Orcas Island, Washington.

Orcas Island

Orcas Island is the biggest island in the San Juan archipelago, situated in the far northwestern portion of the San Juan County in the US State of Washington. This San Juan Island paradise combines many activities with spectacular coastline charm. Orcas epitomize the finest of island living, from stunning mile-long views to woodland pottery workshops.

Geography Of Orcas Island

Aerial view of Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, Washington
Aerial view of Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, Washington. 

Orcas Island is located in the US State of Washington, above the northern entrance to Puget Sound, about 136.8km north of Seattle. Orcas is also the largest of the San Juan Islands in terms of land size, having a total area of 148.4 sq. km. The island's year-round population of 5,395 is dispersed around the island, but the small village of Eastsound, located in the island's northern end, serves as the commercial and social center. Orcas Island is popular with bikers who like a challenging ride due to its rocky terrain. Mount Constitution is the highest peak in the San Juans, rising 2,409 feet above sea level, and cyclists who brave the steep road up to the summit will be greeted with spectacular views of the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands in adjacent British Columbia.

Climate Of Orcas Island

Summers at Orcas Island are short, pleasant, dry, and partially overcast, while winters are lengthy, very cold, rainy, and generally cloudy. The average temperature ranges between 2.22°C to 21.6°C throughout the year, with temperatures seldom falling below -3.3°C or rising over 25°C. According to the tourist score, the perfect time to visit Orcas Island for warm-weather activities is from mid-July to late August.

History Of Orcas Island

View of homes in Orcas Island.

Many Coast Salish tribes inhabited the islands from about 13,000 years ago. Spanish explorers named Orcas Island after New Spain's viceroy as "Horcasitas." The island was initially claimed by Spain, followed by Britain, and then it became a part of the United States. The first white settlers arrived in Orcas as part of Hudson Bay Company's hunting excursions. These hunters eventually settled on Orcas and built houses. Settlements increased modestly during most of the nineteenth century. The villages of West Sound, Olga, Deer Harbor, and Eastsound sprung up along the island's accessible coasts, based around landings and early post offices. Businesses and schools were eventually established, and these little towns became popular stopping points for both passengers and freight. Tourism, centered on as many as 25 local resorts, became popular in the region in the early twentieth century and is an essential component of the local economy today.

The Population And Economy Of Orcas Island

Bouys hang on a barn at a shellfish farm on Orcas Island, Washington
Bouys hang on a barn at a shellfish farm on Orcas Island, Washington. 

The population of Orcas Island is estimated to be 5395 people (with 4453 being the official count in the 2000 census). With a median age of 58, the population is distributed among 50% of males and 50% of females. 91% of White residents make up the population of Orcas Island, while the other 9% ranges between Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Orcas Island has a 4.50 % unemployment rate. Recent job growth has been encouraging as jobs on Orcas Island have grown by 0.05%.

Attractions In Orcas Island

Camp At Moran State Park

Entrance arch at Moran State Park on Orcas Island.
Entrance arch at Moran State Park on Orcas Island. Editorial credit: Cascade Creatives / Shutterstock.com

Moran State Park is the crown jewel of the San Juan Islands. It encompasses 5,000 acres of tough forests, lakes, and mountains on Orcas Island's eastern side. Moran also makes an excellent overnight base camp. There are 124 tent and RV campsites spread throughout four campgrounds in the park: Southend, Midway, Northend, and Mountain Lake.

Turtleback Mountain Preserve

A beautiful view of the surrounding region from Turtleback Mountain Preserve, Orcas Island
View of San Juan, Spieden, Stuart, Johns, South Pender, and South Vancouver Islands from Turtleback Mountain Preserve, Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, Washington. 

Turtleback Mountain, which rises from the western side of the island, is a popular hiking site in the region. The south trailhead and the north trailhead are the two main parking lots and access locations for Turtleback Mountain. The south trailhead is about a five-mile car or bike ride from the ferry terminal. An extensive network of routes links the two trailheads.

Summit of Mount Constitution

It is the highest peak in the San Juan Islands, standing at 2,409 feet above sea level, and provides a beautiful perspective. Visitors can trek, ride a bicycle, or drive a vehicle to reach the peak. The road is accessible from dawn to dusk every day of the year, and various trailheads in the park lead to the top. Bike riders should wear bright clothes as they carefully climb the uphill route.

Boating and Sailing Charters

A pod of wild orcas in the Salish Sea
A pod of wild orcas travels north in the waters of the Salish Sea, the towering Olympic Mountains behind them. 

Several boating businesses on the island provide long water experiences. With so many options, whale viewing is frequently at the top of the list. These enormous marine creatures abound in the nearby Salish Sea. The best time to see whales in the San Juan Islands is between mid-June and early September.

Orcas Island Pottery

On the grounds of Orcas Island Pottery store
On the grounds of Orcas Island Pottery store. Editorial credit: Amehime / Shutterstock.com

Orcas Island Pottery is roughly 3.5 miles from Eastsound Village on the island's west side. Orcas Island Pottery does not have a single store; instead, the entire grounds are packed with handcrafted products to peruse. There are many structures on these retail grounds, including a fantastic treehouse. This scattered buying experience is like meandering around a public park full of gorgeous homemade items.

Orcas Island Golf

Orcas Island Golf is one of the San Juan Islands' few courses, and it is unquestionably the most gorgeous. The course is located six miles north of the ferry terminal and was built to take advantage of the island's steep terrain. Orcas Island offers nine courses, but each hole has two different tee boxes, giving you a total of 18 holes to choose from.

Orcas Island has long been a beloved island hideaway. Many consider it the gem of the San Juan Islands, where time slows down and the bustle of city life appears worlds away. It provides everything visitors might desire in a rural escape and many of the high-quality facilities they'd expect to find in a city. It has beautiful shopping, delectable food, and an artsy community.


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