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Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

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Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

My children and I will be visiting the San Juan Islands during mid-June. I had planned on us spending 2 full days on Orcas only, but now I'm considering a day on San Juan also. Would it be more logical (and economical) for us to check out of our Orcas hotel and ferry to San Juan to spend 1 day/night, and then head back to Anacortes, or would it be better to make a day trip to San Juan, and go back to Anacortes from Orcas? We will have a car.


Danville, California
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1. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

You pay on the San Juan inter-island ferry system heading East to West. So a day trip to Orcas Island from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island would involve a return fee ($18 vehicle/driver + $7.50 per passenger).

The real hidden cost is the staging time before driving onto the ferries. The wait (first come, first served) to "insure" space can be 1 hour (non-peak) vs 2+ hours (peak). Therefore minimizing the rides offer a real "tourist" benefit!

Note: The Coupeville / Port Townsend ferry offers reservations. Why the other routes do not is a mystery to me?

There is a lot to do on both islands. Orcas Island with Mt Constitution and Moran State Park should not be missed. Doe Bay is also nice for kayak rentals. Take the guided kayak tour (sunset), recommend Discovery Kayak, on San Juan Island

Strategy: Leave Anacortes at 6:55AM, arrive 7:35AM on first ferry to Orcas Island. Enjoy breakfast at West Sound Cafe before heading east on Orcas for the other activities. Enjoy an ale at Madronna Grill and tour the shops in East Sound before catching the 4:30PM (does NOT run Sunday & Monday) for a 5:10PM arrival at Friday Harbor! Perfect timing to settle into 2 night accommodations at Friday Harbor! IMO, Roche Harbor is too remote and "staged"!


Tour San Juan Island the next day (Pig War encampments, alpaca farm, lavender farm with ice cream, hike Young Hill, explore lighthouse beach area on south end, spot Orcas from Lime Kiln State Park, book Orca watching tour and sunset kayaking with Discovery Kayaks)


Head back in the "free" direction, non-stop, to Anacortes. OR stop off for the shops and wine tasting on Lopez Island. Possibly fit in a bike ride. Leave 8:30, arrive 9:50, leave 1:35PM, arrive 2:15 Anacortes!


Seattle, Wa
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2. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

I would just plan out exactly what you want to do on both islands to see if it makes sense. Orcas is my favorite, so I'd spend both days there, but if you want to see the Whale Museum, go to Lime Kiln State Park to look for whales, or visit San Juan Island National Historical Park (all very worthwhile sights) then it might make sense to split your time. You can always take a whale boat tour from Orcas that will get you into the waters off of SJI.

San Juan Island...
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3. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

Some incorrect ferry information is posted in the first reply here I see so I wanted to correct that so that the original poster knows the accurate info.

There is no cost for passengers on the inter-island ferry. The only charge is for the car and that is only when you go in the direction from Orcas to SJ. All passengers are free on the inter-island ferry (so as I've been saying here for years yes you can walk on the inter-island ferry and not pay....it doesn't matter if you walk on or ride in a car as only the car (and thus the driver) is charged). If you take the mainland ferry to SJ first then you can go over to Orcas and there is no charge for the car either in that direction (as long as you don't then return to SJ).

As for waiting for the inter-island ferry in over 2 decades of living here I only heard of one 4th of July when the ferry went to overload (ie; a long wait time). We ride the interisland ferry quite alot with a car and basically never arrive at the ferry landing before 10 minutes from when it departs although as visitors you might want to get there 30 minutes before the inter-island just to feel secure.

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4. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

I noticed that while we were waiting for the ferry. Some cars arrived at last minute and got on. I figured they must be locals who know how it works.

We spent two nights on San Juan and visited Orcas on way back. We had a car.

Edited: 2:04 pm, February 20, 2012
Green Valley...
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5. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

I'd definitely include a very full day on San Juan Island. I almost always suggest basing on SJI with a day trip to Orcas. We all have our favorites, but SJI does have more things to do and to see, plus much more ocean/beach access. So, if you have decided on Orcas, fine. But for SJI, give yourselves a lot of a day to explore it, don't short yourselves. It's worth having picnic stuff with you for the various parks, especially Lime Kiln Point State Park, to take your time there in case the Orcas are around.

San Juan Islands (Specific information on the several major islands, with key websites.) tripadvisor.com/Travel-g58727-c102104/San-Ju…

Hiking in the San Juan Islands, WA


Informative Site for Orcas Island www.turtlebackinn.com/moran_park_brochure.pdf

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6. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

Thanks for the insight! I like the idea of just walking on the ferry to go from Orcas to SJ, but I don't know how we'd get to all of the things we'd like to do there. So, it's even better to know that the inter-island ferry isn't as challenging to get a vehicle on. With your help, I think I'm leaning on 2 days on Orcas, and then taking the car (& kids!) to SJ on the 3rd day. Hopefully I can still find good lodging on SJ for mid-June! Then, we'll ferry back to Anacortes from SJ.

Thank you all!

7. Re: Day trip (or not) from Orcas to San Juan

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