Day Trips from Seattle: Orcas Island

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Jumping orca whale near canoeist, Orcas Island

Summary of Content

Orcas Island Ferry Terminal

The horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island is home to the beautiful Moran State Park, relaxing beaches, and convenient camping places. Boating or kayaking, the choice is yours, the promise is an unforgettable experience and stunning views from the protected waters of Orcas Island. It is a perfect place for a day trip from Seattle with or without an overnight stay. I personally decided to stay overnight since this was going to be my first camping trip and I was excited to experience it all.  

On the Way to Orcas

I wanted to leave from Bellevue, earlier around 8, to give myself enough time to get there, get my ticket and line up for the ferry departing at 10:35 as I know from my previous experiences with a ferry, going to Whidbey Island, for example, can take a while. Leaving at 8am didn’t really happen because while going through my stuff I found out that I forgot to get a camping chair, so I wanted to wait for REI at open at 9am, get the chair and hit the road. So I did! 

PRO TIP: If you are from the Pacific Northwest (and not only) and you love sports and outing, make sure you check out REI! It’s a Seattle- native company with amazing traditions, its a co-op, I just can’t recommend them enough.

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Driving up north on I-5 is always a breeze and arrived at the Anacortes Ferry terminal at 10:48am sure that I have missed the ferry. In my mind, I had re-planned the trip given the circumstances and was ready to buy a ticket for the next ferry at 1:45pm. 

Anacortes Ferry Terminal

At the ticket counter, while purchasing the ticket, the lady told me that the ferry is actually late and if I’m lucky I might be able to get on it, just need to be on standby. I was pleased. Wasn’t fortunate to make the earlier one, so I had to wait for the next one. But, hey, that was great! I got to walk the dog around the beach and have a relaxing time and lunch at the ferry terminal overlooking Mt Baker. Fantastic view and relaxation heaven. So it wasn’t that bad overall.

Anacortes Ferry Terminal
Anacortes Ferry Terminal

Moral of the story- If you want to be fully prepared and to make sure that your plan goes smoothly (when including ferry rides), make sure you reserve your spot on the ferry either by calling +1-888-808-7977 or going online at Washington State Ferry.

Note: All the tickets sold are round trip. My ticket cost $55.20 from Anacortes to Orcas Island.

The long wait is over! We started boarding on the 1:45pm ferry which was also late and was now a 3pm ferry. Boarding was fast and the excitement to spend an hour riding on the main deck admiring the majestic views of the straight of Juan De Fuca was building. Perhaps this is the best part of a ferry island hopping- enjoying the nature we are surrounded with. 

PRO TIP: Sunscreen and a light jacket are a must if you are going to the main deck. The sun can be quite strong, and before you know it, you will end up looking like a crab. The winds are also sharp so staying warm is a priority. Wearing sunglasses can be tricky as they can fly out any moment.

Make sure you are on the lookout for Orcas and Whales as they are very often seen in this area. We were not so lucky to witness the killer whales, but June and July are promised to give you a glimpse of those beautiful creatures.

Orcas Island and all its Beauty

It is 4:15pm. Finally, after a 4h wait at the ferry terminal and about an hour ferry ride we are on Orcas land. First impressions- greenery everywhere!!! Driving from the ferry terminal to Eastsound was a short but full of things to see. I didn’t have time to stop at any of the farms along the road, but a friend of mine said that the produce is fantastic, will definitely give it a try next time.

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Camping

If you are camping and you get there as late as I did, I would recommend that you stop at the Ranger’s booth at Moran State Park (if your campsite is in the park) located on the right side before the entrance to the park. There you can check in ( check-in time is 2:30pm) and register your vehicle. You will receive a Discover pass (it is included with your campsite reservation fee) valid for one day if you don’t have or want to buy the yearly pass. 

Before After
Northend Campsite, Moran State Park

Then I head to the campsite. Setting up early, before it gets too dark, sounded like a good idea. When I was reserving, there were not a whole lot of camp spots left, but the place I got assigned to was perfect. There was also a campfire set up too. You can buy some wood from an RV located at the path to the campsites next to the bathrooms because…. who doesn’t like smores? It costs about $6 a pack.

TIP: I forgot to mention that wildlife is everywhere and they are so fearless, the deer will come up right to you. Hence the fact, you should be careful how you drive around the island, they can pop in front of your hood in seconds

Eastsound

Now all is set up and time to explore. First stop will be the Eastsound town. On arrival impressions of the central town on the island- coquette little shops and restaurants situated on the top of the horseshoe between the East Sound and the open ocean. Orcas Island food co-op is a small, have it all grocery store. Here you can find a lot of local produce, drink, foods and probably anything you need for a one-day camping trip plus some home essentials. Friendly staff made the experience even better. I didn’t think I would find anything special that we don’t have in Seattle, but I was wrong. On refrigerated shelves, I saw a small jar of coconut yogurt. The branding seems familiar to me. It was the same company I buy Kombucha from- GT. A living cocoyoughurt with turmeric and ginger. Yes, living, it was so fizzy. Let me tell you, this delight was perhaps the best yoghurt I’ve had besides Bulgarian of course. It was really interesting.

Orcas Island Downtown
View from Downtown Eastsound
Orcas Island Downtown
Outlook Inn, sitting right on the water

Beer with + a view of the sound= Madrona Bar and Grill. The New American restaurant in Eastsound will leave your belly happy, and your thirst quenched while admiring the Sound and its waters washing the beaches of Orcas Island.

Cascade Lake

Since time was flying fast, efficiency had to be held in high regards, so I drove to all locations on my list, but beautiful Cascade lake deserves a bit of a walk around with the dog. The place is serene even though there was a lot of tourist like me, it just felt like the best place to be when the sun has started its descent. Ideal for family fishing, I saw a lot of parents teaching their kids to fish. I believe motorized boats are not allowed in the lake. However, kayaks and paddle boards are easily rented at the lake. Not to mention the booth with Lopez Island ice cream, delicious!!! That alone can make a day trip from Seattle way worth it.

Cascade Lake at Moran State Park

Mt. Consitution

Mt Constitution, Moran State Park

The next stop on my Orcas Island to do list was the highest peak on the mountain. As you could expect the views are what I was after. There are few different ways to get up to the top. If you have time and start early enough, you can do the longest hike that starts close to Cascade lake. Some shorter hikes start from Mountain lake but if you don’t have time, cant walk or don’t enjoy hiking driving up to the top is the best option. Yes, you can get from anywhere to the very top. Sneak peaks of the view that you are about to experience are revealed on your drive up. 

Mt Constitution, Moran State Park
Mt Constitution, Moran State Park

It is difficult to describe the view here. Definitely, the #1 must visit place on the island, I would say. While sitting on what seems like a blanket of trees, views of British Columbia and the coastal United States are revealed before your eyes. A man-made tower extends your views to even higher heights. It also serves as a museum with information about the island and the design and construction of the tower.

Sunset

Sunset North Beach, Orcas Island

Thankfully days are getting longer and longer, so I had extra time to visit the beautiful North Beach for sunset which locals are swearing by. Sunset is over, and now I know why locals are recommending this beach as the #1 place on Orcas Island to enjoy a sunset. It was simply stunning. The public access zone is a small strip off the road, to the right and left is private property and can get crowded with people, but its worth it and I got to take some cool shots.

Until Next Time Orcas

Now that we are left speechless by the sunset maybe the best idea is to start a fire, make some s’mores and enjoy a cold beer. I couldn’t wait until I get home to view the photos and write a few lines about my one day trip from Seattle experience. There is something about a cold beer on a warm summer night, with fresh mountain/ island air that sparks productivity. Even though it was a long day, energy was still high, and I was able to finish editing some of the photos and put my thoughts together to help you experience the island at its best or perhaps inspire you to take this one day trip to Orcas Island on your own.

Would You Visit Orcas Island on a Beautiful Day trip from Seattle?

Orcas Island Ferry Terminal

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Hi there! I’m Atanas — I’ve been traveling around the world since I was 15, so about 12 years, but just recently got into writing. My mission is to inspire more people to take on the journey of their lives and spread the word that traveling the world can be easy, fun and not cost a fortune!

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