After an exciting few days of whale watching and exploring on San Juan Island, we took a ferry to Orcas Island, the San Juan Islands’ largest island.
(For information on how to get to Orcas Island, see the Orcas Island Ferry Schedule.)
For the next two days we connected with nature during our Orcas Island Getaway. With 77 miles of shoreline and an average 247 days of sunshine each year, Orcas is the perfect escape for nature-lovers who need a break from the fast-paced world we live in. We encourage you to disconnect from technology and connect with the island’s peaceful surroundings. You won’t find big cities, shopping malls, or chain restaurants, and even still, there are plenty of things to do on Orcas Island.
Things to Do on an Orcas Island Getaway
Hike, Bike, or Drive to the top of Mount Constitution
At 2,409 feet (734 m), Mt Constitution is the highest point on the San Juan Islands. With panoramic views of the surrounding islands and the spectacular Cascade Mountains, you simply must visit the summit during your time on Orcas… though how you get there is up to you. You can hike, bike, or drive to the summit depending on your available time and stamina! The hike is 6.7 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet (457 m). A 5-mile drive (or bike ride) on a paved, yet very curvaceous road will also bring you to the top of Mt Constitution. Here’s a tip we learned from a local that we wanted to pass along to you: while many visitors blow past Little Summit, about halfway up the mountain, stop and make the super short walk to a stunning look-out point!
A few other obvious pull-outs greet you on your drive/ride up the mountain, and again, we encourage you to take your time and take it all in. There was a slight haze in the air the day we visited, but the views were spectacular nonetheless. On a clear day, you can see Mt Baker and Mt Rainier, in addition to Vancouver and Victoria. Atop the summit is a stone observation tower patterned after a medieval watch tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. Climb the equivalent of 2-3 flights of stairs and you’ve got access to some of the best views on the mountain!
Chase Waterfalls on Orcas Island
Couple your trip to the summit of Mt Constitution with a stop by some of Moran State Park’s best waterfalls, which can all be easily accessed via one main hiking trail just off Mt Constitution Road. Cascade Falls, Rustic Falls, Cavern Falls, and Hidden Falls are all within a gentle walk from each other and are definitely worth the detour!
Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Obstruction Pass State Park
Because Moran State Park receives more recognition, Obstruction Pass State Park is a well-kept secret and offers even more great Orcas Island hiking! From the parking lot, there is an option of a few trails, all leading down to a quiet beach. No matter the path you take, the forested hike is less than a mile (each way), with interpretive signage along the route. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a meal with a view once you’ve made it to the beach!
Glamping with LEANTO on Orcas Island
Following our glamping adventures on San Juan Island, we couldn’t wait to experience more ‘glamorous camping’ during our Orcas Island getaway. Why stay in a hotel when you can comfortably sleep in the forest? Located in Moran State Park, Washington’s 4th largest state park, LEANTO offers luxurious canvas tents with all of the amenities one would need for spending a few days in the wilderness. Surrounded by 5,000 acres of natural beauty, including 5 freshwater lakes and over 30 miles of hiking trails, there is no shortage of places to explore just by stepping outside your tent flap! Cell service can be sparse, so put your phone away and enjoy the reality directly in front of you.
The tents have no running water or electricity, but fear not, because spigots, restrooms, and coin-operated hot showers are just a short walk from the camp site. There are also add-on services that LEANTO provides such as a cook out kit, dish it out kit, morning coffee service, and firewood delivery. Really all you have to bring is yourself and your sense of adventure! A well-stocked corner store is a short drive from camp providing essential food items, though if you want a fully-stocked grocery store, you’ll need to head into Eastsound, about 15 minutes away.
We found the weather to be quite pleasant, if not just a little chilly, during our late September stay. The weather on Orcas Island can get pretty cold in the winter months, and as such LEANTO is only open from early April – mid October each year. Sites are extremely limited and book up fast, so reserve your spot for glamourous Orcas Island camping TODAY!
Drive the Scenic Byway
The San Juan Islands Scenic Byway is divided into three segments: 1) 30 scenic miles along the marine highway, serviced by the Washington State Ferries 2) a driving tour around San Juan Island and 3) a driving tour on Orcas Island. Immediately upon exiting the Orcas Island ferry at Orcas Village, or “The Landing” as it is known by locals, the scenic drive has already begun! Though we didn’t drive the entire 57-square-mile island, we had a wonderful time exploring shorelines and discovering hidden gems, like the Olga Post Office, opened in 1890 (pictured below). Our drive on the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway was a blast in the brand new (2016) Mazda CX-5. She handled the curves beautifully and with features like a sunroof, satellite radio, and Bose speakers, she made for a great road trip vehicle!
Wander Around Eastsound Village
A visit to Eastsound, Orcas Island’s main village, gives you access to a variety of boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries. Park your car, as this village is easily walkable and there’s a lot to see within these few blocks. Peruse the galleries and pick up a momento from your time on the island. Also, be sure to check out the Orcas Island Market Saturdays on the Village Green, if your visit to the island falls within the summer months.
Historic homes and buildings from the late 1800s can be found throughout the village. For a closer look at the island’s history, stop into the Orcas Island Historical Museum in the heart of Eastsound village. You’ll learn interesting facts about how the island was discovered and where it got its name (contrary to popular belief, the island is NOT named after the resident orcas found in the waters nearby). Here’s another tip for you, the Clever Cow Creamery is a wonderful place to visit for a light meal or savory treat. We were in absolute heaven after devouring their grilled cheese and tomato gorgonzola soup. A taste of their locally-made seasonal pumpkin ice cream made for a delicious ending!
Explore Doe Bay Resort & Retreat
Doe Bay Resort & Retreat is a recommended destination on Orcas, even if you’re not staying on their 38-acre property, as there is much to do – relax along the waterfront, wander the hiking trails, go on a sea kayak tour, get a message, do some yoga, etc. If you’re hungry, check out their eclectic general store filled with eco-friendly products and food, or enjoy a meal at the Doe Bay Cafe and/or the Doe Bay Garden, a conscientious gourmet restaurant offering fresh and healthy seed-to-table cuisine. It’s said to be one of the best seafood and vegetarian restaurants in the San Juan Islands! And if you are interested in staying on property, you can rent out one of their many cabins, yurts, or campsites.
Explore Rosario Resort & Spa
Rosario Resort & Spa is another resort worth checking out, again, even if you’re not staying there. The historic Moran Mansion offers waterfront dining at one of the best Orcas Island restaurants, along with a full service spa. If nothing else, take some time to wander through the mansion, which is listed on the National Historic Register, as the second floor houses a (free of charge) museum containing original photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s, along with original furnishings and fixtures, and an impressive display of ships built by the Moran Brothers Company (Seattle).
Support Local Artists on Orcas Island
Orcas Island is home to some of the most renowned artists in the Pacific Northwest! Besides the many galleries found in Eastsound, galleries and studios are all over the island. Orcas Island Artworks is housed in a historic strawberry packing plant and showcases the work of more than 45 different local artists and craftspeople, including paintings, prints, pottery, jewelry, wood, and more! Just a short drive down the road is Olga Pottery, the fully-operational pottery studio of artist Jerry Weatherman. So, no matter where you go on the island, you’re never far from unique artwork.
From scenic drives to adventurous hikes and from art galleries to gourmet restaurants, Orcas Island has so much to offer! Getting to the island has never been easier with the Washington State Ferries and it is recommended that you have a car during your stay to really make the most of your time on the island. For more information about what to do on Orcas Island, visit the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
Check out a quick video of our Orcas Island getaway below!
We’d like to thank the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau & LEANTO for providing us with support and discounted accommodation during our time on Orcas Island. As always, all write-ups are an accurate reflection of the experiences we had.