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Summer in the San Juans

Sweeping sky and sea vistas, outdoor festivals and lingering summer sunsets set the stage for nature lovers to enjoy “island time.” 

Even after 40 years of island living, come June, I spring into summer mode like a kid on vacation. Hiking boots emerge from closet clutter, and my kayak once again sits ready on the water’s edge. Grey skies turn to sunny days for weeks on end. Daytime highs are in the 70s, humidity is low and evenings always cool down—July and August average only an inch of rain.  

Ferry at sunrise with Mount Baker, Lopez ferry landing, Bill Evans Photography

 

Take a Hike  

Hiking is my favorite island activity, and the one that draws the most visitors. Choose from easy walks to challenging climbs across landscapes whose micro-climates support everything from cacti to centuries-old cedar trees and giant sword-ferns. 

Orcas Island, hiking Turtle Back Mt, Dana Halfery
Hiking on Orcas Island, photo by @bearcat389

At Lime Kiln Point State Park (AKA Whale Watch Park), on San Juan Island, take the shoreline trail. If you’re fortunate, you’ll see orca whales foraging in the bull kelp beds below. Visit the photogenic 1919 lighthouse at sunset for a fiery-orange sky and seascape shot. Take your time; summer sunsets linger well past 9 pm. The San Juan Island National Historical Park’s two units, one at American Camp and one at English Camp, are island favorites, both offer beach strolls, forest and prairie hikes with stunning snow-capped mountain views.  

Moody sunset at Lime Kiln Lighthouse, Photo by Robert Harrison

Moran State Park on Orcas Island provides steep climbs and clear lakes for a cool-down swim after hiking, biking or horseback riding throughout the 40-mile network of trails. The summit of Mount Constitution, at 2,409 feet, provides the most spectacular view in the islands—a 180-degree view of white-shrouded Mount Baker and islands scattered below.  

On Lopez Island, take the forest trail to Shark Reef Sanctuary, you’ll be greeted by the barks of seals, sea lions and the wheeling cries of seagulls. Look for bald eagles in the trees and sleek, playful otters in the emerald green water along the shoreline.  

Orcas Island, hikingMoran State Park,  Dana Halfery
Aerial hiking on San Juan Island by Dana Halferty

 

Bucolic Biking  

A Lopez Island bike ride traverses easy routes alongside wide-open stretches of waterfront, through evergreen-scented forest and pasturelands dotted with livestock and farm stands. Orcas Island, on the other hand, has multiple challenging climbs and winding roads—recommended for experienced bike riders only. San Juan Island has gentle shoreline routes, lush farm valley pedals and steep ascents along moss-covered hillsides. All three islands offer bike and equipment rentals for regular and electric assist bikes. Bike shop owners offer repairs and expert recommendations for the safest and most scenic routes. 

Biking on Lopez Island by Robert Harrison

 

 

Paddle or Sail the Salish Sea 

The San Juans are a world-renowned destination for sea kayaking. With protected bays, wildlife sanctuary islands, and campgrounds at state marine parks, they offer challenges for any skill level. In summer, vivid sunset paddles on glassy seas are the norm and at night look for bioluminescence in the water. An experienced tour-guide is the key to kayaking safely in areas suited to your skill level. Or, take it easy and go for a sunset sail aboard a historic schooner or powerboat, instead. However you experience the Salish Sea, the chance of seeing orca, minke or humpback whales or other playful marine mammals such as dolphins and porpoise is often present. 

Kayaking to Stuart Island by Dana Halferty
Spike Africa, Greg Hertel photo

 

The Gourmet Archipelago 

After nature, a little nurture is in order. Each island serves succulent fresh shellfish sourced from nearby seafood farms. And, seed-to-table dining from on-site gardens and garden-to-glass drinks created with island-foraged berries and botanicals have earned the islands the moniker “the gourmet archipelago.” 

Vineyards offer tastings in serene settings on all three islands, and San Juan and Orcas Islands have breweries and that serve up tastings in lively atmospheres. Local liquid artists capture the island’s briny and evergreen essence in drinks such as the award-winning Bull Kelp ESB from San Juan Brewery or San Juan Island Distillery’s Salal Berry or Salish Juniper Spy Hop gins. 

San Juan Vineyards  Harvest & Barrel Tasting Events
Pink Scallops at Coho Restaurant in Friday Harbor by Lindsey Smith
san juan brewing

 

Cool Summer Suggestions 

Shakespeare Under the Stars performances and outdoor concerts spell summer throughout the islands. On San Juan Island, the charming and quirky San Juan County Fair—think zucchini and chicken races—is not to be missed. Nor is the annual Pelindaba Lavender and Arts Festival—imagine deep purple fields buzzing with bees and tents filled with local food and crafts. And, of course, the intoxicating smell of lavender everywhere. 

Pelindaba Lavender Farm by Robert Harrison

Wherever you go and whatever you do, please make sure to follow the San Juan Islands’ 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, because as much as islanders welcome visitors, we also ask you to help protect the places and wildlife we love. 

Be a Responsible Traveler

Be a Responsible Traveler

Join us in enjoying and protecting the islands we love