There is something very gratifying about having the privilege of traveling easily over the water for long distances. Even though we as a species have been traveling over water for thousands of years, being able to safely and easily (and quickly) get from one island to another is still a marvelous thing.
I grew up in the landlocked Midwest, and didn’t see my first ocean until I was 20 years old. So when I took my first ferry ride in the Pacific Northwest, to Orcas Island for a camping trip, it was magical.
The San Juan Islands consist of four main islands (Orcas, Lopez, Shaw and San Juan), which are all serviced by the Washington State Ferry System. There are other islands in this area, but they are either private, or unpopulated, and you can only get to them via your own private boat (if you’re allowed to go there at all). The WSF services all of Puget Sound, including Seattle, Anacortes, Whidbey Island and Sidney, B.C. All total, there are 10 routes. As of 2017, the WSF system is the largest in the United States, and the 4th largest in the world.
I love that these ferries can load and unload dozens of cars quickly and with ease, and they have a spacious passenger deck (two stories) with big windows to view the passing scenery. There are vending machines and a snack bar if you’re feeling peckish. A couple of the ferries I’ve been on even had puzzles in various states of completeness on a few tables, for passengers to pass the time! The ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (the most popular destination in the San Juan’s) is about an hour. Travel time between the islands is just a few minutes.
Extremely Reliable Transportation
They have a set schedule and stick to it very religiously. Very rarely are they more than ten minutes behind schedule. However, during the busy summer months, things always have a small chance of getting off-kilter, so carve out plenty of time to get to the ferry, buy your ticket, and be ensured of getting a spot on the boat if you have a car. It is recommended that you make reservations with a car leaving Anacortes to any of the islands.
Of course, it is more expensive to ride the ferry with your car, so if you don’t need it, I highly recommend being a walk-on passenger, or better yet, take your bike with you!
While the ferry is whisking you to your destination, you can step outside to the outer decks on either the bow or the stern side to breathe in the sea air and taking some awesome photos. But be warned, the bow can be extremely windy and in the winter/spring months, quite cold!
Things to Consider
• Visit the WSF website for all of the latest Washington State ferry information. Here you will find routes, schedules, fares, and up-to-the-minute information on the WSF system.
• When riding the ferry with your car, it is recommended to make a reservation on your desired sailing time when leaving Anacortes, WA (the mainland) bound for any of the islands. You MUST be checked in 30 minutes prior to ferry departure, so plan on being there at least 45 minutes prior, and an hour the weekends and summer months.
• Bring your camera. The views on the ferry ride are some of the best in the world. Because duh – Puget Sound!
• Your ticket leaving Anacortes to any of the San Juan islands is a round trip ticket. However, if you plan on island-hopping, there is a separate fee for each inter-island trip. If you are on a budget, this is something to consider. Leaving Friday Harbor back to Anacortes is always FREE (part of your round-trip ticket.)
• You can take the ferry from Anacortes to Surrey B.C. Of course, you will need your passport for this!