Whale Watching Orcas Island
Whale Watching is one of the top activities for visitors coming to the San Juan Islands, which makes sense, because the San Juan islands are one of the best places in the world to see orca whales! It truly is a remarkable experience to see these giants in their natural environment. Not only do orca whales call these waters home, but so do humpbacks, minkes and even gray whales. Steller sea lions, harbor seals, porpoise, and Bald eagles are often seen around the islands as well. When it comes to wildlife and whale watching on Orcas Island, you have two main options: Boat Based or Shore Based whale watching.
Boat Based Whale Watching:
Booking a whale watching tour and getting out on the water provides you the best chance to see whales. Many companies have about a 90% viewing rate during peak season (May-Sept). A whale spotting network is in constant communication to give up-to-date information to ensure the captains have the best chance of finding whales. These whale watching trips are also a great way to learn more about the marine life surrounding our islands, as there is often a marine naturalist on board as well. Tours depart from different areas around the islands, including Deer Harbor and near the Orcas ferry terminal.
Shore Based Whale Watching:
Lime Kiln Point State Park is located on the west side of San Juan Island, and is often mentioned as one of the best land based locations for whale watching on earth! In fact, Lime Kiln is so well known for this activity, it's also known as Whale Watching Park. The park is a 36-acre day use area, complete with beautiful lighthouse, seasonal interpretive center, parking lot, restroom, and (often) orca whales! The viewpoint is a 300- yard walk from the parking lot and is easily accessed by most. Lime Kiln has many places to sit, have a picnic, and gaze across the waters, keeping an eye out for orca and other marine wildlife. Luckily, even though this park isn't located on Orcas Island, San Juan island is easy to reach from Orcas through the use of the inter-island ferry, making land based whale watching a very feasible opportunity for your visit!
Mt. Constitution & Moran State Park
Visit one of the nation’s most beautiful parks to hike, bike, swim, or explore, the 5,252-acre Moran State Park, with two lakes and more than 35 miles of hiking trails. Moran is the 4th largest State Park in Washington, and has a variety of terrains, including forests, bogs, hills, lakes, and wetlands. Hikers, mountain bikers, and horeseback riders are all welcome on trails here, depending on the season. Truly a gem of Orcas, Moran has something for everyone. From the state park, you can drive, bike, or hike up to Mount Constitution, the highest point in all of the San Juan Islands. At 2,409 feet, Mount Constitution offers breathtaking, 360 degree views of Mount Baker, the North Cascades, and the other San Juan islands. A tower sits at the top, a replica of the 12th century Russian watchtowers that were once here, and is ready to be explored. If you are visiting Orcas on a foggy day, the views from the top are still worth seeing, and provide a sense of mystery as you watch the clouds shift, catching glimpses of islands, mountains, and water down below. If you are visiting during clear weather, the early summer sunrises over Mount Baker are also breathtaking, and worth an early wake up for a beautiful start to your day!
At the top of a beautiful fjord in the center of Orcas Island, lies our Landmark within Eastsound Village. It’s a walker’s village, alive with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and visitor attractions. Enjoy strolling among historic homes and buildings from the 1880s, or picnic on the village green, summer home of the Saturday Farmer's Market and live music performances. In the heart of town lies the famous Orcas Island Historical Museum, bursting with island artifacts and photos, with six settlers’ cabins on the grounds. The Children’s Funhouse Commons and Orcas Theater Center are an easy short walk on the north side of the village. You can also start your day with a yoga class, exercise workout, massage, swim or combing the beach for shells.
Olga, Doe Bay, and Deer Harbor
South of Moran State Park, the little hamlet of Olga is famous for its artists’ co-op, Orcas Island Artworks has an extensive selection of pottery, painting, jewelry, art glass, fiber and wood by more than 50 island artists. You’ll find it housed in a historic 1936 strawberry packing plant. Past Olga on the water, you’ll come upon Doe Bay Resort and Retreat, where you can dine over the water at the Doe Bay Cafe on mostly organic food, often harvested just hours earlier. Activities on Orcas Island include massage, yoga, sea kayaking, hot tubs and relaxing in Adirondack chairs overlooking the spectacular water view of the San Juan Islands.
On the other side of the island, at the farthest western point, Deer Harbor is a hub for all things marine —kayak (and bike) rentals, whale and wildlife tours, sailing excursions, and power or sailboat rentals.
Restaurants on Orcas Island
Are you ready for gastronomic adventuring? You can start your journey at Meyers goat-cheese creamery, for some Grade A, grass-fed, fresh goat cheese. Island Hoppin' Brewery, could be next on your list, or if you're more of a wine aficionado, sip from the 9 different varietals as Orcas Island Winery.
Farm to Market
Many local restaurants serve fresh produce “farm-to-market”. To quote a recent foodie blog: “the distance from farm, to market, to table can sometimes be measured in yards. Long an artists’ haven, Orcas now has a tightly woven fabric of passionate food folks, including restaurateurs who’ve retired to the farm, farmers who’ve opened a restaurant, chefs breeding rare pigs, and artisans bent on preserving the island’s heritage.”
Hiking Orcas Island
If tall trees, pristine lakes, hidden beaches, and panoramic views make you want to grab your daypack and hit the trails right now, hiking will definitely be a top thing to do on Orcas Island! The island provides a variety of different hikes, both in elevation, length, and terrain. Moran State Park offers an extensive trail system, including options to hike to cascading waterfalls, around sparkling lakes, and to spectacular viewpoints. Some favorite hikes in Moran State Park include Cascade Lake (2.9 mile loop), Mountain Lake (4 mile loop), Mount Constitution (a summit hike not for the faint of heart), and Cascade Falls (a .3 mile hike to a beautiful waterfall). Do take note that a Discovery Pass is required at Moran State Park, and is available for purchase as a daily or yearly pass. If you'd like to experience another hiking spot on Orcas Island, Turtleback Mountain Preserve is found on Orcas's west side. The preserve is one of the county's largest, undeveloped places, and offers views to Crow Valley and the Salish Sea. Over 8 miles of trails make up a primitive trail system, with several routes to choose from and explore. Turtleback Mountain does not have any water sources, so do come prepared if you choose to hike here. As you can see, Orcas Island provides ample hiking opportunities for the family, solo adventurer, or someone who just wants to get out and explore!
Kayaking Orcas Island
With more than 125 miles of shoreline and two freshwater lakes, Orcas Island is a mecca for kayaking. Shaped like a horseshoe, Orcas Island provides smooth kayaking in protected waters, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful water, rugged shoreline, and sea dwelling creatures making their home in this pristine environment. Bald eagles, herons, otters, porpoise, and sea lions are often encountered while kayaking, and many who have kayaked the island say that kayaking provides the best vantage point of the San Juans. From Northshore, kayaking day trips can include paddling to Sucia, Matia, or Patos islands, which are also marine state parks. Once you get to the islands, you can paddle around them, or hop out of your kayak and hike the trail systems of each island. Don't have your own kayak? Tours and rental programs can be found on Orcas Island, with choices of 3 hour, full day, or custom excursions. Want to explore a freshwater lake? Two lakes, Mountain and Cascade, can be found on Orcas, both in Moran State Park. Cascade Lake also offers rentals for those of you without your own equipment.
Now, we believe Orcas Island to be the best of all the San Juan islands (we might be a little partial), but the other islands of the San Juan archipelago are each unique and have a variety of experiences that are fun for exploring as well. The Landmark on Orcas Island is a perfect "base" for taking day trips and exploring all the other islands have to offer. There are regularly scheduled ferries between San Juan's Friday Harbor, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw islands. If you decide to take advantage of 'island hopping,' know that traveling via foot or bike is free, but there is a nominal charge for vehicles. See the Washington State Ferry page for ferry schedule and more information!