The Ultimate Orcas Island Adventure Itinerary

Overlook from the Mount Constitution trail.

In this Itinerary, you will find all you need for the ultimate travel adventure in the San Juan Islands. I will cover our 5-day Itinerary, but you can easily customize it to fit your time constraints and adventure level.

Highlights:

Day 1: AM: Ferry to Orcas Island, Eastsound village shops, and farmer’s market

PM: Hike to Twin lakes and kayak on Mountain Lake

Day 2: AM: Whale Watching Tour

PM: Hike Turtleback Mountain and visit Orcas Island Pottery.

Day 3: AM: Kayak tour of Sucia Island State Park

PM: Hike Cascade Falls trail and Obstruction Pass State Park

Day 4: Ferry to San Juan Island and explore beaches, farms, and lighthouses by Ebike

Day 5: AM: Explore Cascade Lake and lagoon by kayak

PM: Summit Mount Constitution, Sunset and Full Moon Kayak tour of Salish Sea

Now for the details:

Day 1: Ferry to Orcas, Eastsound, and Moran State Park

Enjoying the ferry ride from Anacortes to Orcas Island is an adventure in and of itself. We chose to take one of the first ferry rides of the day so we could maximize our time on the Island. This had the added benefit of the beautiful early morning light over the Puget Sound. Get your camera out and head out to the decks for optimal picture-taking opportunities. You may even see harbor seals, eagles, or Mount Baker!

Make sure to check the ferry schedule and make a reservation well in advance so you can guarantee your spot if you are bringing a car. We opted to rent a car and bring it with us. You can also walk on the ferry and then rent a car on the island.

Ferry Ride to Orcas Island
Early morning light over the Puget Sound and Cascades.

Once our Ferry arrived at Orcas Island, we headed over to Eastsound to explore the village with its quaint shops and restaurants and enjoyed the Saturday Framer’s Market. This little market is flush with farm-fresh produce, the most amazing flowers, and local goods.

Next, we headed over to what I consider the crown jewel of Orcas Island, Moran State Park. With almost 40 miles of hiking trails, 5 freshwater lakes, and 4 waterfalls, you could easily spend the entirety of your visit just at this state park. If you plan to spend more than one day visiting the park like we did, make sure to get Washington’s state parks pass called the Discovery Pass. It’s well worth every penny and is good for an entire year at any park in Washington state.

On this day, we hike around Mountain Lake to Twin Lakes. We traipsed through old-growth forest with moss, ferns, and foxglove wildflowers, then hiked up the easy grade to Twin Lakes to enjoy our lunch with a view of Mount Constitution and lily pads over the still waters.

Twin Lakes Moran State Park
Lunch Spot at Twin Lakes in Moran State Park

After we enjoyed our lunch, we headed back down to Mountain Lake and set up our pack rafts. These are lightweight inflatable kayaks that you can travel and backpack with. However, Orcas Adventures at the Mountain Lake campground and Cascade lake rents canoes and kayaks. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the coves and islands on the lake.

Kayaking on Mountain Lake
Cove on Mountain Lake

Day 2: Whale Watching Tour, Hike Turtleback Mountain and Visit Orcas Island Pottery

Day two was probably my favorite day of the whole trip. Observing Orcas in the wild has been a bucket list item for as long as I could remember, and the Orcas sightings around the San Jauns are practically guaranteed. As a matter of fact, many companies do guarantee sightings, or you can book another trip for free. As luck would have it, we observed these magnificent creatures for an hour on our tour. You can watch a short video of our adventure here. There are many companies you can book for this adventure. We used Deer Harbor Charters.

Orca swimming by Obstruction Pass State Park

After we grabbed a late lunch back at our cabin, we headed out to hike Turtleback Mountain. Some argue that the views from Turtleback Mountain are the best in all the San Juan Island as you have the best views of the island archipelago. There are two options for Turtleback Mountain. The North trailhead to Orcas Knob is a 6 mile out and back with a 1,322 ft gain. The hike from the south trailhead is a 6.6-mile loop (1,640 ft. gain)or 2.7-mile loop (859 ft. gain) if you just want to hike to Ship’s Peak. I recommend Ship’s Peak or Orcas Knob for the best views.

View from Ship’s Peak on Turtleback Mountain

After we enjoyed our hike to stretch our sea legs, we head over to Orcas Island Pottery. This pottery studio is located on West Beach, just outside the village of Eastsound. To get to the studio, just follow the signs. Even the drive there is like entering a fairyland as you drive through old-growth cedars and Douglas firs. They sell pottery from 7 local artists in their beautiful gardens surrounded by the forest and overlooking the Salish Sea. It was enchanting. Learn more here.

Day 3: Kayak Tour of Sucia Island State Park, Cascade Falls and Obstruction Pass State Park

Today we took a Sea kayaking tour with Outer Islands Excursions to explore the waters and shores around Sucia Island. We met our guide on the dock and took a boat ride over to the island where we hopped into our sea kayaks to paddle around this beautiful place. We saw harbor seals (and their pups!), sea otters, eagles and explored remote beaches. I was pleasantly surprised that the paddling felt just like being on a lake. The water was that calm. While I know that they aren’t always as glassy as they were on this day, the waters of the Salish Sea are typically calm and easy to paddle. Although the outfitters we used did a great job, I feel like if I were to do this again, I would just rent the kayaks and do the self-guided tour. This would give us the freedom to take the time at the places we wanted to and even go a little faster than the group did so we could see explore more places around the island.

We returned to Orcas Island at three which left us enough time to boogie back over to Moran State Park to hike the Cascade Falls trail. Cascade Falls is the largest waterfall in all the San Juan Islands at 40 feet tall. This short hike is only 1.5 miles with minimal elevation change where you can see four waterfalls (Cascade, Hidden, Rustic, and Cavern falls) in the ravine surrounded by ferns, moss, and old-growth forest.

Finally, we headed over to Obstruction Pass State Park to hike the Obstruction Pass trail. This 1.4-mile loop takes you through the highland forest with intermittent balds (meadow-type areas covered with moss) to a rock-strewn beach. Here is where you can observe more wildlife and enjoy a picnic by the lapping water. Ironically, this is where we saw the Orcas just offshore during our whale watching tour just the day before.

Day 4: San Juan Island by Ebike

Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands and we feel has the most to offer in terms of outdoor adventures but on this day we planned to walk on the inter-island ferry (free!) to explore the most populous of the archipelago, San Juan, with its popular town of Friday Harbor. The ferry between Orcas and San Juan Island runs about every four hours. Make sure you consult the schedule to ensure you have as much time as you want to maximize your visit to San Juan.

After we arrived at Friday Harbor, we explored the town and shops by foot before grabbing a picnic from Spring street Deli and popping in next door at Gilligan’s Island Style Ebikes. This was definitely the way to go considering the size of the island, the hills, and the wind. We still got a great workout but were able to cover more of the island and have the energy to do some short hikes as well.

There are many different routes you can take to explore the island and Gilligan’s has maps with directions that come with your bikes so you can be confident in your exploration. I recommend either an island loop out to Lime Kiln State Park with its beautiful lighthouse and whale watching from the cliffs or the route to South Beach and Cattle Point with the beach, lighthouse, and wildlife. On both routes, you can plan on passing scenic farms (many with farm stands selling local produce and flowers), coastal views, and potential wildlife sightings.

We opted for Cattle Point which has a better shoulder and less traffic for riding. We loved enjoying the coastal views of the Olympic mountains and the waves crashing on the shore at South Beach as we enjoyed our picnic. After our picnic, we continued on to Cattle Point where we took the short hike out to the lighthouse. We saw foxes in the meadow and coastal birds soaring above the shore. On our return trip, we added on the short loop to Pear Point with its forested country roads and Jackson’s Beach.

After a full day riding, we hopped on the five o’clock ferry and got back to Eastsound in time for a lovely dinner at Kingfish overlooking West Sound watching the sunset. A positively dreamy end to our day.

Day 5: Summit Mount Constitution, Explore Cascade Lake and Lagoon by Kayak, Sunset and Full Moon Kayak Tour of Salish Sea

We had a final action packed day on the island. We began the morning by heading back to Moran State Park to kayak on Cascade Lake over to its freshwater lagoon. Cascade Lake has a small beach area, playground, picnic area, snack shop, and Orcas Adventures which has all you need to get out on the water for the day if you don’t have your own boat to paddle. Not only was Cascade lake a great place to paddle but there is a trail around the lake that many use to access the bridge between the lake and lagoon for bridge jumping. The lagoon’s still water made the perfect location for lily pads and all sorts of waterfowl to observe on the water.

After we had our fill of the lake we drove part way up Mount Constitution and began our hike at the Little Summit trailhead. This hike allows for views both at Little Summit and at the top of Mount Constitution. This hike is 5.9 miles round trip with almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s a gorgeous hike through an old-growth forest with occasional breaks in the trees for views. Mount Constitution has a tower on the summit. Don’t miss the views from this point with the interpretive signs to tell you everything on the horizon.

We ended the day with a sunset and full moon kayak tour out of Deer Harbor with Shearwater Kayak Tours. I can’t think of a more perfect way to end our time on the island watching the golden sunset over the glassy waters and the full moon rise. We got to see a ton of harbor seals and their pups on the shores of some of the tiny islands we paddled around, in addition to the sunset. Watch a short video here. This was the dreamiest, so if you are fortunate enough to time your visit with the full moon run, don’t walk, to make a reservation. I promise you won’t regret it.

Sunset over the Salish Sea

Are you ready to book your trip to Orcas Island? Hopefully, you have all you need to plan your perfect adventure. Feel free to reach out in the comments or by sending me a message. I’m always happy to help craft your perfect itinerary!

One thought on “The Ultimate Orcas Island Adventure Itinerary

  1. Pingback: Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Capitol Reef National Park | Miriam Explores and Hikes

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