Orcas Island Landing

Adventures On Orcas Island – A Visitor’s Guide

Of all the San Juan Islands, Orcas is most definitely the most romantic and begging to be explored.

Located in Puget Sound, Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands and offers an array of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. From the lush forests and crystal-clear lakes of Moran State Park to the scenic views and hiking trails of Turtleback Mountain Preserve, Orcas Island is a paradise for outdoor exploration.

But Orcas Island isn’t just about nature. It also boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage, with attractions like the Orcas Island Historical Museum and The Lambiel Museum showcasing the island’s fascinating past. When it comes to accommodations, Orcas Island offers a range of unique options, from the historic Orcas Hotel to the waterfront West Beach Resort.

From thrilling water adventures to peaceful outdoor activities, Orcas Island has something for everyone. So pack your bags, leave the hustle and bustle behind, and get ready to discover the hidden gems and must-visit spots of Orcas Island.

Exploring the Natural Beauty of Orcas Island

When it comes to natural beauty, Orcas Island does not disappoint. One of the main attractions on the island is Moran State Park, a nature lover’s paradise. With its old-growth forests, picturesque lakes, and miles of hiking and biking trails, Moran State Park offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. Don’t miss the stunning views from the top of Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

Another must-visit spot on Orcas Island is Turtleback Mountain Preserve, known for its scenic views of the San Juan Islands. Explore the network of hiking trails that wind through the preserve and take in the breathtaking vistas along the way. Cascade Lake and Mountain Lake are also worth a visit, offering opportunities for swimming, boating, and picnicking in idyllic settings.

Moran State Park: A Hiker’s Paradise

Entrance to Moran State park.

Moran State Park is a hiker’s paradise, with over 38 miles of trails to explore, as well as several lakes, and the Mount Constitution Lookout.

Here are some highlights of the park:

  • Mount Constitution: A steep drive to the lookout will take you to the highest point on Orcas Island, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding islands and mountains.
  • Old growth forests: Experience the beauty and serenity of the park’s old-growth forests, with towering trees that have stood for centuries.
  • Two Lakes: Cascade and Mountain Lakes offer swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding opportunities!

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely stroll, Moran State Park offers a variety of trails for all skill levels. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning vistas and wildlife encounters along the way.

View from the top of the lookout on Mount Constitution

Turtleback Mountain Preserve

While Moran State Park gets a lot of attention, you shouldn’t skip visiting Turtleback Mountain Preserve while you are on Orcas Island. With its panoramic views of the San Juan Islands and diverse wildlife, it offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Hiking through the preserve’s network of trails allows visitors to immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty while spotting birds, deer, and other local wildlife along the way. Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Turtleback Mountain Preserve has something to offer for everyone.

Turtleback Mountain Preserve is a hidden gem on Orcas Island, offering breathtaking scenic views and a network of hiking trails. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Scenic views: Explore the preserve and be rewarded with stunning vistas of the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains.
  • Hiking trails: Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails at Turtleback Mountain Preserve. With a variety of trails ranging in difficulty, there’s something for everyone.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or simply seeking a peaceful escape, Turtleback Mountain Preserve is a must-visit spot on Orcas Island. Discover the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and create lasting memories amidst the breathtaking views and serene trails.

Getting to Orcas Island

As with any of the San Juan Islands, getting to and from Orcas Island is the main challenge. The vast majority of people that visit Orcas Island come by way of the Washington State Ferries.

There are other options though and if you are willing to shell out some extra money, you can get to Orcas Island by private ferry or float plane. Of course, if you have your own boat and are familiar with navigating Puget Sound, there are several marinas

Ferry Travel Tips: Schedules and Booking Advice

If you plan on taking your car to Orcas Island, you need to plan ahead and reserve your spot on the ferry. The best way to do this is to visit the WSDOT ferry reservesation website.

I can tell you from experience, that if you don’t have reservations and show up on time for them, you can be left waiting for a very long time for a spot on a boat.

The ferries for all the San Juan Islands depart from Anacortes, so if you are coming from Seattle, plan on enough drive time to get there.

Walking-On To The Ferry

A quick side-note here about getting to Orcas Island by ferry. If you are just walking on to the ferry or taking your bicycle or motorcycle, it is much easier to get around, and you don’t need a reservation.

Private Boat and Plane Charters: Your Private Ride To Orcas Island

Don’t want to wait around for a regular ferry? Then a private ferry, water taxi, or a seaplane may be the answer to your problem.

The San Juan Islands visitor’s bureau has some links to private ferries and water taxis, but here are a few others that you might want to check out.

Water Adventures and Marine Life

Orcas Island is surrounded by the pristine waters of the Salish Sea, making it an ideal destination for water adventures and marine life encounters. Here are some highlights:

  • Salish Sea: Explore the Salish Sea and its rich biodiversity. From kayaking to paddleboarding, there are plenty of ways to experience the beauty of these waters.
  • Deer Harbor: Discover the charm of Deer Harbor, a picturesque marina where you can rent boats, go sailing, or simply admire the stunning views.
  • West Sound: The largest of the bays on Orcas Island, with many spaces to explore, including Indian Island.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or looking for a more laid-back experience, Orcas Island offers a range of water adventures and opportunities to encounter marine life in its natural habitat.

Whale Watching Tours: Encountering the Majestic Orcas

One of the highlights of a visit to Orcas Island is the opportunity to go whale watching and witness the majestic orcas in their natural habitat.

The best time for whale watching at Orcas Island is generally between April and October, with the peak season being from mid-May to mid-September.

During these months, you have the highest chances of encountering orcas, humpback whales, and minke whales. The weather is also typically more pleasant for boat trips and outdoor activities.

However, Orcas Island is home to the resident Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) pod, so even outside of peak season, there is still a chance to spot these magnificent creatures.

If you’re planning a trip specifically for whale watching, it’s recommended to go during peak season and consider booking multiple tours to increase your chances of a sighting.

Kayaking Orcas Island

Kayaking around Orcas Island is a thrilling adventure that allows visitors to explore the island’s pristine waters and encounter marine life. With its diverse coastline and calm bays, Orcas Island offers a variety of kayaking experiences for all skill levels. Paddle along the rocky shores, explore coves, and navigate through kelp forests as you soak in the breathtaking beauty of the island. Keep an eye out for seals, porpo, and even orcas, as these majestic creatures are known to frequent the surrounding the islands. Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner for a new adventure, Orcas Island is the perfect destination for an unforgettableaking experience.

Kayaking and Paddleboarding in Deer Harbor

Deer Harbor is a popular spot on Orcas Island for kayaking and paddleboarding. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Kayaking: Explore the calm and scenic waters of Deer Harbor by kayak. Paddle through the peaceful bay, taking in the stunning views and observing the wildlife.
  • Paddleboarding: Stand-up paddleboarding is another great way to experience the beauty of Deer Harbor. Glide along the water’s surface and enjoy the tranquility of this picturesque harbor.
  • Wildlife encounters: Keep an eye out for wildlife as you kayak or paddleboard in Deer Harbor. You may spot seals, otters, and a variety of bird species along the way.

Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or new to paddleboarding, Orcas Island offers a serene and scenic setting for water activities and watching aquatic wildlife.

Scuba Diving

While Puget Sound is known for having some sensational diving, Orcas Island is not one of the best locations for diving. Shore diving locations are limited and there is no place on the island to fill or rent tanks.

The only two good dive spots I’ve heard of on Orcas are Doe Bay and Obstruction Pass.

Also be aware that diving in Puget Sound is a very cold experience, and you have to be very careful about timing your dives with the tides in many locations.


If fishing is your thing, then depending on the time of year, you have a load of opportunities available for you for fishing near Orcas Island.

Season dependent, you can get out and go after a variety of salmon, ling cod, halibut, crab, and shrimp.

Shore fishing opportunities are pretty much zero here, so unless you have your own boat, your best bet is to get yourself a charter.

While saltwater fishing gets the bulk of most angler’s attention on Orcas Island, it should be noted that there are several fishable freshwater lakes on the island as well. Cascade and Mountain lakes are the main locations to fish, and stocked with trout each year.

Biking and Hiking Orcas Island

In addition to water adventures, Orcas Island offers a range of outdoor activities to suit every interest and skill level. Here are some highlights:

  • Bicycling: Explore the island’s scenic roads and paths on two wheels. Orcas Island offers a variety of biking routes, from leisurely rides to challenging climbs.
  • Hiking: Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails on Orcas Island. With its diverse landscapes and stunning vistas, the island is a hiker’s paradise.

No matter how you choose to enjoy the outdoors, Orcas Island offers endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.

Bicycling Trips

Cycling is fairly popular on Orcas Island and you can find more than a few people touring the island by bicycle on any given day, especially in the summer.

While many cyclists use their bikes to tour the island, both the Turtleback Mountain Preserve and Moran State Park have mountain biking trails to explore as well. Here are some trails to consider when you visit:

  • Cascade Falls Trail: This trail is a popular access point in the summer and features a fun downhill section followed by a challenging climb.
  • Mountain Lake Loop: A beginner-friendly loop that offers beautiful views of Mountain Lake and the surrounding forest.
  • Mount Pickett DH Trail: This short but steep trail is a thrilling descent for experienced riders.

Do note that not all trails are open at Moran State Park year round, and the mountain biking trails at Turtleback Mountain Preserve (accessible from the North Trailhead) are open to mountain biking on even-numbered calendar days only.

Hiking Trails on Orcas Island

Orcas Island has plenty of trails to get your boot on, or sandals in my case. Moran State Park has over 38 miles of trails and the Turtleback has an additional 8 miles.

  • Mount Constitution: This is the highest point in the San Juan Islands, offering breathtaking panoramic views from the observation tower at the summit. The trails to the top vary in difficulty, but the reward is well worth the effort.
  • Cascade Falls: A relatively easy hike that takes you to a beautiful waterfall cascading through the lush forest. The trail is well-maintained and suitable for all skill levels.
  • Mountain Lake Loop: This loop trail circumnavigates Mountain Lake, offering serene views of the water and surrounding forests. It’s a moderate hike with some elevation gain but manageable for most hikers.
  • Little Summit Trail: This trail offers a less crowded alternative to Mount Constitution, leading to a viewpoint with stunning views of the park and surrounding islands. It’s a moderate hike with a steady climb.
  • Cold Springs Trail: This trail is a bit more challenging, with a steep climb and rocky terrain. However, it rewards hikers with spectacular views of Twin Lakes and the surrounding mountains.

Orcas Island Camping Spots

If tent/car camping is your thing, you will want to look primarily to Moran State Park and Obstruction Pass State Park.

  • Cascade Lake Campgrounds: Offers over 150 campsites across three campgrounds (North End, Mid-Island, and South End), with options for both RV and tent camping. Amenities include restrooms, showers, and a dump station.
  • Obstruction Pass State Park: This park has nine walk-in primitive camp spots, located on the south end of the park, these sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. They are equipped with fire pits and composting toilets nearby. Additionally, it has one spot reserved for people kayakers and canoers traveling the Cascadia Marine Trail.

There are some private camp spots available on the island as well, though they do come at a steeper price and range from true camping to high end glamping spots. Some of your options are:

Orcas Island Hotels

Orcas Island offers a variety of unique accommodations from bed and breakfasts to moderately sized hotels. Most if not all accommodations will be limited, so don’t expect to find anything above a 3-star rated hotel on the island.

The hotels and bed and breakfasts on Orcas are all very unique and an experience all to themselves. That being said, they are a great way to unplug from the world and take a break from reality.

Orcas Hotel

View of the Orcas Island Hotel.

I consider the Orcas Hotel to be one of the must-stay places on the island.

This Victorian hotel was established in 1904 and is the oldest continuously running hotel on the island. It isn’t large, with just 12 guest rooms, each uniquely appointed.

The hotel’s location directly across from the ferry terminal makes it an excellent choice for anyone who walked onto the ferry.

Other Hotels On Orcas Island

A variety of other hotels can be found around Orcas Island

Orcas Restaurants

Despite its small size, there are quite a few dining opportunities on Orcas Island. Eastsound has the largest concentration of restaurants, but you shouldn’t be afraid to venture out to some of the other areas to explore their dining options.

Some places you might want to try are:

Do note that many of the restaurants are closed during the winter or operate at reduced hours.

Orcas Island Grocery Stores

For those looking to stock up on essentials or pick up ingredients for a picnic or a home-cooked meal, Orcas Island has a limited selection of places to resupply your larder.

  • Orcas Island Market – The biggest grocery store on the island, you can find all of your general groceries here.
  • Orcas Food Co-op – Focused on sustainability and locally sourced foods, this co-op is a great option for fresh foods.
  • Orcas Village Store – A moderately well-apportioned small market, located at the ferry dock. They have a surprisingly good selection for a small store.

What Is The Best Time of Year to Visit Orcas Island?

The best time to visit Orcas Island is during the summer months, from June to September. The weather is mild and pleasant, perfect for outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, and exploring the island’s natural beauty. Additionally, this is when many of the island’s events and festivals take place, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the vibrant arts and culture scene.

Final Thoughts On Visiting Orcas Island

Orcas Island offers a captivating blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and cultural richness. From hiker’s paradises like Moran State Park to enchanting marine life encounters on whale watching tours, the island has something for everyone. Dive into the island’s history at the Orcas Island Historical Museum or indulge in unique accommodations like the Orcas Hotel. With diverse dining options, kayaking expeditions, and lively events year-round, Orcas Island is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. Whether you seek tranquility or excitement, Orcas Island promises an unforgettable getaway immersed in nature’s wonders and island charm. Plan your visit today!

Exploring Orcas Island
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