Orca gathering photo by Jim Maya
This horseshoe-shaped island, known as “the gem of the San Juans,” boasts Mount Constitution, which is the highest mountain in the islands, as well as charming hamlets and beautiful shoreline — all of which can be viewed on the Scenic Byway driving tour. The two-to-three-hour long drive meanders past spots designated for their unique beauty or historical significance, including the 75-year-old Orcas Island Pottery, which sits on a 100-foot-high bluff overlooking President’s Channel.
At Moran State Park, visitors can drive the 2,409 feet to the top of Mount Constitution for a wheelchair accessible view of the islands below, Marrett says. That view includes snow-capped Mount Baker, part of the Cascades Range on the mainland, and the island-dotted sea around Orcas Island.
Calhoun adds the park also has an accessible day use picnic site, one campsite and a vacation house rental.
Other things to do and see on Orcas Island:
Deer Harbor Marina: Located on the southwest side of the island, or the Sunny Side as it’s commonly called, this is the place to go if you’re interested in fishing, crabbing, kayaking and whale watching. The marina and the shops along it are accessible.
Eastsound: This historic village nestled above Fishing Bay is considered Orcas Island’s “downtown.” Strolling along its accessible streets, visitors will find restaurants, shops and art galleries that exhibit paintings, ceramics, photography and more. About half the stores are considered ADA compliant, according to Marrett. During summer Saturdays, there’s a farmers market and live music on the village green.
Orcas Center, the performing arts center in Eastsound, is wheelchair accessible and schedules dance, music, theater and visual arts performances.
Known as the “Friendly Isle,” Lopez is 15 miles long with forests, rolling farmlands, quiet bays and 63 miles of shoreline. Bald eagles and a variety of water birds can be spotted here.
Arriving at Lopez on his 24-foot aluminum fishing boat, Calhoun likes to spend time at Fisherman Bay, “because it’s close to my crabbing and fishing spots.”
Overall, Calhoun says Lopez Island has a lot of useable and some very accessible venues, especially the newer businesses and building areas.
He suggests driving from Fisherman Bay to Fisherman Bay Reserve, which has a gravel parking lot with gravel trail to an overlook at the bay. Other hiking trails take you to a sandy beach at the entrance of the bay where old reef nets and old boats lay on the beach. “There are lots of seals in the area,” he says. “You may even see fishermen on their towers in the water with drift nets fishing for salmon in late July.”
Visitors to Lopez Village, which is four miles from the ferry landing, can roam among the shops and art galleries, coffee shops, bakery and restaurants. Marrett points out that this commercial hub of the island has no curbs, and gravel pathways — not paved — lead to most businesses. Public restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
Lopez Village Park has accessible restrooms and showers for boaters, says Calhoun, but they are often used by campers.
Lopez Islander Resort and Marina has useable docks and pier with easy access to the restaurant from boats. The pool area across the street has good access — once you get through the gravel parking area — for showers and restrooms. The restaurant there has an accessible restroom.
Odlin County Park, just a mile from the ferry landing, is another popular spot. It has been newly remodeled and offers some very accessible features, according to Calhoun. “There’s a day use area, boat launch, small dock, one new accessible RV spot, four useable beach tent sites, some vault toilets and a covered accessible picnic shelter,” he says.
Fewer than 10 square miles, Shaw is the smallest of the San Juan ferry-served islands.
Many visitors take a day trip to Shaw, and if they are staying on one of the larger islands, riding the interisland ferry is free. At the ferry landing, there’s a general store with a deli, but the island has no markets, restaurants or hotels.
Many visitors head to Shaw because its biking trails are easier than those on the other islands. Other tourists plan to visit the University of Washington biological preserve or Our Lady of the Rock Benedictine monastery, where the resident nuns run an active farm.
But even our San Juan Islands “expert” Rory Calhoun says he hasn’t spent much time on Shaw because “there isn’t much to do there.”
Getting to the San Juans