North and west of Whidbey Island, midway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada, the unspoiled SAN JUAN ISLANDS are scattered across the northern reaches of Puget Sound, with plenty of small-town charm, culinary treats and killer whales offshore. Every summer brings lots of visitors, especially on the largest islands, San Juan and Orcas, so you’re well advised to book your stay and transport in advance. Ferries depart Anacortes on the mainland, eighty miles north of Seattle, where you can also catch services to Sidney in Canada.

Orcas Island

Horseshoe-shaped ORCAS ISLAND offers a bucolic getaway with rugged hills that tower over its fetching farm country, craggy beaches and abundant wildlife. The island’s highlight is Moran State Park off Horseshoe Highway southeast of Eastsound (the main island settlement), where more than thirty miles of hiking trails wind through dense forest and open fields to freshwater lakes and to the summit of Mount Constitution – the San Juans’ highest point at 2409ft – crowned with a medieval-style stone observation tower.

San Juan Island

SAN JUAN ISLAND is best known as the site of, at the southern tip, San Juan Island National Historical Park, where the American Camp (360 378 2902,, once played a role in the so-called “Pig War”, a rather absurd 1859 border confrontation between the USA and Britain (no shots were fired, and the island was officially ceded to the USA in 1872). More appealing is English Camp, to the west (same entry as American Camp), where forests overlook rolling fields and maple trees near the shore, and four buildings from the 1860s and a small formal garden have been restored.

Friday Harbor is a small and attractive resort village with cafés, shops and a waterfront that make for pleasant wandering. Its small Whale Museum, 62 First St N (, has a set of whale skeletons and displays explaining their migration and growth cycles, as well as a listening booth for whale and other cetacean songs. To see the real thing, head past the coves and bays on the island’s west side to Lime Kiln Point State Park, 6158 Lighthouse Rd, named after the site’s former lime quarry. Orca (“killer”) whales come here in summer to feed on migrating salmon, and there’s usually at least one close sighting a day.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

USA features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
American beauty: the southwest USA in pictures

American beauty: the southwest USA in pictures

After two months road tripping through the southwest USA, Rough Guides photographer Tim Draper captured the region's stunning natural beauty through his lens. H…

16 Oct 2017 • Tim Draper insert_drive_file Article
Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook