The San Juan Islands

Orcas WhalesA pretty big subject!  I am going to use this post to just give you an overview of the Islands and in the future will be doing a post on each of the main ferry served islands.  There are thousands of web sites that have information on the San Juans.  I will add a few links here but you can do searches that are more refined and find out much more about this very unique and beautiful part of our ‘backyard.’

The San Juans are visible to the west of Highland Garden House; I know the names of all of them and can pick them out for you, but they all really look like a series of irregular forested hills and small mountains.

FerryTo get the the Islands you have to either take a Washington State Ferry, take your own boat or fly in by a small aricraft.  the ferries are operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation.  The WSDOT web site is a wealth of information and the WSF site is part of the main site.  If you end up depending on WSF service often, you probably should sign up for their Service Alerts to be delivered to either your computer email box or cell phone.  I signed up last summer and am really surprised how many times a vessel breaks down, a problem with a car starting causes a delay, a staffing issue causes problems or the weather disrupts service. Tides can be predicted but the rest is just so random!  The wind and sea delays for the Port Townsend/Coupeville run just go on and on.  Here is an example: “The 8:25 a.m. Friday Harbor to Orcas, Shaw, and Lopez sailing is cancelled due to necessary repairs to the Evergreen State. Updates will occur as more information becomes available”

Some of the San Juan Islands can be traveled to via bridges.  This includes Fidalgo, Samish, Whidbey and Camano.  Going to any of these islands is a great trip and gives you an idea of what it like on a Salish Sea island without the bother and expense of traveling to the ferry served islands.  The main ferry served islands are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island.  I lived on Orcas Island for 26 years and know that area pretty well.  Many people consider only the islands within San Juan County as San Juan Islands.  The county seat of San Juan County is Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  Island County, which incompasses Whidbey and Camano Islands, can be confused with San Juan County until you are more familiar with the area.

montageA small Skagit County Ferry can take you and your vehicle to Guemes Island, to the north of Anacortes, but all the other San Juan Islands are traveled to via a ferry from a terminal about 5 miles west of Anacortes.

One of the most asked questions is:  “What is the best time of day or week to visit the Islands so we don’t have to wait in line for hours?”  Good Question!  My experience is Friday going West and Sunday coming back East are the WORST days to travel.  The earlier in the day, mid week boats are the best times to plan your trip.  Friday Harbor is the only town that is right at the ferry landing so if you are walking on and just want to snoop around, that would be your choice.  Both Lopez and Orcas have villages but they are about 7 miles from their respective ferry landings.  Here is a Guide to Ferry wait times based on history for the Summer sailings.

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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