San Juan Islands islands
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Your guide to San Juan Islands
All About San Juan Islands
Tucked between Washington State’s northwestern coast and Canada’s Vancouver Island lies the San Juan Islands — a breathtaking archipelago comprising more than 170 scenic enclaves, some visible only during low tide. The three largest islands, San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island, are geographically unique and offer distinct ways to experience the island chain. San Juan Island is home to two architectural gems — the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, poised atop a rocky bluff on the west side, and Cattle Point Lighthouse, which sits perched atop a windswept precipice at the island’s southern tip.
Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands’ vibrant town and marina, is buzzing with waterfront restaurants that take advantage of fresh seafood, island-grown produce, and local wines. Orcas Island is full of hiking trails that pass through rocky hills and dense, cliffside rainforests with spectacular views at every turn. For some of the best sandy beaches, you’ll want to check out Lopez Island, home to Shark Reef Sanctuary and Iceberg Point. And beyond this island’s rugged coastline, the deep blue waters of the Salish Sea are teeming with diverse marine life, including seals, sea lions, otters, and its most notable resident, the orca whale.
When is the best time to stay in a vacation rental in San Juan Islands?
The spring and summer months boast idyllic conditions for outdoor recreation. Vibrant wildflowers, including fawn lilies, blue camas, and Indian paintbrush, embellish the mountain tops during the spring. From July through August, brilliant shades of purple blanket a private 25-acre lavender farm as the flowers reach peak bloom. Though whales can be spotted year-round, mid-June through early September is the peak season for spying orcas, humpbacks, and minke whales. Outdoor recreation is still possible during the winter months, though it may be best to pack extra layers to stay warm. The colder months are also an excellent time to explore museums, including The San Juan Islands Museum of Art, San Juan Historical Museum, and The Whale Museum, one of the country’s first museums dedicated to a living wild species.
What are the top things to do in San Juan Islands?
Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Visible throughout the San Juan Archipelago, Turtle Mountain offers scenic panoramas in every direction. The north and south trailheads connect via an eight-mile trail network that winds over rugged ridges, through wildflower-filled meadows, verdant wetlands, and lush temperate rainforest. This trail network links to the Turtlehead Trail, which takes you to a soaring bluff with sweeping views of Vancouver Island, the Olympic Mountains, and beyond. On clear days, you may even be able to spot the summit of Mount Rainier in the distance.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Also known as Whale Watch Park, Lime Kiln Point State Park is a premier spot for checking out the planet’s largest mammals. Perched atop a rocky cliff, against the backdrop of deep blue waters, is the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, which still assists ships navigating the Haro Strait. The park offers almost two miles of hiking trails, tide pools, and historic lime kilns dating back to the 19th century.
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park
Located on the north end of San Juan Island, at the entrance to Roche Harbor, you’ll find Sculpture Park, a lush 20-acre park that’s home to more than 150 art sculptures bearing unique and striking designs from global sculptors. The park features various trails twisting through the gardens, Frog Pond, and Westcott Bay.