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San Juan Islands-Orcas Island E-mail
Written by Brian Grover   
Thursday, 08 February 2007 07:52
Terrain: Hilly
Traffic: Heavy
Season: Year Round
Distance: 77 km
Access: See section intro, Getting to The San Juan Islands.

Campgrounds, B & B's and vacation resorts abound on Orcas Island. In fact, the only thing more plentiful is the number of tourists who invade the island every summer. For that reason dropping in without reservations during high season is pure folly. If camping out it will be necessary to cycle from the ferry terminal across island for 20 to 30 km fully laden with gear. With the exception of the private campground at West Beach Resort on the northwest corner of Orcas Island, most camping will be found on the eastern half of the Island. Unlike the previous two islands, Orcas Island is a rugged, mountainous rock with many hills to be overcome. Demanding, yes, but most certainly worth it.

Being a mecca for vacationers, Orcas Island, boasts a profusion of services. Restaurants, groceries and the like are usually just around the next corner.

From the ferry follow the aptly named Horseshoe Highway around Eastsound, the deep fjord which nearly severs Orcas Island in two. A longer, alternative route follows White Beach Road and Dolphin Bay Road around the shoulder of Mt. Woolard enabling cyclists with gonzo thigh muscles to avoid a good portion of the busy Horseshoe Highway. Pause for a well-earned moment of reflection at marshy Killebrew Lake. While RV camping is allowed here tents are not as there are no facilities of any kind.

The village of East Sound at the head of the like-named waterway is the urban centre of Orcas Island. Stock up on provisions here, get bikes fixed if necessary and plan a visit to the Orcas Island Historical Museum. Housed in six log cabins dating to the island's pioneer era, the museum features displays of first nations culture as well as that of the settlers who supplanted them.

Orcas Island is rich in architectural history as well. Many of the island's resorts were originally constructed according to Victorian-era models as hideaways for Seattle's hoi polloi. The Orcas Hotel above the ferry terminal dates from the opening moments of the last century while the Post Office at Deer Harbor commenced operations in 1883. Rosario Resort got its start of in 1904 as the residence of industrialist and former Seattle mayor Robert Moran. Much of the wealthy ship builder's estate was eventually donated to the state park system. Moran State Park is the result of that generous act of philanthropy.

Madrona Point, named for the arbutus trees which flourish on the rocky bluffs there, once served as a burial ground for the local Lummi Indians. Less than half a kilometre from East Sound, Madrona Point is an ideal spot from which to enjoy lunch and south-facing views overlooking Eastsound. As with the rest of the San Juan Islands, legal access points to the foreshore can be few and far between. Just east of Madrona Point, at the foot of Lover's Lane, Fishing Bay Waterfront Park provides additional access to the beach overlooking Indian Island. The first campgrounds along Horseshoe Highway will be found on the shores of Cascade Lake in Moran State Park. There are two additional campgrounds higher up at Mountain Lake while walk-in sites are located in between. Altogether there are 166 campsites spread through five separate campgrounds within the park including 15 sites set aside specifically for cyclists and those who arrive without motor vehicle transportation. Those who arrive without reservations can only count on misery.

For camping with an ocean view try the Obstruction Pass Campground just beyond the settlement of Olga. Just nine campsites, all without water, populate this tiny timbered point. Designed specifically for kayakers, cyclists and hikers, there are no drive in campsites. The rocky bluffs and gravel beach are ideal vantage points from which to toast the setting summer sun.

A further 10 walk-in campsites can be found on the shores of Doe Bay. Even when full, wayward cyclists can usually find a foothold somewhere on the property. More than a campground, organic cooking, whole earth crafts and rustic accommodation make Doe Bay Resort perfect for groovin' on a sunny afternoon. A relaxing, au naturel dip in the mineral hot tub is de rigueur. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

The high point of Orcas Island- literally - is Mount Constitution. On an exceptionally clear day Mt. Baker, Mt. Ranier and even Vancouver, B.C. are visible from the stone observation tower at the 734 m summit. The truly gung-ho may want to try cycling up the road to the top of Mt. Constitution. Hiking is the recommended approach. Altogether Moran State Park has 50 km of hiking trails suited to nearly every ability level. Extending from sea level at Rosario and connecting both Cascade Lake and Mountain Lakes, a network of trails continues via Twin Lakes to reach the mountaintop. Very few trails are open to terrain-crunching mountain bikes.

Leave enough time on your return to the ferry landing to finish your explorations of the western half of the island. A thin sliver of beach is accessible at the end of North Beach Road near the island's air strip. To avoid retracing your route follow a circuitous route along the Enchanted Forest Road, Crow Valley Road and Deer Harbor Road to visit West Sound village and historic Deer Harbor. Birders may spot something out of the ordinary at the Frank Richardson Wildlife Preserve. Follow Sunset Beach Road to reach the eight hectare marsh.

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