Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands, which are located in the northwest corner of Washington State. The island can be accessed through the Washington State Ferry system. It can also be reached by small (and I mean very small) aircraft or chartered boat. Just a day or two is all you need to see and do the most popular attractions on the Orcas Island. Take a week for true relaxation and nature overload!
This summer we took our third trip to Orcas Island as part of a road trip around the Washington San Juan Islands. We love Orcas Island. It was one of the places we visited after we were first engaged. It is such an easy side trip from Seattle (read What to See & Do in Seattle, Washington)! Orcas Island continues to enchant us with its natural beauty and romantic atmosphere. We will definitely be back time and time again!
Want to see how Orcas Island can fit in an island hopping road trip? Read San Juan Islands Road Trip- Washington State & British Columbia.
What to See & Do in Orcas Island, Washington State
Moran State Park
Moran State Park is a public nature area in Orcas Island that encompasses 5,000 acres of forests, lakes, waterfalls, and wetlands. It is the largest recreational area in the San Juan Islands and the 4th largest state park in Washington. If you want to camp on the island, this is the place to do it! Visit during the early mornings for lots of wildlife sightings!
Our main interest in the park is going to the top of Mount Constitution. At 2409 feet (734 meters), it is the highest area in the San Juan Islands, giving you an unparalleled view of the surrounding islands. On a clear day you can see Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and even British Columbia!
The biggest variety of whales found in the San Juan Islands are orcas (also know as killer whales). Some pods stay around the islands year around, but the majority migrate down from British Columbia, Canada to northern California. Their migration patterns change because they follow food, not a certain path. Although orcas can be seen year around, the best time of the year (and most pleasant weather wise) is May-September.
Don’t expect to get super close to the orcas. Boats can not get within 200 yards (183 meters) of killer whales. Any closer and the orcas risk injury and the boat noise interferes with the communication within the pod. The orcas also swim extremely fast (up to 29 mph/47km), so they need plenty of space.
Our whale watching tour was 1/2 day and cost $99 per person. We could have reserved a tour for a cheaper price, but it was a last minute decision. Since it was one of the most exciting activities we did on our trip, it was well worth the expense. We saw orcas all throughout the tour, plus a variety of other wildlife. Our captain navigated perfectly, and we also had a wildlife expert onboard telling us all kinds of interesting facts about what we were seeing. She stressed safety for all of the passengers, from the young children to the “seniors” toting way too much camera equipment.
Eating, shopping, & people watching in Eastsound, Orcas Island
Eastsound is the largest populated area on Orcas Island. That’s not saying much, because most of the island is natural areas. Think of Eastsound as more of a village than a city. There are a couple of hotels, a scattering of restaurants, and shops. It is the kind of place where you can sit on a bench and people watch, stroll along the farmer’s market, or talk with a local shop owner. All the locals seem to know each other, making for a very friendly atmosphere.
Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Turtleback Mountain is a 1,718 acre preserve that is relatively undeveloped. The hiking and views are just as superb as you’ll find at Mount Constitution, but you’ll pretty much have the views to yourself. It is very quiet here! The tranquil views of the San Juan Islands, Canadian Gulf Islands, and the Olympic Mountains are worth allotting several hours to this nature wonderland.
There are highland meadows plus forests which provide diverse habitats for a variety of wildlife. There are two main trailheads that offer over 8 miles of primitive hiking. The trail on the north end was a former logging road and is good for mountain bike riding (allowed on even calendar days) and horseback riding (allowed on odd calendar days). The south end trial is for hikers (and pups on leash) only. There are few amenities on the trailheads, so be prepared.
Lodging in Orcas Island
Our first trip to Orcas Island was a day trip from Camino Island. On our last two visits, we spent the night at two very different, but lovely accommodations.
West Beach Resort
West Beach Resort is located on the western side of Orcas Island. It has cabins, cottages, and camping options. The big draw is the nightly sunset that is no less than spectacular! A nightly bonfire is provided. Kayaks, canoe, and boat rentals are readily available. We took advantage of the homemade ice cream! In the summer, a 2-night reservation is required.
Rosario Resort & Spa
On our most recent trip to Orcas Island, we couldn’t stay at West End Resort because we were only staying 1 night. Joe found a great rate for Rosario Resort & Spa. The resort is spread out over 40 acres and has a variety of activities available. You could easily spend a day just taking advantage of all Rosario Resort has to offer.
Have you been or want to go to Orcas Island, Washington? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
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