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10 Adventures To Try In The San Juan Islands

The Essential San Juan Islands Guide

I call the San Juan Islands - "Hawaii of the Pacific Northwest" !

The coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, between mainland Washington and Vancouver Island, contain hundreds of islands, some little more than sandbars, others rising 3,000 feet. Among these, the San Juans are considered by many to be the loveliest.

The San Juan Island offer something for everyone. The islands are especially attractive to adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts.

We spent a few gorgeous early fall days, exploring the two of the most fun islands - Orcas and San Juan. Below, I offer a few suggestions if you plan to do more than just sitting on the beach and enjoying the sun :
1 - Camping

Though I don't really consider "camping" to be an activity, I'd definitely recommend to spend at least one night camping at one of many popular camping spots on the islands.

Our choices were Moran State Park on Orcas , and San Juan County Park on San Juan Island.

Both places have amazing lake/shore side camping spots, conveniently located close to shops/gas stations, and offer a variety of outdoor activities. 

2 - Hiking

Orcas Island, being the hilliest, offer some of the most unique trails in the state of Washington !

As a hiking destination, the San Juan Islands of Washington and their sister islands to the north offer scores of parks and preserves, hundreds of miles of trails catering to hikers of all levels, and year-round accessibility.

But without doubt, hiking to the top of Mount Constitution for a panoramic view of the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Peninsula and neighboring Canada, is like being on top of the world !

3 -  Biking

I'd recommend bringing your own bike. Though, there are places to rent one, it's just so much more convenient to have your own. 

I wrote in my previous post, some people choose to ride their bikes all the way from Anacortes. While Lopez island is considered to be the most bicycle friendly, Orcas and San Juan are bigger, with many hills ( especially Orcas ), and harder to navigate.  Yet, it's a blast to explore the islands by bike ! 

4 - Kayaking/SUP paddleboarding/canoeing

Next time, I'm definitely bringing my own kayak/SUP ! After all, you are on the islands ! Surrounded by water ! 

There are many smaller islands that can only be reached by a kayak. And while ( overnight/multi-day ) kayak camping is very popular, it can be expensive ( if you go with an outfitter ), and requires skills, and experience. 

But there are many islands that can be seen from the shore, and be reached within 30-50 minutes of paddling. Being alone on the island makes you feel like a real explorer !

5 - Sailing

There is something absolutely amazing and adventurous about exploring the islands under a sail !

A sailing adventure with one of many companies is a world away from any vacation experience you probably have ever had.

A world renown boating destination, the San Juan Islands have a multitude of boating services. From charters and day trips to long term moorage, fuel to haul-out and repairs, you will likely find what you are looking for.

6 - Scuba Diving 

Personally, I didn't have a chance to do any scuba diving in the San Juans, but now, it's on my Bucket List for sure !

San Juan Island offers some of the best cold water scuba diving in the world. There are walls and wrecks teaming with life. The water temperature averages 45 degrees and its cold water offers diverse underwater discovery — whether it’s photographing interesting anemone, giant Pacific octopus or tiger eels, exploring old ship wrecks, or watching the splendor of our 3 pods of resident orca whales above the water. The waters of the San Juan Islands are second only to those of the Red Sea for the mere quantity of marine life species in the waters. October – April is the best time for diving with visibility at times to 100 feet.

7 - Zip Lining

Again, I really wouldn't call zip lining ( or as its often call "zip trekking" ) an activity, bu it's a fun outdoorsy thing to do. 

Zip San Juan tour features 8 zip lines that will take you through a beautiful forest, across an otter inhabited lake and over protected wetlands. This tour is an amazing way to experience the natural landscape of San Juan Island while zipping from platform to platform through the forest canopy.

8 - Flight-seeing/Paragliding

Seeing the islands from the top of Mt Constitution is one thing, flying over the islands in a small plane, or gliding under the wing of tandem paraglider is completely opposite. 

For the ultimate seaplane sightseeing experience, spend a couple hours experiencing "a day in the life" of a Kenmore Air seaplane pilot as you ride along on a round-trip flight to the spectacular San Juan Islands.

9 - Windsurfing/Kiteboarding

Before we visited the Islands, I'd never heard of anybody windsurfing/kiteboarding there. 

But on the day of our departure from Orcas, the wind picked up, and to my surprise I saw a couple sails on Fishing/Ship Bay. 

From what I was told before, for kiteboarding potential the San Juans were not too friendly: the winds are fickle and the currents are strong. But I bet, the locals know a few spots to get stoked around the islands.

10 - Horse Back Riding

Experience the hidden backcountry of Orcas Island on horseback. Explore enchanting old growth forest, meander through grassy meadows, climb a mountain trail to the top of Mt Pickett for a breathtaking view of the San Juan Islands.

Whether you have an hour or a half day, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned rider, they have the perfect adventure for you and your family.

When you're on Island Time, you're always having the time of your life !

Though, most people's idea of "island time" is relaxing by a pool/lake/ocean with a drink in their hand, ExtraHyperActive people like us are always on the lookout for something exciting, extraordinary, memorable.

In my opinion, there is no batter way to explore a new place than on foot, or by bike/kayak/horse...

Planning to visit the San Juan Islands any time soon ? Check out our tips to make your experience more enjoyable ! -   "Tips On Visiting The San Juan Islands"

Looking for guide books about the San Juan Islands ? Here are a few suggestions :

The San Juan Islands: Afoot and Afloat

The popular guide to boating and other recreational activities in Washington's San Juan Islands, updated and including new quick-access features.

Moon San Juan Islands (Moon Handbooks)

This book is a must-have for anyone planning on visiting the San Juan Islands. Gives in-depth descriptions of the islands, activities, places to stay, etc. Writer and photographer Don Pitcher introduces travelers to the best of the San Juan Islands, from their luxurious inns and upscale restaurants to their evergreen forests and rocky shorelines.

Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands: National Parks, Anacortes, Victoria

The most comprehensive guide to one of the most popular activities in one of the most amazing playgrounds on Earth! As a hiking destination, the San Juan Islands of Washington and their sister islands to the north offer scores of parks and preserves, hundreds of miles of trails catering to hikers of all levels, and year-round accessibility.

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