San Juan Islands

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San Juan Islands

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The San Juan Islands[2] are a scattering of forested islands in the serene waters to the north of Puget Sound in Washington state, adjacent to British Columbia. Ferries, private boats, kayaks, and orca (whales) criss-cross the waters, while float planes and bald eagles soar overhead. The islands are largely rural, with a few small towns on some of the islands. The year-round population is small, but swarms of summer visitors come to for the scenery and outdoor life, and a lucky and wealthy few have vacation homes tucked into the islands.


There are about 700 islands and reefs between Vancouver Island to the west and the mainland to the east. The sea border in the Haro Strait divides them into the Southern Gulf Islands of Canada to the west, and the San Juan Islands of the United States to the east. To the south lies the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and to north is the Strait of Georgia and the US-Canada boundary on the 49th parallel.

176 islands are large enough to be named. The four largest — Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, and Shaw Islands — are served by ferry from the Washington mainland, and are the most heavily visited.

For our purposes, this article covers the US islands only, which exactly consist of San Juan County[3], Washington. Fidalgo Island to the east is treated as part of the mainland. It and the Puget Sound islands to the south are covered in the Puget Sound region's article.

Cities and Islands

The islands are mostly rural, with only a few towns large enough separate coverage. An article thus general covers an entire major island, perhaps with some of the surrounding small islands as well.

Get in

  • Washington State Ferries [4] offers ferries to Shaw, Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Islands from Anacortes, which is about 1.5 hours north of Seattle. If travelling on weekends, be prepared for long waits for the ferries.
  • Kenmore Air [5]

Get around

Lots of bicycles and walking, but mostly cars.

The San Juan Islands are the most popular sailing charter area in the Pacific Northwest. This is a good chartering area for beginners; the waters are reasonably protected even in storms off the Pacific. You can find independant information on yacht charters in the San Juan Islands at


  • Orcas Island has an amazing view atop Mt. Constitution of the Cascade Mountain Range and the Olympic Mountain Range. There is a near 360 degree view from a stone tower built by the public works of the Rosevelt era (a cell phone tower makes it less than 360 degrees, but still worth it). Gene Hackman, Miller of the skiing films fame, Oakley Sunglass owner all have vacation homes here. It is a paradise and home to some 3500 people. In the spring the J Pod Orca whales are in the area.
  • Friday Harbor, the main city on San Juan Island, the most populous of the San Juan Islands, and the county seat of San Juan County.
  • Roche Harbor, on the northwest corner of San Juan Island, is the number two town and a bustling yachting harbor. It has floatplane service to Seattle.
  • San Juan Island National Historical Park - here in 1859 the United States and Great Britain nearly went to war over a dead pig


  • Orca Whale Watching from Sea Kayaks Biologist guides lead tours to the prime orca whale watching waters. Abundant seals, eagles, and other marine wildlife. Tour lengths range from a half-day up to 2, 3 and 5 day camping trips to the smaller islands. 360-378-5767 or 888-589-4253, [email protected] Kayaking with Orca Whales in the San Juan Islands
  • "'Orca Whale Tours'" World Wildlife Fund, through their conservation travel partner Natural Habitat Adventures offers group and custom Orca adventures.
  • Birding and Bird-watching Tours Local bird book author/biologist Mark Lewis guides birding tours throughout the San Juan Islands, home to 300 species of birds. Tour lengths from half-day to full day to multi-days. 360-378-5767 or 888-589-4253, [email protected] Birding Tours in the San Juan Islands



  • Fresh Seafood including fish (especially salmon), dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels and clams are readily available. If you're foraging for yourself, make sure there's no red tide.



  • Earthbox Motel (Friday Harbor Lodging), 410 Spring Street Friday Harbor WA 98250 (Anacortes, Washington is a roughly 90-minute drive either north from Seattle, WA or south from Vancouver, B.C. Canada. From Interstate 5, take exit 230 following Highway 20 West to Anacortes Washington. Freeway signs will also mention the San Juan Island ferries. Drive through Anacortes, following signs to the San Juan Island ferries (turn left at the stop light next to the Safeway grocery store and follow that road roughly six miles to the docks).), 360-378-4000, [1].

Get out

  • Port Angeles - Connected by Port Angeles Boat Haven [6] and charter flights from Fairchild International Airport [7]
  • Port Townsend
  • Sequim - Connected by John Wayne Marina [8] and Sequim Valley Airport
  • Seattle Beautiful city almost surrounded by water and moutains.
  • Victoria (British Columbia) Just across the border by Washington state ferries, Victoria is a nice little piece of England famous for the spectacular Buchart gardens.
This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!