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10 Top-Rated Things to Do on Orcas Island, WA

Written by Brad Lane
Oct 7, 2021

By land size, Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan archipelago in far northwest Washington State. This gem of the San Juan Islands offers far-flung adventures with a dramatic coastal appeal. From stunning miles-long vistas to forested pottery studios, Orcas embodies the best of island life.

Orcas Island encompasses approximately 57 square miles and has a horseshoe shape. On the island's west side, tourist attractions and outdoor areas like golfing and Turtleback Mountain appeal to visitors the moment after departing the ferry. And the 5,000-plus-acre Moran State Park sets the wild and rugged tone for the island's east side.

At the middle of the horseshoe-shaped island is the historic Eastsound Village – the central community hub with grocery stores, restaurants, and a history museum. Here, find somewhere nice to stay for anywhere between a long weekend and the rest of your life.

Orcas Island is only accessible via ferry, private boat, or seaplane. Most passengers opt for a scenic ferry ride from Anacortes provided by Washington State Ferries. Reservations are recommended.

Enjoy the island life and plan your sightseeing with our list of the top things to do on Orcas Island.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Camp at Moran State Park

Camping at Moran State Park
Camping at Moran State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Moran State Park is a crown jewel of the San Juan Islands. It's on the east side of Orcas Island and encompasses a rugged 5,000 acres of forests, lakes, and mountains. It's a must-visit destination for several reasons, with the summit of Mount Constitution usually topping the list. Here, a dazzling panoramic view of islands dotting the water is worth the travel alone.

And as one of Washington's best campgrounds, Moran also makes for an excellent base camp for spending the night. The park has 124 sites available for tents and RVs, spread across four campgrounds: Southend, Midway, Northend, and Mountain Lake. Moran also has 10 luxury glamping sites available for a posh overnight experience.

Campers have access to several amenities when spending the night, including flushing restrooms and coin-operated showers. They are also close to the amenities of Eastsound Village, including restaurants and groceries, with a five-mile drive. For those looking to hike to the top of Mount Constitution, opt for the Mountain Lake Campground, where connecting trails lead to the summit.

Address: 3572 Olga Road, Olga, Washington

Official site: https://parks.state.wa.us/547/Moran

2. Hike at Turtleback Mountain Preserve

Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Turtleback Mountain Preserve | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Turtleback Mountain rises from the west side of the island and is one of the area's most popular hiking destinations. The San Juan Preservation Trust oversees and protects all 1,578 acres of the preserve, including the nearly nine miles of trails throughout.

A south and north trailhead are the two primary parking spots and access points for Turtleback Mountain. The south trailhead is less than a five-mile drive or bicycle ride from the ferry terminal. The sprawling network of trails connects the two trailheads.

Enjoying the view from a bench in the Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Enjoying the view from a bench in the Turtleback Mountain Preserve | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For perhaps the best views, skip the summit hike and head to Ship Peak Loop starting from the south trailhead. This three-mile loop gains approximately 860 feet of elevation and offers miles and miles of views across the water.

Turtleback Mountain Preserve is day-use only. Overflow parking at the south trailhead helps alleviate some of the congestion experienced in the summer and on the weekends. Bring your own water to the trailhead. Portable toilets are available at the parking areas.

Official site: https://sjpt.org/visit-our-preserves/turtlehead-preserve/

3. Shop and Dine in Eastsound Village

Eastsound Village
Eastsound Village | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Eastsound Village is the island's charming downtown district, nestled at the edge of Fishers Bay. It is approximately a 15-mile drive to the village from the ferry terminal and often a central area during an extended visit. Here, local restaurants, shops, and art galleries inhabit the historical buildings lining the street.

Eastsound is a very walk-around type of village. Casual restaurants in the area purvey a taste of the island life with farm-fresh ingredients and seafood. Window shopping is also easily accomplished with a range of stores, including used-book shops and pet boutiques.

Eastsound Library Park
Eastsound Library Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

History is inescapable while strolling along the storefronts and landmarks of downtown. Head to the Orcas Island Historical Museum on Beach Road to look deeper into the village's legacy. This museum dives deep into island history with artifacts, photographs, and docent-led tours.

4. Reach the Summit of Mount Constitution

View from Mount Constitution Summit
View from Mount Constitution Summit | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Any visit to Orcas Island should include a trip to the top of Mount Constitution in Moran State Park. Standing at 2,409 feet above sea level, it's the highest point in the San Juans Islands and offers a breathtaking view.

Visitors can hike, ride a bicycle, or drive a car to the summit. The road is open every day of the year between dawn and dusk, and several trailheads in the park lead to the peak. Bicyclists will want to wear reflective clothing as they slowly make their way up the inclined road.

The first time seeing the view from Mount Constitution can be startling. Mount Baker looms heavily on the horizon, less than 50 miles east. And large and small islands dot the surrounding seawaters. A historic stone guard tower at the top offers an even better view.

Sunset atop Mount Constitution
Sunset atop Mount Constitution | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

If the weather is looking right, plan your day to catch the sunset at the top of Mount Constitution. The gated road to the summit closes roughly at dusk, and a park ranger sweeps the area each night before locking up.

5. Hop aboard a Boating or Sailing Charter

Orcas in the Salish Sea
Orcas in the Salish Sea | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Several boating companies on the island offer extended adventures on the water. With various experiences to choose from, whale watching often tops the list, and for a good reason. The surrounding Salish Sea is teeming with these massive marine mammals. The peak season to spot whales in the San Juan Islands is from mid-June through early September.

Outer Islands Excursions is a popular outfitter on Orcas, located north of Eastsound Village. They offer a 3.5-hour Orcas Island Whale Watching Tour on a small, fast boat that deftly navigates the waters. Bring along a zoom lens to get the best pictures.

On the south side of the island's east side, Orcas Island Eclipse Charters offers a similar Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour. This four-hour tour guarantees whale sightings or offers a free voucher for another trip. Other wildlife is also spotted on these trips, including sea lions, dolphins, and seals.

For a slower pace, Shearwater Kayak Tours offers on-water instruction and leadership. This locally owned guiding company has provided tours across the island for more than 35 years. Today, they are based in Eastsound Village, and offer trips from scenic areas like Deer Harbor, Doe Bay, and the Rosario Resort & Spa.

6. Explore Orcas Island Pottery

Orcas Island Pottery
Orcas Island Pottery | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Orcas Island Pottery is on the island's west side, approximately a 3.5-mile drive from Eastsound Village. The last quarter mile of the trip is on a maintained dirt road leading through a dense old-growth forest. This commute into nature sets a good bar for the rest of the visit.

There's no central shop at Orcas Island Pottery, but rather the entire grounds offer handmade products to peruse. These shopping grounds include different buildings, including an intricate treehouse. This spread-out shopping experience is more akin to visiting a public park filled with beautiful handmade goods.

Address: 338 Old Pottery Road, Eastsound, Washington

Official site: https://www.orcasislandpottery.com/

7. Amble around Obstruction Pass State Park

Obstruction Pass State Park
Obstruction Pass State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Obstruction Pass State Park is at the far southern tip of the Island's eastside, and most visitors pass through Moran State Park to reach this 76-acre shoreline park. It should be considered a must-visit if staying at Moran for the weekend.

Only a few public beaches rim the Orcas Island seashore, and Obstruction Pass is the largest. An approximately half-mile trail leads from the parking area to this rocky shoreline, where a fantastic view of East Sound awaits.

Obstruction Pass also offers a unique camping experience. The state park has nine primitive sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. These sites are near the beach, and campers need to carry their gear a half-mile from the car. One site is also dedicated to paddlers on the Cascadia Marine Trail.

Address: 860 Trailhead Road, Olga, Washington

8. Play a Round at Orcas Island Golf

Orcas Island Golf
Orcas Island Golf | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Orcas Island Golf is one of the few courses available on the San Juan Islands, and it's arguably the prettiest. The course is six miles north of the ferry terminal and utilizes the island's rolling landscape in its design. Orcas Island has nine holes, but each hole has two different tee-boxes, resulting in 18 unique holes to play.

The charm of Orcas Island Golf is undeniable. The 54-acre property was originally a mustard farm, and today, the original farmhouse serves as the clubhouse. This clubhouse tends to be the place to visit toward the end of the day after playing a round.

The rates are affordable at Orcas Island Golf, and club rentals and carts are available. An on-site mini-golf course is also a family favorite. And for those looking to get a few swings in during the day, the on-site driving range sells golf balls by the bucket.

Address: 2171 Orcas Road, Eastsound, Washington

Official site: http://www.orcasgolf.com/

9. Enjoy the View at Judd Cove Preserve

Judd Cove Preserve
Judd Cove Preserve | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Judd Cove Preserve is a bit of a hidden gem on Orcas Island. It's a 12-acre easement and one of the few places on the island with a public waterfront. The preserve encompasses 1,250 feet of saltwater shoreline, which offers an idyllic scene next to the water.

It's a seven-mile drive from the Orcas Island ferry terminal to Judd Cove Preserve, including a sharp right turn on Fowlers Way. Take this gravel road down to the small parking area, and it's only a quarter-mile hike to the beach.

Some may say this preserve is best kept hidden. The parking area is small, and as abundant as the beach is, it's nice to have it to yourself. Spend as much time as desired, though, and enjoy this off-the-beaten-path attraction at leisure.

Address: Judd Cove Road, Eastsound, Washington

10. Sail Out to Sucia Island Marine State Park

View of Orcas Island from Sucia Island
View of Orcas Island from Sucia Island

Sucia Island is three miles north of Orcas Island and only accessible via watercraft. The small island and its collection of even smaller islands are the crown jewel of the Marine State Park system in the Salish Sea. Upon landing on the shores of this remote island, it's easy finding a castaway sense of adventure throughout.

Several forested hiking trails navigate the small island, connecting its 60-plus primitive campsites. Outside of pit toilets, no services exist, and visitors need to pack in all their supplies. Several mooring buoys surround the entire island, and public docks are also available.

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