Tell us everything you know about the San Juans!
July 14, 2009 3:47 PM   Subscribe

The Mister and I are planning to head to the San Juan Islands in Washington for an extended outdoor adventure in September. Tell us what you know about visiting the San Juans!

We are pretty avid hikers and campers and bikers. We'd like to get on the water, too, though we've only been on a kayak once or twice. We're considering doing a multi-day guided kayak tour. This seems a little namby-pamby for diy backpackers but, well, it is open water and there may be whales and they do all the bivouacking and cooking for you. Has anyone done a kayak tour either with or without a guide? Any recommendations on a company -- there's at least 6 to choose from.

Also, we're torn between camping and lodging and may try to do a bit of both. I love the idea of waking up in the early morning and being able to wander out of my tent, make some coffee on my little stove and look out to sea. The lodging there is very expensive so we may do one or two nights lodging as a splurge and camping the rest -- any advice on either of those options. Right now, we're thinking of staying on either San Juan or Orcas island.

Lastly, we're having a bit of a conundrum as to whether to bring our own bikes, rent bikes and/or bring our car with us. The upside to the car is simply hauling our gear around and if we get a crazy ass rainstorm (crossing my fingers that this does not happen) it would be nice to decamp and head to the car. September is usually glorious here in Oregon -- total paradise -- but the coast is something else. If we were just planning to stay at a hotel the whole time, I'd totally bring my bike and leave the car because we could just ditch our stuff at the hotel, take a cab or two as necessary and head out. But, because we're thinking of mixing it up, a car just sounds so much... easier.

Oh, lastly lastly, should we bike on Shaw Island? Is it awesome or would we be better off hiking around somewhere else?
posted by amanda to Travel & Transportation around Medellin, Colombia (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

You will have a great, great time! Hiking on Orcas would be great; it has the highest elevation of any of the islands. I'm sure you know it will be quite cool.
posted by jgirl at 4:16 PM on July 14, 2009

I live on the other side of the border and know the Gulf Islands (really the same island group, just in British Columbia) better, but, in terms of weather, it's really dry and warm (but cold at night!) until the end of September. The rainy season starts more towards the end of October, so you should be fine.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:16 PM on July 14, 2009

there may be whales

And there may also be ferries. You'll never know how big a ferry is until you're near one in a kayak. I say go with a guide, if you're not that experienced.

I went on a shorter guided trip several years ago and am really glad we had the guide there. Sorry I can't remember the name of the company, but the trip left right from the harbor in Deer Harbor (Orcas Island). Would recommend them.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2009

I feel confident saying that you will love Orcas Island! Great hikes. Many moons ago I visited and rented a bare bones cabin at Doe Bay. They have mineral baths there that were great to soak in after hiking. There are also camp sites at Doe Bay too.
posted by peeps! at 5:39 PM on July 14, 2009

I live on the one of the southern Gulf Islands (same archipelago as the San Juans, but on the Canadian side of Boundary Pass) and do a lot of kayaking. If you're not experienced, I would definitely recommend an organized tour (either that or take some sea kayaking courses before you go). Whales aren't really an issue, but there are lots of places with strong currents and you'll want some knowledge of how to avoid them (or experience and techniques to deal with them). Winds can pick up unexpectedly as well, and there is lots of boat traffic. In addition, any good kayak rental place is going to require that you know how to get back in a kayak if you flip before they let you go on your own.

Septembers here are usually really nice, and by then the hordes of tourists have reduced in numbers significantly so shopkeepers etc. tend to be less grumpy.

And yeah, "waking up in the early morning and being able to wander out of my tent, make some coffee on my little stove and look out to sea" is one of the best things in life. Especially if you pick a spot where you can see the sun rise. It's so worth it to go on a kayak tour because it's the only way to access the best spots.

I can't help with specifics, unfortunately, because I haven't spent any time on the San Juans (that pesky border in the way). I'm hoping to get over there this summer to do some exploring so I'll be keenly watching this thread.
posted by Emanuel at 5:46 PM on July 14, 2009

The ferry ride is expensive and the wait lines can be long, especially during the tourism months. September should be the tail of the season, but don't be surprised if you have to wait for the next boat.

This website will be your friend.

Have a good time!
posted by karizma at 6:10 PM on July 14, 2009

I biked the islands a few years ago. We stay at some rustic cabins that were on the water's edge. Outdoor fireplaces. I will try to find the info. Great time. There were 8 of us. We sea kayaked and I had never been in one. We took a tour on a private ferry. We rode two of the islands; one we pedaled to the top of the mountain then came halfway down and ate lunch at a hotel on the water in some small town. My point is it was great and I will try to find the specific details to post here.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:59 PM on July 14, 2009

Here are some books. I have this one and like it. I'm providing the links because bookstores tend not to have SJI/Gulf Islands books, just the more general Pac NW stuff.
posted by jgirl at 1:08 PM on July 15, 2009

Response by poster: Hmmm... sounds like we can't go wrong with Orcas. And all the comments are getting me stoked to go! I think you all are right and we won't go kayaking without a guide.
posted by amanda at 8:35 PM on July 15, 2009

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