For my first trip of my second year of travel, my host Kristin and I drove up to Whidbey Island to visit her brother Tyler and sister-in-law Jocelyn. The whole weekend was a blast, but the highlight was our day trip to Orcas Island. For many years when I was little, my mom and I made an annual trip to Orcas Island. It was my childhood happy place. Nearly twenty years later, it’s even more beautiful.
My host’s family lives in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. Her brother is in the US Navy and the community is mostly military. Almost looks like a set from a TV show. Ten minutes away is Deception Pass Bridge and its stunning lookouts. On Saturday evening we went for the sunset and got some fantastic photographs…but I get ahead of myself.
We drove up on Friday night after Kristin got off work. We picked up a selection of sushi-grade fish on the way. Her sister-in-law is part Japanese and a sushi chef. When we arrived, she prepared the most amazing, 80-piece homemade sushi dinner I’ve ever had. So good that it was deserving of its own post, which you can read about here.
The next day I went to play disc golf with Tyler and some of his navy friends. Didn’t manage to get any photos of it since we were having way too much fun to bother with something as mundane as photography. We played all afternoon and had a blast. Two days later I have trouble typing this post since my arm is in so much pain. I’ll just have to practice more often! Maybe switch it up a bit with some more trampoline dodgeball (like I played in Portland a couple weeks ago).
That night we saw the sunset at Deception Pass. It’s the northern inlet to the Puget Sound, and throughout the day you can see the tidal currents rushing in or out. The best time of day is definitely evening with the sun setting out over the ocean. During the day, you can also hike down to the water and get some fantastic views of the bridge, or go swimming if ice cold water is your thing (it’s mine)!
Now we come to the highlight of the weekend, and this blog post.
Orcas Island is one of the four islands accessible by ferry in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago situated between the Washington mainland and Vancouver Island in Canada. The ferry leaves from Anacortes and travels to Lopez, Shaw, Orcas and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island before going to Victoria on Vancouver Island. The ferry isn’t cheap, and you have to pay for each additional passenger. At least you only have to pay one direction (west). The most budget way to get to Orcas is to simply walk onto the ferry, and then hitch a ride when you arrive. Unfortunately the island is too big to walk around. Check out the ferry schedule here, and make sure you choose the day you want, not the day you are searching on.
There’s not much on the island where the ferry lands (other than a gift shop and an expensive car/moped rental). Instead, head to the “bend” of the island and the village of Eastsound. There you will find hotels and B&Bs, markets, cafes and restaurants, a cinema and even an airport. It’s worth it to spend a few hours (or days) exploring Eastsound. The items in the gift shops might not be cheap but they make great eye candy.
In case you’re in the mood for clam chowder, I have just the place. Kristin an I had a craving for clam chowder, so we asked a couple locals where the best in town was. They directed us to The Madrona Bar and Grill, right on the waterfront. Between potato skins, giant bowls of clam chowder, a spinach salad and a brownie, ice cream and hot caramel dessert, the meal couldn’t have been better. Of course, seeing the sunset in the bay helped!
Another five miles past Eastsound, you will come to Moran State Park, the largest state park in Washington State. Make sure you purchase your Discovery Pass before you arrive! $10 for a day or $30 for a full year. Or you can camp in the park, in which case you don’t need the Discovery Pass. There are two big lakes in the park to see, but the highlight by far is Mt. Constitution and the lookout tower on top.
Usually you can drive straight to the lookout and park with your Discovery Pass. However, when we went there was snow everywhere, and we had to park a couple miles away. From there we hiked to the top. It took us over an hour, simply because we would stop every couple hundred feet to take more photographs. For both of us, it was some of the most beautiful scenery we’d ever seen.
Mt. Constitution is the highest peak on the island at 2409 feet. The lookout tower rises an additional 45 feet, offering one of the most impressive views I know of – anywhere in the world! On this weekend, clouds partially obscured our view of the distant mountains. When I went with my mom many years ago, we were able to see Mt. Baker, the Twin Sisters, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood and the Olympic Peninsula! Signs at the top of the lookout tower even show you where to look for each of them.
It’s almost impossible to visit Orcas Island on a bad day. Even though we hiked up through snow and clouds (it was literally snowing on us on the way up and down), the lookout rose above the clouds and we had an awesome sight of the islands and forests, and even Bellingham on the mainland. Temperature remains pretty consistent on the island, generally around 42-58°F.
As incredible as our half day on the island was, it just wasn’t long enough. So we’ll have to go back in a couple weeks. Btw, did I mention you can often see whales and dolphins from the ferry?! Of course, they’re hard to see in the dark. Instead, I hammered through a 500-piece puzzle on the 50-minute return ride. And that got me back in puzzle mode, so as soon as we got back I picked up a 2000-piece puzzle from Goodwill (for $1.29!) and I’m a quarter of the way through that. After all, what else am I going to do while sitting in a cozy RV in the middle of the woods while sipping hot chocolate and listing to good music while the rain falls lightly on the roof.