On the move with Betsy and Greg: Orcas Island, a slice of heaven in the Pacific Northwest.
By GREG BALL
We just spent 6 ½ weeks on Orcas Island and it was an amazing experience.
Orcas is part of a group called the San Juan Islands about 90 miles north of Seattle, Washington in the Salish Sea. The only access to Orcas is by ferry which is OK because once you are there you will not want to leave.
This is a place to come, slow down, and enjoy the paradise that surrounds you. Everything just moves at a slower pace and that is a good thing. The top speed limit on the island is 40 mph and people observe it. If you want to get away from it all, you can do that here.
For us the main attraction of Orcas was the hiking available and just being outdoors. There are three main parks with miles and miles of trails passing by lakes, waterfalls, majestic Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and Lodge Pole Pine, and vistas over looking the surrounding islands and mountain ranges. The scenery is breathtaking!
The biggest and most popular of the parks is Moran State Park, which is located on the eastern side of the horseshoe shaped island. It includes Mount Constitution, the highest point on the island. You can drive to the top but we recommend parking at Mountain Lake and hiking up. Either way you can climb the Stone Tower at the top and enjoy a panoramic view including Mount Baker, Vancouver, and the Cascade Mountain Range.
On the west side of the horseshoe is Turtleback Mountain Preserve. This impressive piece of land includes the highest point on the west side and affords glorious views of the islands to the west and south. Don’t miss the Turtlehead Overlook, our favorite spot for a picnic lunch overlooking the ominous sounding Massacre Bay.
The smallest park, yet not to be missed, is back on the east side. Obstruction Pass State Park has a central trail with loops on either side that can all be easily covered in an afternoon. What this park lacks in size is made up for in unique features. It is the only one where you can walk along the coast, and it has some of the best of the exotic looking Pacific Madrone trees.
If you want to get out on the water, we suggest Deer Harbor Charters. In addition to whale watching tours, they offer sailing trips, island cruises, private tours, and even evening wine cruise. On our trip with them we did see some Orcas (Killer Whales) from a distance plus sea lions. porpoise, eagles, and much more as we cruised around the islands. The captain, who is the son of the original owner, and the knowledgeable naturalist, were both amazing and friendly as can be. As a matter of fact, everyone on the island is super friendly!
We visited during the off-season at the height of a pandemic and yet we still found plenty of culinary delights. Many of these we cooked ourselves with supplies from Orcas Island Market and Orcas Food Co-op. Both grocers are located in Eastsound, the main town on the island, centrally located at the top of the horseshoe.
One day we bought fresh Dungeness crabs in town and boiled them that night. One each, and it was a feast! And where did we get them? From the Crab Man, of course, who shows up every Saturday outside the Co-op and sells out of the back of his truck. They were out of this world delish!
If you are a wine lover, and you know we are, you will be pleasantly surprised with your selection here. Doe Bay Wine Company offers a remarkable selection of wine from the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The staff is very knowledgeable and can help you pick the perfect bottles. In the before times they offered in-store tastings that looked great and I’m sure will return. We loved all the wine we got there. This is the kind of wine shop you wish you had in your neighborhood!
We can also highly recommend Hogstone’s Wood Oven for great pizza and another amazing wine selection. Although they were closed at the time, we managed to join their Pizza and Wine Club for a one time delivery. They specialize in natural wines and we just let the owner pick out a batch for us. They were some of the most interesting, mouthwatering wines we’ve enjoyed anywhere.
If you are interested in visiting Orcas Island, give us a call and let us help you plan a perfect vacation.
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