San Juan Islands Travel Guide

  • Ferry passes with Mount Baker in Background
    Ferry passes with Mount Baker in...
    by glabah
  • Kenmore Air Plane after Landing at Friday Harbor
    Kenmore Air Plane after Landing at...
    by glabah
  • Victoria Clipper approaching Friday Harbor
    Victoria Clipper approaching Friday...
    by glabah

San Juan Islands Things to Do

  • Various Places in the Islands - in...

    There are some 220 islands in the San Juan Islands, but only about 180 of them carry names. There are several dozen tiny communities scattered through the Islands, plus state parks, and a national park that is divided into two segments.Considering all this, it seemed best to try to provide an outline of all the communities and a basic idea of the...

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  • The State Parks on the Islands

    There are quite a number of state parks on the San Juan Islands. Only a few of these are accessible by auto. The rest require the use of a water taxi boat service (generally fairly expensive), or your own watercraft, in order to get to them. If you do drive to any of the state parks, keep in mind that they require the use of a Discover Pass or a...

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  • Public Postings: Where to Find Out about...

    Finding things to do in the San Juan Islands can be an interesting experience, and not necessarily easy for those who are used to finding out about everything online.Here in the San Juan Islands, news tends to travel along traditional routes.If you want to find out what is going on around the islands, check the local bulletin boards. In the main...

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  • Kayak Trips: Dozens are Available

    There are perhaps a dozen different places offering kayak trips in Friday Harbor alone. Pretty much all of the other communities of any significance, even as small as they are, have at least one kayak tour operator. As I was staying in Friday Harbor I went with Discovery Sea Kayaks, which operates a sunset kayak trip on the west side of San Juan...

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  • Free Sunset Cruise?

    Washington State Ferries is in fact supposed to be transportation. Due to the nature of the fare system, it is easier of they don't charge people when they travel from one island to another, and instead simply charge everyone when going westward out of Anacortes.Cars and other vehicles are heavy and take a lot of space. Those are charged from one...

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  • Small boat whale watching tour

    I HIGHLY recommend a small boat whale watching tour. As I stated in the kayaking tip, there were very few tourists in Mid-May so my hubby and I were the only ones on the boat with the captian. Not within 10 minutes did we encounter Orca whales( J pod) and the alpha male Ruffles. Ruffles is named for his unique apperance of his dorsal fin. This...

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San Juan Islands Restaurants

  • Great Restaurants Everywhere

    by maryellen50 Written Sep 7, 2002

    1.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Being a vegetarian visiting the West Coast there is never a shortage of good restaurants (unlike Texas where I live). Do expect to pay a minimum of $10 for a dinner entree so the islands are not for the budget conscious.

    Favorite Dish: Everyplace we ate was great from Italian to veggie burgers.

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San Juan Islands Transportation

  • By Bicycle is Reasonably Popular

    There are only so many autos that are able to fit on one of the Washington State Ferries. Autos are also expensive to own, and maintenance can be an issue as certain specialized repairs are not available on the islands as there simply aren't enough year-round residents for there to be a variety of auto based shops. Gasoline is also...

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  • Washington State Ferries: Inter-Island...

    NOTE: As of 2014, the Evergreen State has been retired. While it was reactivated soon after its retirement to fill in for other boats, those roles have almost always been south of the San Juan Islands. However, while the Evergreen State is probably going to be retired permanently soon (retired for a second time in 2015), it will certainly be...

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  • No Car, Getting to and From the Islands,...

    There are several different ways of getting to and from the San Juan Islands without your own car. The options listed here are somewhat more expensive than taking transit services to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, but they are more direct and therefore worth the price to some. I have classified these as "water" because two of them are boat options,...

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San Juan Islands Local Customs

  • glabah's Profile Photo

    Pacific Madrona Tree - Peeling Red and...

    by glabah Written Dec 12, 2015

    As you travel the San Juan Islands, you will notice a broad-leaf tree that may have dark brown bark, or maybe its bright red bark, or maybe it is a sand-colored bare wood. Maybe you notice the bright red fruits, or if you are traveling the islands in winter you notice the fact that this odd broad leaf tree is evergreen and the leaves present a change in texture from the pine and fir that otherwise are common in the forests here.

    While these eccentric looking trees are present all up and down the Oregon, Washington and British Columbia coast, they are very noticeable in the San Juan Islands. Therefore, I am placing a bit of information about them here. The trees are prominent enough to make someone wonder "What is that odd looking tree that has the red bark that falls off?" or other questions since there are so many of these trees in publicly visible areas in the islands.

    I have used the term "Pacific Madrona" as that is the most common term used for the trees in western Washington and Oregon. However, they may also be called "Pacific Madrone" (usually people from California) or arbutus (British Columbia) or a few other names.

    These trees seem to prefer to grow in astoundingly bad conditions. This includes rocky cliffs and along steeply sloping shore lines with salt water. Not content to only grow upward like most trees do, they seem to actually prefer areas with poor lighting, but they are a light-loving tree and so contort themselves into amazing shapes to get around surrounding trees and reach for the light. The main photo for this tip shows such a tree in Obstruction Pass State Park.

    In photo 2, you will see a detailed view of a Pacific Madrona (also in Obstruction Pass State Park) and its various bark stages. Sometimes the tree decides it would like to keep much of its bark, and in that case you will see the dark brown color. Elsewhere on this same tree you will notice that the bark has been shed, and the bright red inner-layer bark is showing. These bright red patches can be very attractive in an otherwise mostly green and brown forest. Sometimes, the tree decides it doesn't need any bark at all in places or over most or all of its length. After the bark is shed there will be significant bare spots, and sometimes these bare spots run the entire length of the tree. Photo 2 shows some of the bare spots on the lower trunk, but photo 1 (the main photo) shows a tree that has decided to loose its bark (both the outer brown layer and the bright red layer) for nearly its entire length.

    Photo 3 was taken on one of the remote San Juan Land Trust trails near Lime Kiln Point State Park and shows that these trees can grow in some pretty hostile areas. These walls are former lime mines, and what little soil is in the rocks isn't something that is easy to grow in. However, these two have found enough of a foothold that they have been able to survive.

    Photo 4 was taken on the Trail to the Top of Young's Hill in the English Camp section of San Juan Island National Historical Park and gives a little bit of a hint of how the red bark can lend a bit of color to the forests of the northwest.

    Photo 5 was taken on the Bell Point Trail in the English Camp section of San Juan Island National Historical Park and is an interesting show of two different characteristics of these trees: in the right environment they can grow to fairly significant size. Also, when they do die, sometimes part of the tree doesn't get the message. This is a fairly large specimen right along the trail, and most of it has died. However, the branch on the far right is still alive. There are a number of cases where you will find part of the tree dead, and sometimes obviously dead for some decades, but somehow a small (or large) part of it decided to live on.

    Another little bit about this tree: it is extremely hard wood, but it is also extremely hard to work with. It is therefore not used very often a a commercial wood. However, during the 2011 to 2014 restoration and rebuilding of Carnegie Hall in New York City, the decision was made to use some 20,000 square feet of Pacific Madrona wood in their new practice rooms, studio rooms, and music classrooms. They wanted something that would look very good, but also would survive many decades of cellists stabbing their base cello points into the floor. Pacific Madrona was one of the few woods that met the needs and desires.

    There are quite a number of different sources of information about plants in the northwest, but the link I have below is the Wikipedia article about this tree.

    Pacific Madrona Tree reaches for Light on Orcas Is Stages of Bark Removal of Pacific Madrona Pacific Madrona grow in Improbable Locations Wonderful Red Bark of the Pacific Madrona Pacific Madrona lives through Death of Main Trunk

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San Juan Islands Warnings and Dangers

  • Deer Are Everywhere, Be Careful Driving

    There isn't too much more I can say about the deer population on the San Juan Islands except be very careful about them when you are driving This is especially the case in the evening as they are difficult to see and tend to wander out of the trees at random locations along any of the roads. As many of the roads experience surges of traffic due to...

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  • Things Close Up during Off Season

    Generally, the main tourist season in the San Juan Islands runs from mid-May to late September. After late September, many things on the Islands close up for the winter.There is still a fair amount of tourist traffic deep into October, but there are far fewer tourists, and this corresponds with a commensurate drop off in facilities that are...

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  • International Roaming Charges: Canada is...

    Quite a number of people who have visited the San Juan Islands will have a horror story about unexpected bills when they arrive home in the states. Some of the cellular phone bills can be over $400.Those who are used to using their cell phones for everything will have to be very careful here. Cell phone towers in the San Juan Islands are not very...

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San Juan Islands Sports & Outdoors

  • Kayking

    by maryellen50 Written Sep 7, 2002

    1.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    I did a day kayak trip with Outdoor Odysseys and the scenery was just beautiful. We did see several bald eagles. Kayaking here is very different from the Gulf Coast as the water is rougher however not as exhausting in the Pacific Northwest compared to the Gulf Coast due to the weather.

    Equipment: All equipment was provided by Outdoor Odysseys including a great vegetarian lunch.

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San Juan Islands General

  • Kayaking and Orcas and Eagles

    by maryellen50 Written Feb 25, 2003

    3 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Favorite thing: The orcas (of course). There are 3 pods of orcas residing in this area - total of approx 100 whales. We saw several bald eagles, harbor seals, and bull kelp. My travel focuses mostly on the outdoors and wildlife so this is probably the best place in the U.S. for ecotourism as everyone is conscientious about the environment and surroundings. All restaurants were great .

    Fondest memory: The morning we viewed the pod of 8 orcas playing in the ocean.

    Related to:
    • Eco-Tourism

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