San Juan Island

San Juan Island is the second largest (after Orcas Island) and most populated of the United States San Juan Islands. It is also the closest to the border with Canada, and is only about ten miles from the British Columbia capital city of Victoria on Vancouver Island.

As with the other large islands, one of the things to do on San Juan Island involves the transportation required to get here—ferries from the port of Anacortes on the Washington State mainland, which is located about 90 minutes north of Seattle. The routes these ferries take are extremely scenic, and offer wonderful whale watching opportunities during the season, which is from about mid-April to mid-October. This is one of the best and most accessible areas in North America for sightings of orcas, also known as killer whales. There are also minke whales, porpoises, harbor seals, sea otters, as well as numerous sea birds. Even flights from Kenmore and Seattle on the mainland offer scenic opportunities. Some of these flights are by seaplanes that land at Friday Harbor.

The ferries come into Friday Harbor, the county seat and major commercial hub of the island archipelago. Many of the things to do on San Juan Island that involve culture will be found in this city. There are a number of excellent restaurants and a few worthwhile museums, including the fascinating Whale Museum, the San Juan Historical Museum, and the San Juan Islands Art Museum. The greatest concentration of San Juan Island hotels and other forms of lodging are also concentrated here.

Nonetheless, you will find San Juan Island resorts, cabins, and bed and breakfast inns scattered all over the island, especially along the coast. One of the coastal areas with another concentration of hotels is Roche Harbor, located on the northwest tip of the island (Friday Harbor is located on the east coast about mid-center). Probably the best accommodations on the island are available at the beautiful Roche Harbor Resort. Other accommodations (whether resorts or bed and breakfasts) tend to be more remote and generally surrounded by beautiful wilderness.

Once you've seen the sights of Friday Harbor, you will find that many of the more active outdoor things to do on San Juan Island can be booked in town. There are operators offering scenic cruises, including those aboard beautiful sailing schooners. These lovely ships can sleep from four to twenty passengers and go out for two- or three-day trips or even longer. This is also a good place to book any number of other activities, including fishing trips, kayaking tours along the coastline, and cycling tours. Both hiking and cycling are very rewarding activities, both along the coastline and into the interior. You might see some of the island's wildlife, including foxes and rabbits, black tail deer, wild turkeys, and raccoons. The birdlife is also prolific and includes the majestic bald eagle, trumpeter swans, hawks, falcons, ospreys, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.

San Juan Island also boasts the San Juan Historical Park. This might confuse you, as there are two with the same name. One (English Camp) is located about nine miles northwest of Friday Harbor along Roche Harbor; the other (American Camp) is about six miles southeast of Friday Harbor on the southern tip of the island. These two parks offer some of the best kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, and there are launching and beaching sites at both of them. There is also a beautiful day-use park at Lime Kiln Point located on the west side of the island directly across from Friday Harbor.

Image: San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

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