What are the San Juan Islands? Flickr: blmoregon Ever thought you could feel close to paradise while not traveling far from Seattle? Imagine exploring remote islands with natural wonders, landscapes and adventure, without leaving the Western coast? Of the 172 San Juan Islands scattered between Seattle and Vancouver, four major islands are easy to reach by ferry.
Overview of the San Juan Islands:  Typically an archipelago in the northwest US, the San Juan Islands are part of the state of Washington, 90 miles away from Seattle. Named after the Spaniards who chartered the islands in 1791, they would be fought over by the British, the Spanish and the Americans, due to its founding and proximity.  It kept its original name and would eventually become part of the United States.
Today, they are a tourist destination, especially for travelers in Seattle or Vancouver. The islands are hilly, with valleys, rocky beaches and reef bays. To reach the islands, you must take a ferry or travel by air. Most of the islands are uninhabited or rural; only four islands are widely known and visited. It is a nice weekend getaway for Seattle-ites to escape the city and enjoy island hopping, especially during the summer season.
Orcas Island: The largest of the San Juan islands, it is 57 square miles with a population of just over 4,000. Start your island hopping tour here, catching a ferry from Anacortes, Washington, which is 90 minutes north of Seattle. Cyclists will love the hilly lands, a challenge for those on bike and a pleasant driver for those navigating by vehicle. Pay a visit to Moran State Park, with several lakes and hiking trails.
If you’re feeling up for a challenge, try driving, biking or hiking Mt. Constitution, the islands highest point. With an elevation of almost 3,000 feet, you’ll get a panoramic view of the surrounding islands, the Cascade Mountains, and on a clear day, Canadian and American cities.
San Juan Island: The walking friendly San Juan Island is just perfect enough for the traveler who wants to explore on a whim. With everything within walking distance of the ferry landing, you can wander around, or take a San Juan Transit shuttle bus around the island.
Natives to the island agree that Roche Harbor is part of the island experience. At Roche Harbor on the north end, there is a marina filled with artisan booths and yachts. There is an outside open air Museum of Art Sculpture Park with 100 sculptures in a natural setting.
Other quirky attractions are the Pelindaba Lavender Farm for all things Lavender and the Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, with 50 alpacas roaming the lands.
Lopez Island: A bit more laid back than the other larger islands, Lopez Island is home to only 2,500 residents over a 15-mile long and 8-mile wide distance. It is nicknamed the “Friendly Isle,” for its quiet and lovely treasures. This includes 63 miles of shoreline, forests and quiet bays. Wine lovers can indulge at the Lopez Island Vineyards with organically grown grapes to produce fine wine.

Shaw Island: The smallest of the four major islands is Shaw Island, with a year-round population of 240. There are no tourist operators or facilities serving the area, keeping the island very natural in habitat. One can enjoy Shaw Island County Park for a relaxing day out. Be aware that most of the island is privately owned and on most ferry tours, you’ll make a short stop to the island.


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photo: blmoregon

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