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Travel Guide to Orcas Island

January 22, 2020  | By: Taylor Randolph


Orcas Island is the largest island in the archipelago of the San Juan Islands. However, it is less populated than the nearby San Juan Island. The island is dotted with little villages and is home to only 4,500 people. This makes Orcas Island an ideal spot to relax and refresh. The surrounding beauty is a sight to behold and there are endless activities to enjoy. Although many orca whales call this place home, Orcas Island did not get its name from the whale. In fact, it was named after Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, the Viceroy of Mexico, who sent an exploration expedition here in 1791. If you are planning a trip to Orcas Island, there are a few things you should know and we have a few recommendations for you, as well.



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Getting to Orcas Island

The first step in planning your trip to Orcas Island is deciding how you would like to get here. The two main ways of travel are either by ferry or a short flight. You can't go wrong either way! Whether you travel by sea or air, the journey is sure to be beautiful.


By Ferry

The most popular option for getting to Orcas Island is the ferry from Anacortes. Anacortes is about 2 hours north of Seattle. The journey is pretty short from Anacortes, it's just a little over an hour. The other ferry option departs from Seattle. The Clipper ferry from Seattle takes about four hours to reach Orcas Island. Both options are fantastic because the ferry ride is absolutely gorgeous. It is just up to you to decide how long you would like to be on the boat. 


By Air

Another incredibly scenic way to get to Orcas Island is by taking a flight with Kenmore Air. They have multiple flights per day that will bring you from Seattle to Orcas Island. The flight takes about 2 hours and they are reasonably priced.


How to Get Around

You will want to have a car to get around the island because there is no public transportation. Orcas Island Rental Car will deliver a car to you when you arrive. Depending on how you arrive, they can drop a car off to you either at the airport or the marina. They have a wide range of vehicles in their fleet and their customer service is amazing. It is also possible to bring your own car with you on the Anacortes ferry if you make a reservation well in advance. 


Getting to Orcas Island

Things to Do

Orcas Island is known as the "gem of the San Juan Islands."  The stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife make it a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy on Orcas Island for both relaxation and excitement. 


Whale Watching

Whale watching is a must-do activity on your trip to Orcas Island. This area is one of the best places in the world to spot these magnificent creatures. There are over 85 orcas that live in this area, so you are almost guaranteed to spot one. There are many whale/wildlife expeditions that will take visitors out to spot the whales as well as bald eagles, porpoises, and seals.  I would recommend going with one of these tours because they know the places where the whales usually hang out. They also are very knowledgable, so you will learn a lot on your trip.



Kayaking is a beautiful way to take in the scenery surrounding Orcas Island. You’ll get to paddle around the San Juan Islands and take in the gorgeous coastline, watch for orcas, and enjoy scenic views of the Olympic Mountains.  Night kayaking is also exciting because the bioluminescent microflora and fauna create a light show in the water. The serene waters, gorgeous sunset, and brilliant colors of the fish and jellies make night kayaking an experience you will surely never forget.


Moran State Park

The Moran State Park protects five freshwater lakes and over 30 miles of hiking trails. You can hike, drive, or bike up to the highest point on the San Juan Islands at Mt. Constitution. The sweeping panoramic views are incredible at the top. You can spot Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier on a clear day. Stroll along the lovely trails, relax by the waterfalls, and enjoy the splendid vistas. 



The Orcas Island Golf Course is another fun activity to do on your vacation. As you are golfing, you will have fantastic views of Crow Valley and Turtle Back Mountain. The course is 9-holes that can be converted into a challenging 18-hole. It’s perfect for all ages and abilities.



Many lakes around Orcas Island are perfect for fishing. You can rent a fishing pole and just relax on the docks overlooking the lakes. There are also charter boats available if you want to catch halibut, salmon, and more.


Orcas Island where to stay

Where to Stay

Orcas Island has a variety of fantastic accommodations. Choosing the best one for you depends entirely on your preferences. If you are looking to commune with nature, check out Moran State Park. It has 151 traditional campsites as well as a glamping area. These spots fill up fast in the summer, so reserve months in advance. You can also choose a cozy b&b or a quaint cottage. There are also several high-quality resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals. Check out the lodging options on the Guide to San Juan Islands. They have lots of great recommendations for accommodations as well as dining, activities, and attractions.



Check out other things to do in Washington State:

Top 10 Things to Do in Seattle

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Hi there! 

We are Jacob and Taylor. Travel is our passion and we love sharing our experiences here at The Travelling Souk. Our hope is that you would be inspired by this little blog to try something new, embrace an adventure, and live life to the fullest. 

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