Sweeping sky and sea vistas, outdoor festivals and lingering summer sunsets set the stage for nature lovers to enjoy “island time.”
Even after 40 years of island living, come June, I spring into summer mode like a kid on vacation. Hiking boots emerge from closet clutter, and my kayak once again sits ready on the water’s edge. Grey skies turn to sunny days for weeks on end. Daytime highs are in the 70s, humidity is low and evenings always cool down—July and August average only an inch of rain.
Take a Hike
Hiking is my favorite island activity, and the one that draws the most visitors. Choose from easy walks to challenging climbs across landscapes whose micro-climates support everything from cacti to centuries-old cedar trees and giant sword-ferns.
At Lime Kiln Point State Park (AKA Whale Watch Park), at San Juan Island, take the shoreline trail. If you’re fortunate, you’ll see orca whales foraging in the bull kelp beds below. Visit the photogenic 1919 lighthouse at sunset for a fiery-orange sky and seascape shot. Take your time; summer sunsets linger well past 9 pm. The San Juan Island National Historical Park’s two units, one at American Camp and one at English Camp, are island favorites, both offer beach strolls, forest and prairie hikes with stunning snow-capped mountain views.
Moran State Park on Orcas Island provides steep climbs and clear lakes for a cool-down swim after hiking, biking or horseback riding throughout the 40-mile network of trails. The summit of Mount Constitution, at 2,409 feet, provides the most spectacular view in the islands—a 180-degree view of white-shrouded Mount Baker and islands scattered below.
On Lopez Island, take the forest trail to Shark Reef Sanctuary, you’ll be greeted by the barks of seals, sea lions and the wheeling cries of seagulls. Look for bald eagles in the trees and sleek, playful otters in the emerald green water along the shoreline.
A Lopez Island bike ride traverses easy routes alongside wide-open stretches of waterfront, through evergreen-scented forest and pasturelands dotted with livestock and farm stands. Orcas Island, on the other hand, has multiple challenging climbs and winding roads—recommended for experienced bike riders only. San Juan Island has gentle shoreline routes, lush farm valley pedals and steep ascents along moss-covered hillsides. All three islands offer bike and equipment rentals for regular and electric assist bikes. Bike shop owners offer repairs and expert recommendations for the safest and most scenic routes.
Paddle or Sail the Salish Sea
The San Juan Islands are a world-renowned destination for sea kayaking, with protected bays, wildlife sanctuary islands, campgrounds at state marine parks, and some open water challenges. In summer, vivid sunset paddles on glassy seas are the norm and at night look for bioluminescence in the water. An experienced tour-guide is the key to kayaking safely in areas suited to your skill level. Or, take it easy and go for a sunset sail aboard a historic schooner or powerboat, instead. However you experience the Salish Sea, the chance of seeing orca, minke or humpback whales or other playful marine mammals such as dolphins and porpoise is often present.
If your heart is set on seeing as many marine mammals as possible, your best bet is a motorized whale and wildlife tour available from tour companies on all three islands.
The Gourmet Archipelago
After nature, a little nurture is in order. Each island serves succulent fresh shellfish sourced from nearby seafood farms. And, seed-to-table dining from on-site gardens and garden-to-glass drinks created with island-foraged berries and botanicals have earned the islands the moniker “the gourmet archipelago.”
Vineyards offer tastings in serene settings on all three islands, and San Juan and Orcas Islands have breweries and that serve up tastings in lively atmospheres. Local liquid artists capture the island’s briny and evergreen essence in drinks such as the award-winning Bull Kelp ESB from San Juan Brewery or San Juan Island Distillery’s Salal Berry or Salish Juniper Spy Hop gins.
Cool Summer Suggestions
Shakespeare Under the Stars performances and outdoor concerts spell summer throughout the islands. On San Juan Island, the charming and quirky San Juan County Fair—think zucchini and chicken races—is not to be missed. Nor is the annual Pelindaba Lavender and Arts Festival—imagine deep purple fields buzzing with bees and tents filled with local food and crafts. And, of course, the intoxicating smell of lavender everywhere.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, please make sure to follow the San Juan Islands’ 7 Principles of Leave No Trace (www.visitsanjuans.com), because as much as islanders welcome visitors we also ask you to help protect the places and wildlife we love.
About the Islands www.visitsanjuans.com
The Islands are nestled between three great visitor destination—Seattle, Vancouver B.C. and Victoria, B.C., surrounded by the Salish Sea—a natural marine highway of haunting beauty.
The three largest Islands, Orcas, Lopez and San Juan, are served regularly by ferries, seaplanes and wheeled planes. Find well-appointed inns and charming waterfront resorts and renowned chefs who serve food as fresh and exciting as anything you’ll find in Seattle or Vancouver.
Each island has its own distinct character, but all share crisp, ocean-scrubbed air, quiet coves, and crystal-clear water. Here the natural world is tangible. The islands are home to an eclectic mix of artisans, musicians, scientists, farmers, and millionaires.
Barbara Marrettis the Communications Manager at the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau anda Contributing Editor at Crusiing World firstname.lastname@example.org