tools, and household items.
Good to Know: It also offers a history of the island’s lime-kiln history as well as its first residents, the North Straits Salish.