The San Juan Islands are sandwiched between Washington State and Canada’s Vancouver Island and promise a laid-back outdoor adventure. You won’t find buzzing nightlife or high-rise resorts and malls—this archipelago is all about enjoying the natural world. Whale watching, kayaking, and exploring historic parks—it's a lot to pack into your first trip. Luckily, you can’t go wrong exploring the beautiful landscapes and wildlife on the islands and in the surrounding areas.
I'm happy to share my recommendations gleaned from my visits for what to do in three fun-filled days in the San Juan Islands. Note that reaching the San Juan islands is easy, thanks to the Washington State Ferry system, with year-round ferries from Anacortes (reservations suggested).
It's usually chilly in the San Juan Islands, so pack comfy layers.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Orcas Island.
Start with a fun water activity. On a small group kayak tour out of Anacortes, you soak in the scenery and learn about the area's history. Spot harbor seals, circumnavigate Burrows Island, and see Olympic Mountain and the Rosario Strait from your kayak.
Later, go whale watching with a boat tour from Friday Harbor. The marine mammals spend six months a year here, and it's ideal to spot killer whales and orcas.
Finally, indulge with a guided tasting at The Orcas Project in Eastsound. Enjoy a local wine flight with cheese pairings, and explore boutique shops before having a cozy meal.
Visit Orca Island and try sailing with an instructor and admire the rugged, forested island from the water. You'll hopefully spot a few of the island's namesake mammals.
In the afternoon, head to Lopez Island for a tour that'll help you climb some of the world's tallest trees (some firs are 20 stories high). Views of the ocean, wildlife, and environment await.
You've earned relaxation time. Get off the islands and make the trek to Chuckanut Bay Distillery in Bellingham for a tour of its facilities, where grain is made into whiskey, vodka, and gin. Enjoy complimentary cocktails and a take-home glass.
Finally, take a mainland adventure and climb Mt. Erie, Little Si, or Mt. Washington for views of the San Juan Islands. It's a good place to learn to climb.
Alternatively, take the route from Bellingham through North Cascade National Park on Mt. Baker. An active volcano, also known as Koma Kulshan, Mt. Baker is covered by glaciers. Don't worry, its last lava eruption was 6,700 years ago.
Another Bellingham option is to bike Galbraith Mountain. Its single-track trails go through lush rainforest with views of Bellingham Bay and Chuckanut Mountains.