Dolloped in the middle of the Salish Sea (all of that water between Seattle and Canada) floats a chain of Islands known as the San Juans and they should be on your tick list.

From Squamish, you have a mild and wildly picturesque 2 1/2 hour drive to the state ferry terminal in Anacortes, Washington. An enjoyable 60 minute boat ride takes it’s time introducing you to the islands. San Juan is the main visited island, Orcas is next, and almost twice the size, and following Orcas are dozens of public and private islands. Luckily, you don’t have to venture off the main path very far for a good time.

San Juan offers just about every experience a naturalist, such as yourself, could want. It boasts two National Monuments, nature watching opportunities, like wild foxes hunting wild bunnies and breaching families of whales, lush fern-filled forests the PAC NW does so well, and of course, an A+ view of the surrounding sea.

We stepped onto the island and directed ourselves straight to the local bike shop (Meat Machine). You can bring your car (especially if you want to double it up as your vacation home) but we chose the manual approach. Fitted, outfitted, and ready to roll we cinched up our backpacks and headed out to find camping. When it comes to finding a spot, options are brimming, but availability can be scarce. So if rolling out your tent is your desired method of sleeping, you can reserve a spot ahead of time or cross your fingers for a walk up space.

With only a day or two to enjoy the Island, prioritizing is important. The best way to really appreciate the island is via kayak—enter scene Outdoor Odysseys.

pro tip – kayaking is a low impact and mellow way to keep your body loose and moving on a rest day.

Before you get worked up scouting different kayak companies, know this, all of the companies are only allowed one general collective route, ergo, ya’ll are gunna see the same stuff. All guides, however, are not created equal. Outdoor Odysseys is the company we chose to lead us after researching because (plain an simple) they’re the best. Super knowledgeable, super stoked, and simply delightful, they will treat you to a lovely tour of the west side, and an awesome vegetarian lunch. High chances are you’ll see an array of shore life, jellyfish, starfish, harbor seals, eagles, and if you’re lucky, you may be graced by the presence of what Dwight Schrute would call the island’s, “money beet,” the resident killer whales.

Back out of the water, there are more ways to enjoy the bounty. A super quick drive (or half day bike ride) around the island will treat you to gorgeous views, ocean vistas and rolling fields, roadside snacking via abounding blackberry bushes and yet, more wildlife. It doesn’t take long to be seduced by the landscape or long to adequately absorb it for that matter.

San Juan Beta

Washington ferry leaves from Anacortes to Friday Harbor(SJ)
walk on price $13*     drive on price $40*

(fares subject to change)

Camp sites:

San Juan County Park + San Juan County Fairgrounds

English Camp + American Camp

Kayak Tours

Outdoor Odysseys

Bike Rentals

Meat Machine

Points of interest
English Camp
American Camp (wild fox territory)
Lime Kiln/Coastal area

Next time you’re up in the northernmost/westernmost zone of the Pacific Northwest and looking for a way to let your skin and tendons rest for a day or two, the San Juans would love to meet you.

(note: destination ideal for summertime)

We had a lovely stay, and San Juan was even prettier in person than we imagined, but their ecosystem is in some serious trouble.

Watch this quick video to learn more about what’s going on under the surface.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • JR says:

    Great review – if I hadn’t just been there myself I’d be packing my bag!

  • Sunny says:

    If animal agriculture is more than half the reason for climate change why not mention eating a diet that consist more of veggies and less of animal products? It’s rad that there is an environmental awareness in this rock climbing community. That said, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that veganism could be a huge contributor to saving our planet if we allow it. Thanx for your effort! Can’t wait for the next video. Woohoo!

    • alex says:

      It’s true! If the entire U.S. went without meat for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles!