travel

Going Deep into the San Juan Islands

mt constitution viewFor ferry boat junkies like me, the San Juan Islands are a no-brainer, and Anacortes, Washington is the place to start. From this small town north of Seattle, you can chart a ferry course that will take you to the big three islands -- Lopez, Orcas and San Juan -- and on to Sidney, British Columbia if you want to air out your passport.

Besides the magnificent Northwest scenery and ferry boats, the real lure of the San Juans is the sense of tranquility and escape that people feel when you get out on the islands. In order to ease the transition, you might want to start on San Juan Island and Friday Harbor, because it’s the biggest town around and it has the most restaurants (at least two dozen) and shops (alpaca products, roasted coffee beans, lopez islandgourmet lamb sausage, beads, and fly fishing gear, to name a few). Get it out of your system here and then you can relax on the quieter islands. San Juan has a little bit of everything -- rocky shores, beaches, lakes, pastures and forest. They also are big on whales. You can watch them from the shore or on a boat excurison or study them at the Whale Museum. The island offers lots of opportunities for hiking, sea kayaking, fishing, birding or just enjoying the fresh blast of nature that you can find everywhere you look.

Lopez is actually the first stop after you leave Anacortes and many overlook it, but the flatness of the island make it ideal for bike touring and the rural quality of the place will have you thinking you’ve got the island to yourself. Lopez Village has the galleries, shops and eateries if you get a little lonely, but this island is really all about finding some quiet solitude.

Orcas is the biggest island in the group with lots of great little towns like Orcas Village, Westbound, Deer Harbor and Olga, and a fiord-like feature in East Sound. Most prominent, however, is the 2,409-foot Mount Constitution in Moran State Park. Many visitors hike it but skywalk looking downmost go by car but prepare yourself for a winding road to the top. You can also see how the wealthiest vacationers pamper themselves at Rosario Resort and Spa, which also gives you a spectacular view of East Sound. At the head of the sound is Eastsound Village, which is a less flashy version of Friday Harbor. Orcas also has loads of artisans, so you’ll find pottery studios and art galleries all over the island.

As you make your way through the islands, you begin to understand why explorers were enthralled by the Pacific Northwest. Passing each island opens up a spectacular vista that was as good or better as the last one. The glacier-carved landscape hides channels that go down 1,000 feet -- just one more reason why the San Juan Islands are a really deep experience.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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