I was fortunate enough to spend an entire week exploring all the things to do on Orcas Island. This little island is a paradise set just off the coast of Washington state. It is part of an archipelago made up of about 400 plus islands and rocks.
Orcas Island has a horseshoe shape, is the biggest of the lot, and is one of the best-known in the archipelago.
The archipelago, known as the San Juan Islands, is in the Salish Sea in between Vancouver and Seattle. And it is a hub of activity and bustling with friendly people and loads to do.
I would say that it is too far and offers too much for just a day trip. However, a week spent here will be plenty.
This chunk of paradise is best known for delicious seafood, emerald green lakes, the stunning ocean, wildflowers, and mountains. Locals and travelers alike tend to explore either on foot or by bike.
It is easy to lose yourself, relax, and get into the island swing of things here on Orcas Island.
Getting To Orcas Island
So, in order to experience any of the things to do on Orcas Island, you’ll need to get there. Fortunately, half the fun is just in getting there! Because Orcas Island is an island, if you haven’t already guessed from the name, you need to go by sea.
It’s possible to take a small plane from Seattle, but I recommend a ferry trip purely for the fun experience.
The Washington State Ferry is your best bet when it comes to getting to Orcas Island. You can take a scenic tour around the islands before docking at your final destination.
It is also possible to either drive your vehicle onto the boat or board on foot. The ferries are in operation the whole year and run several times a day. So, you’re sure to find one that suits your schedule.
All the ferries to the San Juan Islands depart from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal at 2100 Ferry Terminal Road, Anacortes, WA, 98221. Be sure to get there at least a half-hour before your ferry is scheduled to depart!
Top 18 Things To Do On Orcas Island
There are so many things to do on Orcas Island that I have broken it down into several categories. This is to help you pinpoint the items that will suit you the best for your own itinerary.
Tours And Charters
The best way to explore a new destination is by taking a tour or charter. This way you’ll learn from the locals and you’re sure not to miss anything worth seeing!
1. Whale Watching
Of course, I cannot start a list of things to do on Orcas Island without mentioning whale watching. This is an island after all, and it is named after one of the most famous whales in our oceans. The island gets its name from the killer whale or orca.
The J-pod is the group of orcas that call the San Juan Islands home, and I highly recommend this experience! You can easily take a tour to see these majestic sea kings, as well as many other whales.
A whale-watching trip may include sightings of orcas, seals, porpoises, sea lions, and bald eagles. However, the whales will be in abundance too!
You can expect to catch glimpses of orcas, minke, grey, and humpback whales on one of these trips. I highly recommend Outer Island Excursions as your charter of choice for this type of trip.
If you’re looking to see orcas, I suggest going between June and September. The best time for sightings of minke and humpback whales are spring, summer, or fall. This is a family-friendly activity and kids of all ages are welcome.
2. Sailing and Fishing Charters
Because Orcas Island is an island, it makes sense to spend time on the water here. You can easily try your hand at sailing with one of the many excellent sailing charters available. Classic Day Sailing offers three-hour-long day sails and this is even perfect for beginners!
They will teach you how to steer, sail, and handle the lines. Bring food along for a floating picnic!
North Shore Charters, on the other hand, offers sportfishing charters and wildlife tours. They offer charters specifically for lingcod, halibut, and salmon fishing.
The species depends on the time of the year, but regardless of that, you’re sure to reel in a big one. The team has an intimate knowledge of the layout of the San Juan islands and they know the best spots.
Get Active On Your Holiday
Some people enjoy staying active and getting out and about while on holiday. If this sounds like you, take a look at these activities and other things to do on Orcas Island.
3. Explore Moran State Park
There are three stunning state parks on Orcas Island and Moran State Park is probably the best-known. This park is about 5579 acres big and contains five freshwater lakes and more than 30 miles of hiking trails. And, it is the fourth largest state park in the entire Washington state.
Mount Constitution is also in the park and is a favorite among mountain bikers and hikers. It is the highest point in the San Juan Islands and has an observation tower offering panoramic views.
On a beautifully clear day, this is probably one of the top things to do on Orcas Island. Hiking up the mountain will offer beautiful views and impressive vistas of waterfalls and valleys alike.
4. Put on Your Hiking Boots
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I have already mentioned Mount Constitution, but Moran State Park offers different levels of hiking trails. There are hiking trails specifically geared for children and others that are more extreme. Regardless of the type of experience, you’re looking for, you’re sure to find a trail that suits you.
Actually, the entire Orcas Island is a hiker’s paradise. I suggest getting that island feeling and walking where you want to go. There are trails that will take you to see waterfalls, lakes, beaches, so just take your pick.
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5. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is another favorite activity of locals and tourists alike on Orcas Island. If you’re into mountain biking, I highly suggest visiting between May and September.
During this time, the hiking trails in Moran State Park are open for mountain bikers. This means that you can explore the beauty of the park on two wheels.
I highly suggest renting a bike, regardless of the type, when on holiday in Orcas Island. It is one of the best ways of getting around the island and there are so many options available.
Wildlife Cycles would be my first choice as they have a wide variety of bikes and can rent mountain bikes as well as e-bikes. The electric bikes are great for getting around and mountain bikes will be perfect for the park.
6. Chase the Cascade Waterfalls
Alright, so maybe the Cascade Waterfalls is actually only one waterfall, but it is very impressive. The waterfall is the tallest waterfall in all of the San Juan Islands, and that makes it worth a visit.
The Cascade Falls, as it is known, is 40 feet high and beautiful. And there is a trail just short of a mile that leads right to the foot of it.
The waterfall also connects to a beautiful creek and it flows through age-old cedar trees and moss. This is the best thing for families to do on Orcas Island.
It is family fun and there is lots of space for kids to play. There are also fallen trees and logs, moss-covered rocks, and pure magic to be discovered.
7. Get Your Golf On
Golf is a prestigious sport and because it is a fairly relaxing and leisurely sport, it is perfect for holidays. Orcas Island boasts its very own golf course, so golfers rejoice!
It has state-of-the-art facilities and offers a nine- or eighteen-hole course. There is also a driving range and practice area as well as a pro shop.
The Orcas Island Golf Course used to be a mustard farm and it is still just as beautiful. There are natural springs, ponds, and rolling hills. The course is also beautifully lined with evergreen trees and shrubs.
The course is perfect for either the beginner golfer or pro player. It offers significant challenges for the more advanced players, but inexperienced golfers will also have fun.
8. Go Sea Kayaking
Of all the things to do on Orcas Island, sea kayaking is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. There are so many places to launch a kayak from that it is almost impossible to choose. However, Westsound, Olga, and Deer Harbor are some of the local favorites.
I tremendously enjoyed my own experience of sea kayaking on Orcas Island because it was great for beginners. I am not very experienced and the sea was calm and gentle.
But I am also told that this is what the conditions are usually like and beginners are welcome. The best thing about exploring Orcas Island on a kayak is the view.
And don’t fret about having your own kayak, there are plenty of places to rent one! The best places to rent a kayak would be on Crescent Beach or at West Beach Resort. And you can also hire a guide for a sea kayak tour if you are a little hesitant to venture out on your own.
9. Climb Turtleback Mountain
I have already spoken about some of the other available hikes on the island, but this one is a must! Turtleback Mountain is on the western side of Orcas Island and access is free! The best is that there are four trails to choose from, so you’re sure to find something suitable for you.
The most popular trail is the Turtleback Mountain South Trail which is 6.6 miles long or the Orcas Knob trail. The Orcas Knob trail is 5.9 miles long and has stunning views. The first trail also offers beautiful views and you can see all the other islands from the top.
Head To The Beach
I cannot write an article about an island and not mention the beach! There are a few to choose from on Orcas Island, so just pack a picnic and select one at random.
10. Pebble Beach
This little beach is perfect for a picnic and also perfect for photos. And the reason is that it is covered in marble-sized pebbles in all the colors of the rainbow. The beach is also ideal for sea kayaking and there are places to launch your kayak.
The beach is in the Obstruction Pass State Park which is 80 acres large and beautiful. You can hike through a forest of Madrone trees to get to the beach or simply stop by the beach. The hike is only a half-mile out and back and is easy enough for the whole family.
11. The Other Beaches of Orcas Island
The thing about Orcas Island is that it doesn’t have as many beaches as you might expect. But it does have a few that are well worth a visit anyway.
Doe Bay Resort contains one of the other beaches on the island and it is smaller, but just as fun. Although it doesn’t have picturesque pebbles, it does have resort facilities and beautiful sunsets. This is ideal if you’re looking to stay close to the beach.
Cascade Lake is in the Moran State Park mentioned earlier and also boasts a small beach. This beach is open to the public and perfect for picnics or just lounging about in the sun.
Food And Drink
Of course, no holiday is complete without sampling the local cuisine and cocktails! I selected the cream of the crop when it comes to wining and dining on Orcas Island.
12. Visit a Winery
Fill your itinerary with classy and elegant things to do on Orcas Island and make visiting the winery a priority. The Orcas Island Winery offers a modern farmhouse tasting room to sample the wines and a wonderful wine garden experience.
The winery was established in 2011 as the first and only winery on Orcas Island, so it is definitely a must on every tourist’s list. The boutique family-run winery and vineyard is dedicated to producing excellent Washington state wines.
The winery is set on 16 acres of land at the back of Turtleback Mountain and the precious untamed land is beautiful. Visit if only for the views!
You can sit back and do a classy and elegant wine tasting in the cozy tasting room. Or head outside with a picnic blanket, basket, and carefully curated items from the artisanal deli shop. The wines on offer include reds, whites, and rosés.
13. Island Hoppin’ Brewery
Island Hoppin’ Brewery followed in the winery’s footsteps and established the first and only microbrewery on the island in 2012. They are passionate about sourcing local ingredients for their brews and they make beer that people love.
Some of their favorite concoctions include seasonal lagers, hopped ales, and barrel-aged sours.
The best thing about the brewery is that it is not only family-friendly but dog-friendly too! It is the ideal spot to wind down after a sea kayaking trip or a hike. The brewery is just outside of Eastsound and they also offer some snacks to wash down with your beer.
14. Boathouse Ciderworks
I’d suggest making this your first stop when getting off the ferry on Orcas Island, and for good reason. Boathouse Ciderworks craft some of the best hard ciders and specialty wines on Orcas Island. They are located at the ferry landing and are the perfect place to either start or end your trip.
This craft brewery is focused on using locally-sourced products and where that isn’t possible, they go organic. They are always being recognized for their efforts and their Nootka wild rose petals in cider recently won the double gold in the Seattle Cider Awards.
15. Buck Bay Shellfish Farm
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A list of things to do on Orcas Island has to include Buck Bay Shellfish Farm and for good reason. This iconic destination has a seafood store that sells only the best, and you can tour the farm. They also offer accommodation for those that want the true-blue Orcas Island experience.
In the shop, you can purchase oysters, clams, Dungeness crabs, spot prawns, and coon-striped shrimps. You will also find a selection of fish and several kinds of salmon.
You can also see them harvesting oysters on the farm, or just take a virtual tour to see the action. The bistro, oyster, and wine bar is the perfect place for sundowners after an eventful day.
16. Explore the Best Restaurants on Orcas Island
There are many options for dining on Orcas Island and just as many options for sundowners or cocktails. Of course, you can simply do it island-style and snack on picnics by the beach, but there are other options.
If you’re looking for one of the best restaurants on Orcas Island, I’d suggest the Inn at Ship Bay.
This beautiful restaurant offers stunning views over the ocean at Ship Bay and it offers accommodation. So, you can stay here and dine here and enjoy the views all in one.
The food is very fresh and creative, and the setting is beautiful. This is ideal for a dinner date if you’re holidaying on Orcas Island, or even just for a quick bite.
However, if you’re looking for something quick and on the go, head to Brown Bear Baking. They offer delicious sandwiches and pastries and you won’t be disappointed.
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Arts And Crafts
I wanted to round out this list of things to do on Orcas Island with some arts and crafts. Art has always been close to my heart and I seek it out in my travel destinations. It’s wonderful to see the beauty and essence of a place through local art and that’s why I included it.
17. Visit the Saturday Market
The Orcas Island Farmer’s Market is a highly popular activity for locals and tourists alike. It is in the heart of Eastsound Village and is hosted every Saturday.
Every single item sold at the market is either grown or crafted by the Orcas Island artisans and farmers. You can expect to find organic produce, art, crafts, jewelry, clothing, pottery, food, and drink.
You will also see displays and stalls by some of the Orcas Island service organizations. These include the historical museum and the master gardeners.
This is one of the fun things for families to do on Orcas Island and even the dog is welcome! I highly suggest popping by for a visit if the weather is good and you feel like experiencing the local vibe.
18. Visit Orcas Island Pottery
Orcas Island Pottery is one of the most magical things to do on Orcas Island. It is the oldest pottery studio in the Pacific Northwest and well worth a visit. The studio is not too far from Eastsound and you’ll find one-of-a-kind pottery here.
The pottery is made by local artisans from across the island and absolutely beautiful. Each piece is unique and it is easy to lose yourself for a couple of hours. There is even a treehouse to keep the kids busy and footpaths leading through all the beautiful creations.
Plan Your Visit
There are so many things to do on Orcas Island and so many places to stay, that planning is necessary. I would highly suggest planning to spend an entire week on the island if you can.
Because getting there is half the fun and will take some time, it is in your best interest to extend your stay.
If you don’t have a lot of time, I highly suggest putting whale watching and sea kayaking at the top of your list. These were my favorites and I think they offer the best Orcas Island experience.
I would also suggest staying at a place that offers two things for the price of one. That would include the Inn at Ship Bay or Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. That means you get a stay and experience all in one!