The San Juan Islands feel like some kind of charmed alternate universe.
All of the events and worries of the real world barely touch this isolated archipelago in the northwest corner of the state. The San Juans have a magical quality, where residents wave hello to complete strangers, farm-fresh eggs are available everywhere along the side of the road, and resident orca whales swim in the gorgeous waters of the Salish Sea.
For these reasons and more, a trip to the San Juans is truly a serene, time-bending adventure — one that requires a bit of planning for RVers. Camping options are limited, ferry rides can be hard to book and expensive, and reservations are essential during high season.
Still, it’s worth it. Even our short journey in early April felt special as we explored Lopez and Orcas islands.
Here are a few tips if you’re thinking of visiting this very special place.
Spencer Spit is exceptional — featuring a beautiful beach situated on a protected bay. None of the campsites are powered, unless you can snag one of the two campground host sites with power. We lucked out and had a powered host site that was empty during our one-night stay.
On Orcas Island, Moran State Park is not on the beach — instead it’s upland. It features a winding road to the top of Mount Constitution (elevation 2,409 feet), the highest point in the San Juans, and more than 30 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Elsewhere, you’ll find campsites at the rustic San Juan County parks on Lopez, Shaw and San Juan islands.
Private resorts: For RVers who want hook-ups, private resorts are the best option. We stayed at West Beach Resort on Orcas Island, a popular Old School destination with cabins, platform “glamping” tents, and an RV camping area set on a grassy field.
On the isolated northwest side of the horseshoe-shaped Orcas, West Beach Resort offers stunning views of President’s Channel where if you’re lucky, you might see members of the southern resident killer whale J Pod swim by. We saw those famous dorsal fins skimming the surface at sunset, and considered ourselves lucky indeed.
Elsewhere, Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island also offers hook-up camping.
The island vibe: If you’ve ever visited the San Juans, you know that “island time” is a real thing. Nobody’s really in a hurry — in fact, you can’t be when you’re dependent on Washington State Ferries to come and go.
Our two days on the islands felt like much longer. Because of the slow pace, it felt perfectly natural to simply hang out, read a book, gaze at the water or watch eagles soar overhead.
Island people seem to like visitors. On Lopez, known as “the friendly isle,” everyone gives you the “hi” sign as you drive along. So don’t be a grump, be ready to wave “howdy” right back.
Reservations: One of the costs of coming to the San Juan Islands is that you need to plan ahead.
Accommodations and dining options are limited, but the biggest factor driving the agenda on the islands is the Washington State Ferry schedule. If you plan to come and go, you absolutely must schedule your reservations ahead, even in low-travel times.
And even if you do have a reservation, ferries are often delayed. Our ferry off of Orcas was nearly two hours late from its scheduled departure.
No worries. Consider it “island time.”