The horseshoe island of slow-paced perfection. Island life in the Pacific Northwest. Where the locals wave to you as you walk down the street, and are more than willing to answer your questions. You can forget about the conveniences of city life: McDonald’s? Some people that live in the San Juans haven’t been to one in decades, if ever. It’s 10 pm and you want a burger — anywhere? Well, I hope you have some in the freezer because everything on the island is closed, my friend. No actually, there is one place, but you’ll still be taking your chances that its open.
The Horseshoe Island
The ferry lands on the southwestern tip of the horseshoe. It takes about 45 minutes to traverse the main road to the other side of the horseshoe. But why hurry? This island is for slow exploring. I’m of the opinion that this island has the best of what the San Juans have to offer. It has the highest peak of all of the islands, the best resorts, and the most breathtaking views.
We had the pleasure of staying in an AirBnB on Orcas Island just outside of the tiny town of Olga, hosted by a lovely couple named Hanna and Pat. Hanna was the most gracious host, who invited us for an evening of pleasant conversation, and a rousing game of ping pong over drinks. While getting to know them, they spoke of island life, and how it can sometimes be a bit boring, with the slight problem of being “disconnected” from the rest of the world. But with that lack of excitement comes an enduring sense of peace, and close ties with your neighbors. Even those living several miles down the road from you. Everyone knows each other here, and that creates the most profound safety net – knowing that others have your back when you ever need anything.
We gave ourselves two days on this island since we’d been here before. But for newcomers, you will need at least 4 days to explore everything, with perhaps another 1-2 days for staying put and enjoying your surroundings. Depends on your priorities, right? Here are the highlights:
Moran State Park & Mount Constitution
A large park with the highest peak on in the San Juans, affording some of the best views in Washington State. It’s best to spend as much time as you can here, as there is a lot to see and do. Bring a picnic lunch up to Mt. Consitution, where on a clear day you can survey several islands, including mainland Washington State and Vancouver Island in Canada. Toward the bottom of the mountain are a couple of trails leading to four different waterfalls.
Obstruction Pass State Park
With trails leading down to the water, I hiked this in the early morning and it was the perfect start to my day. Choose the short loop or the long loop. There are even a few rustic camping spots in the wooded areas…not on the beach, but close enough to wear you can hear the water lapping on the shore.
The main town on the island. Stock up on all of your supplies here! There are lots of things to do, with pottery shops, galleries, a great burger joint, The Lower Tavern (open LATE!) and unique shopping. There is also fine dining for those of you who must splurge.
Doe Bay Resort
Years ago, this is the first place we ever stayed on the island. They have cabins, yurts, or camping spots to choose from. Oh, and a TREEHOUSE! Soak in their natural hot tub, stock up at the general store and eat in the restaurant. The most relaxing spot to stay on the island.
Easy hiking on the west side of the island, with awesome views across the water on a clear day.