San Juan County

Orcas Island

Stunning, 54-square-mile Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juans and offers comprehensive tourist services. Getting around the summer traffic on this horseshoe-shaped island takes some time, unless, of course, you have a boat. Bicyclists have to contend with hilly terrain, but Orcas is so beautiful you'll be glad of any mode of transport that provides a tour of the island.

Parks, Beaches, and Recreation Areas

Moran State Park
In 1920, Robert Moran, a shipbuilder and a former mayor of Seattle, donated 2,600 of Orcas Island's acres to the state for use as this park. Moran State Park has since expanded to more than 5,000 acres and includes 2 mountains, 5 lakes, 30 miles of foot trails, and 300 acres of old-growth forest. Visitors can camp, picnic, fish, swim, boat, and hike here. Most trails run through the woods, but you will find paths with views of Lopez, Lummi, Blakely, Matia, Barnes, Cypress, and Clark Islands. The park is open year-round, but it's busiest on summer weekends. Cold Springs is a particularly pleasant picnic spot, set in an isolated stand of timber. Dogs must be kept on a leash (eight feet in length or less) at all times, and they are not allowed to annoy other park visitors. Scooping is also required.

Aside from its many trails and lakes, perhaps Moran's greatest attraction is its views from Mount Constitution (elevation 2,409 feet) and Little Summit Lookout (elevation 2,039 feet). You can drive, bike, or hike to either. From the park's only road, there's a cutoff to Mount Constitution. The cutoff veers left just before Mountain Lake, but it's closed at dusk and during winter snowfall. The summit of Mount Constitution offers a spectacular 360-degree view. On a clear day, you can see Vancouver, B.C., Vancouver Island, Mount Garibaldi (north of Vancouver), Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and the Olympics. The 52-foot tower at the top of Mount Constitution was designed by renowned architect Elsworth Storey, patterned after the 12th-century watchtowers in the Caucasus Mountains, and built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). CCC workers built the tower with sandstone blocks from an island quarry and forged and shaped its decorative wrought-iron gates, railings, and barriers.

Moran State Park has 151 campsites, open year-round. You'll find sites at the north end of the park (on a wooded slope above the road, across from Cascade Lake), in the middle of the park at the south end of Cascade Lake, and at Mountain Lake. Mountain Lake is a reservoir, so swimming is not allowed, but fishing is permitted.

From the Orcas Island ferry landing, turn left (west) on Orcas to Olga Road and continue for 15 miles to the park. (360) 376-2326.

Obstruction Pass Recreation Site
Obstruction Pass is a Washington State Department of Natural Resources park, with nine free campsites and two picnic sites. There are outdoor toilets, three mooring buoys, and good access to the shoreline. Potable water is not available. Dogs must be leashed, and quiet hours are in force from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M.

From the ferry landing, turn immediately left (west) on Orcas to Olga Road. Proceed on Orcas to Olga Road for approximately 16 miles. Turn left (east) on Olga to Point Lawrence Road (also known as Doe Bay Road). Drive on Olga to Point Lawrence Road for just over one-half mile, then turn right (south) on Obstruction Pass Road and continue to the park. (360) 856-3500.

Places to Stay

Doe Bay Village Resort: Doe Bay provides a great, retro-hippie-1960s weekend. And dogs are welcome during the off-season for a $10 per-night fee. Dogs are not allowed between June 16 and September 16. Stay leashed on the premises. Loose dogs are a real problem with the sheep raised on the island, plus most of the deer are almost tame in their disregard of humans and their dogs. Doe Bay calls its cabins and retreat facilities "rustic," but "funky" might be more apt. You'll find light bulbs hanging from ceiling fixtures, and you can hang your gear on nails stuck in the bedroom and bathroom walls. But, hey, it's basically clean, the bathrooms have those 5,000-foot rolls of toilet paper, and the price is right. Rates for a cabin range from $49 to $110. The larger ones have three bedrooms with a kitchen and utensils. There's a $10 charge for each additional person. Campsites are available too, ranging in cost from $12-$24.

Doe Bay calls its cabins and retreat facilities "rustic," but "funky" might be more apt. You'll find light bulbs hanging from ceiling fixtures, and you can hang your gear on nails stuck in the bedroom and bathroom walls. But, hey, it's basically clean, the bathrooms have toilet paper, and the price is right. Rates for a three-bedroom unit, with a kitchen and utensils, range from $40 to $90 a night. There's a $10 charge for each additional person.

Doe Bay Resort & Retreat has a good natural-foods restaurant (open for breakfast and dinner) as well as guided kayak trips (the $40 per-person fee covers a three-hour guided trip, kayak, and all required gear). As we paddled away one morning, we watched a man doing his tai chi. When we paddled back in to the beach, an accordionist playing slow, wistful, melancholic polkas serenaded us.

Doe Bay's clothing-optional mineral baths and sauna are a big attraction, too. Two hot tubs hold about 10 people each if you're willing to rub, uh, elbows. The same principle applies to the cold tub, which accommodates around 20 folks. Dogs are not welcome in the tubs, but they like to watch the fun. 86 Star Route; (360) 376-2291.

Moran State Park camping: See above.

North Beach Inn: A tip from Sandy, my first girlfriend and a lifelong friend, led us to Orcas Island's North Beach Inn. The inn offers pleasant cabins, each with a kitchenette and fireplace, facing north toward Sucia and Matia Islands. The owners have dogs of their own, and they allow visitors to bring a maximum of two well-behaved pooches. There's a two-night minimum-stay requirement. Summer rates are $105 for a one-bedroom unit, $160 for a two-bedroom unit, and $185 for a three-bedroom unit. Off-season rates are lower. Each dog costs $10 per night or $50 per week. (360) 376-2660.

Obstruction Pass Recreation Site camping: See above.

West Beach Resort: A stay at Eastsound's West Beach Resort, like travel in the San Juans, resembles a journey back in time. "We try to keep West Beach Resort as much like the 1920s as possible," says the owner of the resort, which was built in 1928. Dogs are allowed in some of the one- and two-bedroom cabins, which are equipped with kitchens (including dog-friendly linoleum flooring) and a great location--right on the beach. Upon check-in, dog owners are required to sign a "pet agreement" specifying that there will be "no evidence of a pet" in your cabin when you leave. Common sense will prevent any problems. The deposit has been withheld only twice: once when the dog had obviously slept on the couch, and again when an owner tied his dog up to a tree and left for the day. Imagine the barking. Dogs tend to run around here and swim a lot in the President Channel between Orcas and Waldron Islands. There's also a handy lake, so bring a lot of your own towels. The owner says that, "We're looking for the perfect dog with no fleas who doesn't shed." Let her know if you've made any discoveries.

The dog fee is $10 a night, in addition to a $50 deposit. The room rate at West Beach is seasonal: during the high season, July through August, cabins rent only by the week for $1,025 for up to four people; from mid-September to mid-June, nightly rates are $100 for up to four people; and in the winter, rates drop to $90 a night. West Beach also has 40 summer campsites, some equipped with RV hookups. Rates are about $30 for RV sites and $25 for standard sites, which accommodate up to three people. Route 1; (360) 376-2240 or (877) 937-8224,

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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