Joe and I love a good road trip. We have made some of the best memories exploring the great USA by car. Come to think of it, we’ve also had some of our biggest arguments on those same road trips. Our most recent road trip through the San Juan Islands would be no exception!
Joe grew up in the Seattle area, so we make frequent trips to northwest Washington to see family. On our first trip as a couple we took a road trip through the picturesque San Juan Islands. This past summer we combined several previous trips into one epic road/ferry trip Washington State and the San Juan Islands. We hope you can use our itinerary and adapt it to meet your timeframe and interests! Combine this road trip with the Olympic National Park Road Trip and The Cascade Mountain Road Trip for an epic Washington State adventure!
Check out our 2-minute video!
San Juan Islands Road Trip- Washington State & British Columbia
Seattle to Camano Island-
64 miles (103 km)
A great place to start any Washington State road trip is Seattle. You can easily spend 3-5 days exploring the Emerald City. For more details read What to See & Do in Seattle, Washington.
From Seattle, head north on Interstate 5 for about an hour. Once you cross the Camano Gateway Bridge, you instantly feel the quiet beauty surrounding you. This island is not a huge tourist area. The main draw for us is Camano State Park. During our visits, we were often the only ones walking along its serene, rocky beaches.
Camano Island to Anacortes (Fidalgo Island)-
43 miles (69 km)
From Camano Island, make your way to the city of Anacortes. Anacortes’s major claim to fame is being home to a major ferry terminal. Sometimes, we bypass Camano Island and head straight to Anacortes from Seattle. Before hopping on a ferry (unless you’re catching the first one of the day), we like to spend some time in cute little downtown Anacortes. There you will find some good grub and a variety of cute shops.
Another worthwhile stop is Washington Park. Bring a picnic lunch, camera, and binoculars. Take the scenic loop which is full of pullouts for scenic views of the San Juan Islands.
Anacortes to Orcas Island-
1 hour ferry ride
The trickiest part of this road trip is navigating the Washington State Ferry system. If you mess up, there’s no just arriving late. You may end up spending another additional day on an island, especially if traveling by car. This is a road trip, so of course you’re taking your car! Reservations are recommended, especially during prime travel times (weekends).
We always make reservations and arrive early. It is recommended to arrive at least 45-60 minutes prior to departure when traveling from Anacortes to Orcas Island. You can also get text alerts to help you make that ferry on time! Reservations have to be cancelled by 5 pm on the previous day or you’ll incur a no-show fee. For this total round trip to Victoria and back to Anacortes, expect to pay around $85 for a standard-sized vehicle.
The westbound ferry makes stops at Lopez Island, Shaw Island, Orcas Island, Friday Harbor (San Juan Island), with the final stop being Sidney, British Columbia. Then the ferry makes it way back eastbound to Anacortes making the same stops in reverse order. Not every ferry departing Anacortes stops at Orcas, so make sure that your Anacortes departure time includes Orcas Island.
While you wait, you can stock up on snacks and gifts. Ferries also have food and drink available on the ship. Marriage tip- Load up at the concession stand and gift shop if you almost miss your ferry and the spouse is in a bad mood!
When you reach the ticket booth, be prepared to show your barcoded reservation. You’ll be given a lane number to pull into until departure. Make sure that turn your engine off while waiting in your lane or you’ll get a nice visit from a ferry official.
Orcas Island is a nature lover’s delight. 1-2 days has always been a good length of trip for us. For more details read What to See & Do On Orcas Island. Highlights for us always include Moran State Park and eating & shopping in Eastsound.
Orcas Island to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island)-
45 minute ferry ride
On our most recent road trip through the San Juan Islands, we had a major issue getting off of Orcas Island. One of the Anacortes ferries had a major mechanical issue, so all inter island ferry connections were cancelled. We had no way of getting to Friday Harbor from Orcas Island as we had previously taken before and had planned for this year’s trip. We ended up having to ride the ferry back to Anacortes. Then from Anacortes, we bypassed Friday Harbor and went straight to British Columbia. On previous trips, we have made Friday Harbor a day trip from Orcas Island. The Washington State ferry system is now back to its former schedule so traveling from Orcas Island to Friday Harbor shouldn’t be a problem. Knock on wood!
The San Juan Island’s name can be a little confusing. Friday Harbor is the biggest city amongst the islands (it’s still pretty small) on the island of San Juan. San Juan Island is an island in the San Juan Islands. Makes perfect sense, right? If you just tell people you want to go to Friday Harbor, you’ll end up on the right island!
There lots of unique shopping and good eats in Friday Harbor. You also don’t want to miss the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. I love their products so much, I’m on their mailing list. If you like history, check out the English Camp and American Camp.
Friday Harbor to Sidney & Victoria, British Columbia-
2 hour ferry ride + 17 mile car ride (27 km)
There is usually just one ferry a day going from Friday Harbor to Sidney, BC. So plan around this. You will also need your passport to enter Canada. Sidney is about a 30 minutes drive north of Victoria. A trip to Victoria will feel like you’re in Europe. You’ll see the cultural references in the architecture, food, and atmosphere. For more details read What to See & Do in Victoria.
Sidney, British Columbia to Ancortes
3 1/2 hour ferry ride
There is usually just one ferry a day from Sidney straight to Anacortes. It is recommended to arrive at the terminal at least 90 minutes prior to departure since there is USA customs involved.
Anacortes (Fidalgo Island) to Mukilteo, Washington
67 mile car ride (109 km) + 30 minute ferry ride
The final leg of the San Juan Islands road trip has you looping back towards the Washington mainland. First travel south from Anacortes to Deception Pass State Park. Deception Pass is Washington’s most visited state park and for good reason. It has 50 miles of premier hiking, rugged coves, and a picture-perfect bridge that crosses the 180 feet clearance between Fidalgo and Whidbey Island.
After spending some time in Deception Pass State Park, take a leisurely drive down the length of Whidbey Island. We love to stop at the sweet, little towns of Oak Harbor and Coupeville. Once you reach Clinton, mainland Washington is only a short 30 minute ferry ride away! Ferries depart every 30 minutes so it’s easier to take your time to get here and not have to make a reservation. Just make your way to the end of the island and get in line for the next scheduled departure. Once you’re on the other side at Mukilteo, you’re only about 50 minutes north of Seattle!
Have you been or want to go on an epic road trip? Please share by commenting below! Any questions? Please ask!
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