The Best Orcas Island Hikes

Last Updated on April 18, 2022

Orcas Island is the best island in the San Juan Islands for hiking! Many people come to the beautiful San Juan Islands for many other reasons and outdoor pursuits, but if you’re a hiker looking for a trip to the islands then Orcas is your island! It offers the most miles of hiking trails and most varied hikes from high summits with incredible views to beautiful lakes, old growth forests, waterfalls and beaches, there’s something for every hiker to love. As an added bonus, Orcas Island hikes are good year round hikes!

Orcas Island is the homeland of many indigenous people including the Tulalip Tribes, W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations, Samish Nation, K’lallam and Lhaq’temish (Lummi) People.

Related: The best hike on San Juan Island

Related: Best things to do on Orcas Island

Getting to and Around Orcas Island

To get to Orcas Island, you need to take the ferry from Anacortes. You can either drive or walk on the ferry. Reservations are highly recommended (I would say necessary), especially in summer and on weekends year round.

The other option is to fly on a small plane from Seattle, either a float plane or a wheeled plane.

Getting around Orcas Island without a car

Getting around Orcas Island without a car is challenging, but certainly not impossible. The island is big and there is no public transportation. You can bike, but it’s very hilly and some of the shoulders are super narrow, so it’s not my favorite island for biking (Lopez Island is!). There is a shuttle you can take that makes stops in various places around the island, including Moran State Park. The shuttle is the best way to get around if you’re not bringing a car.

Getting to and around Orcas Island with a car

If you have a car, it’s easy to get around the island. Parking is challenging at Moran State Park, but you’ll be able to find something and then use the amazing hiking trails to get around from there! You won’t encounter much traffic driving, except around the ferry when it’s coming or going.

When is the best time for Orcas Island hikes?

Most people visit the San Juan Islands in the summer, and these hikes are all wonderful for summer! Big views, sun and lakes to swim in make it glorious! Spring is also a really good time for Orcas Island hikes, with the impossibly green new growth jumping out everywhere and fully covering you in green.

In winter, you’ll find these hikes basically deserted but still wonderful. In fall, winter and early spring, watch out for lots of mud and bring footwear that is good on muddy trails. And don’t forget your rain jacket any time of year, just to be safe!

The waterfalls in Moran State Park slow to a trickle or even dry up completely in late summer and early fall, and Washington State Parks closes the road up to Mountain Lake and Mt Constitution during the winter months. You can still hike the trails, but it will be longer and you may encounter snow near the top of Mt Constitution.

Other than Mt Constitution, these hikes are mostly snow free in winter, unless there’s a lowland snowfall, which happens once or twice a year just like the rest of Western Washington. I also recommend avoiding hiking here during intense winter storms, as the wind frequently brings down giant trees.

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    Best Places on Orcas Island for hiking

    There are two main areas that I recommend for Orcas Island hikes: Turtleback Mountain Preserve and Moran State Park. I’ve also included Obstruction Pass State Park here, even though it doesn’t have a lot of hiking trails, it is a beautiful place and you can only get to it by a short hike! Obstruction Pass is also the only hike on this list that goes to a beach, and it’s an amazing beach too!

    All of these hikes are dog friendly, as long as your dog is kept on leash, and all of them have decent cell phone coverage. You’ll encounter a spotty or lost signal here and there but for the most part you’ll have at least some service.

    Turtleback Mountain Preserve Hikes

    Turtleback Mountain Preserve offers stunning crowd free hiking through a beautiful forest with epic views of the other San Juan Islands and Gulf Islands (in British Columbia) as well as other parts of San Juan Island. This is the perfect hiking destination for those who don’t like crowds and like amazing views! You can also combine the two hikes below into a longer hike.

    Turtlehead Summit

    One of the best Orcas Island hikes, Turtlehead summit is a grassy and rocky small meadow that looks out over the Salish Sea in Washington State. There are forested islands and water below, stretching all the way to distant snow capped mountains on a mostly sunny day with a few clouds.
    View south towards Deer Harbor and the Olympic Mountains in the distance from the Turtlehead Summit
    • Best For: This is my absolute favorite Orcas Island hike! It’s not busy, it’s challenging and it has an incredible view! Make sure to save this one for a clear day so you can fully soak up the view.
    • Distance: 5.75 miles round trip to Turtlehead summit from the North Trailhead
    • Elevation Gain: 1300 feet
    • Trail notes: It is definitely quite steep in places. The trail is well maintained and the first half is a wide and smooth former road. The second half is a narrower trail that goes down a bit and then back up to the Turtlehead summit. The trail from the road part to Turtlehead Summit was built in 2013 and doesn’t appear on all maps! Make sure to take the two short diversion trails to other viewpoints on your way up. The first is the North Valley Overlook, which is signed about half a mile from the trailhead. Here you get a wonderful view to the other side of Orcas Island, including Mt Constitution. The other is the Waldron Valley Overlook, about a mile and a half from the trailhead and where you depart the old road bed for a narrower trail going down and then up to the summit.
    • How to get there: From the ferry landing, it’s about a 10 minute drive. Head away from the ferry on Orcas Road towards Eastsound, turning left on Nordstrom Lane and then right on Crow Valley Road. In about two miles, you’ll come to the small parking area on the left. There’s a small sign that’s easy to miss.
    • Parking Pass: None

    Ship Peak Loop

    • Best For: Big views with a bit less climbing and a shorter, loop trail.
    • Distance: 3 mile loop
    • Elevation Gain: 900 feet
    • Trail notes: This is the same trail system as the Turtlehead Summit, but a bit less climbing and it’s a loop. You’ll start at the South Trailhead (instead of the north), going half a mile until you hit the loop, which you can take in either direction. Ship Peak is at the far end of the loop either way you go. Make sure you also stop at the West Overlook.
    • How to get there: From the ferry landing, it’s about a 10 minute drive. Follow Orcas Road off the ferry towards Eastsound, turning left towards Westsound on Deer Harbor Road. In about two miles, you’ll come to the small parking area on the right.
    • Parking Pass: None

    Moran State Park Hikes

    Moran State Park is one of the most unique and impressive state parks in Washington! Moran is full of amazing hiking as well as camping, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and swimming. This park has the highest point in the San Juan Islands (Mt Constitution at 2400 feet) as well as beautiful old growth forest and beautiful lakes perfect for swimming and kayaking. Moran State Park has more than 30 miles of trails, so you can also grab a map and make up your own Orcas Island hike as long or short or steep of flat as you like! A few favorite Orcas Island hikes in Moran State Park are:

    Cascade Falls

    Cascade Falls, a short and mostly flat Orcas Island hike after a snowfall. The waterfall is partially frozen and has lots of water rushing over it. Snowy rocks and evergreen trees surround it
    Cascade Falls looking extra beautiful during a rare lowland snowfall in Moran State Park
    • Best For: Beautiful forest and waterfalls!
    • Distance: 0.5 mile round trip – you can make it longer by exploring in both directions along this trail which has three other waterfalls close by, or you can add it to any of the other hikes on this list for a longer adventure
    • Elevation Gain: 150 feet (down and up)
    • Trail notes: This is a short trail, though it has some rocks and uneven ground. You can add it on to any of the other trails here.
    • How to get there: It’s about 40 minute drive from the Orcas Ferry Terminal. From the ferry, head towards Eastsound on Orcas Road and through the town of Eastsound on Main Street and then Crescent Beach Road. Turn right on Olga Road and follow it to Moran State Park. Turn left on Mt Constitution Road and look for the trailhead parking lot on the right in just under half a mile.
    • Parking PassWashington State Discover Pass

    Cascade Lake Loop

    A blue lake surrounded by forest on a sunny day. In the foreground is a dock with several green canoes, a rack of paddleboards and three blue deck chairs. There is a small wooden structure advertising boat rentals
    Cascade Lake makes for a wonderful loop hike, with the option to rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboards after
    • Best For: A mellow lake hike through the forest along the shore of a lake, with plenty of swimming, kayaking and picnic opportunities!
    • Distance: 2.7 mile loop
    • Elevation Gain: minimal
    • Trail notes: The trail is in good condition and is mostly flat.
    • How to get there: Start at the Cascade Lake day use area, which is about a half hour drive from the ferry and about 20 minutes from Eastsound. Follow the main road and signs from the ferry, on Orcas Road, then through Eastsound on Main Street and Crescent Beach Drive. Turn right on Olga road, which will take you straight there.
    • Parking PassWashington State Discover Pass

    Mountain Lake Loop

    A part of a blue lake surrounded by rocks and evergreen forest on a sunny day. There is one yellow canoe in the water and a stand up paddleboarder. One person is sitting on the shore
    Mountain Lake
    • Best For: This is similar to Cascade Lake, but it’s much less busy than Cascade Lake.
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation Gain: minimal
    • Trail notes: The trail is in good condition with a few rocks and roots in places
    • How to get there: It’s about 40 minute drive from the Orcas Ferry Terminal. From the ferry, head towards Eastsound on Orcas Road and through the town of Eastsound on Main Street and then Crescent Beach Road. Turn right on Olga Road and follow it to Moran State Park. Turn left on Mt Constitution Road and go about a mile to the Mountain Lake turnoff. You’ll quickly come to the day use parking area.
    • Parking PassWashington State Discover Pass

    Mt Constitution Loop and Twin Lakes

    Distant mountains, islands and ocean with forest and lakes in the foreground from Mt Consitution on Orcas Island
    The view towards Bellingham from the summit of Mt Constitution. Twin Lakes are in the foreground below.
    • Best For: I think it’s important to point out here that you can DRIVE to the summit of Mt Constitution, you do not need to hike to get to it! However, the trails in Moran State Park offer such stunning Orcas Island hikes, it would be a real shame to miss this wonderful hike even if you can drive there. Not only is it a challenging hike, but you’ll have an amazing view in all directions from the highest point in the islands and then a refreshing lake dip on the way back! And it’s a loop, which is always more fun. If you’re keeping track, these are now the third and fourth lakes on this list! Moran State Park is a lake paradise.
    • Distance: 7 mile loop
    • Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
    • Trail notes: Start at Mountain Lake picnic shelter and climb up 1.2 miles to a junction with the Little Summit Trail. You can take a half mile detour here to check out the view at Little Summit if you like. Either way, back on the main trail, climb another two miles to the observation tower on the top of Mt Constitution! Then, cross the parking lot to head down toward Twin Lakes (which is signed). In a mile and a half, you’ll come to Twin Lakes. You can detour around the lakes or go directly right to return to Mountain Lake.
    • How to get there: It’s about 40 minute drive from the Orcas Ferry Terminal. From the ferry, head towards Eastsound on Orcas Road and through the town of Eastsound on Main Street and then Crescent Beach Road. Turn right on Olga Road and follow it to Moran State Park. Turn left on Mt Constitution Road and go about a mile to the Mountain Lake turnoff. You’ll quickly come to the day use parking area.
    • Parking PassWashington State Discover Pass
    A stone observation tower at the summit of Mt Constitution, a popular Orcas Island hike. It's made of stone and has narrow openings on the side and a wooden platform on top
    The stone observation tower is a must visit and landmark of Mt Constitution’s summit

    Cold Springs Trail to Mt Constitution

    Several islands in the water below the summit of Mt Constitution on Orcas Island. There is a forest hillside in the foreground and there are some thin clouds.
    The view looking north from Mt Constitution towards Sucia Island and Vancouver Island in the distance
    • Best For: Those who want the most challenging hike with the most climbing to the top of Mt Constitution! You can even start at Rosario Resort if you want to literally start at sea level (adds 300 feet of elevation gain).
    • Distance: 8.5 miles round trip
    • Elevation Gain: 2100 feet
    • Trail notes: This is a tough climb to the summit of Mt Constitution, in beautiful forest the whole way. Start on the shores of Cascade Lake and go up, up up to the summit. On your return, you can go straight in for a swim in Cascade Lake! There are actually a couple of different ways to do it, you can also make a loop for part of it (and a longer hike) along the North Boundary trail, extending it to almost 12 miles for the full loop.
    • How to get there: Start at the Cascade Lake day use area, which is about a half hour drive from the ferry and about 20 minutes from Eastsound. Follow the main road and signs from the ferry, on Orcas Road, then through Eastsound on Main Street and Crescent Beach Drive. Turn right on Olga road, which will take you straight to. Cascade Lake. Park at Cascade Lake, across the road from the lake.
    • Parking PassWashington State Discover Pass

    Obstruction Pass State Park Hike

    Two sailboats in a bay at dusk are framed by evergreen trees. There are islands in the distance
    Lovely Obstruction Pass
    • Best For: Beach! This is the best beach on Orcas Island because it’s the largest public beach and you have to walk to get to it, so it’s less crowded than some of the other, smaller ones. This also makes it one of the best Orcas Island hikes even though it’s short. There are also several walk in campsites here, which I highly recommend as an alternative to busier Moran’s campgrounds!
    • Distance: 1.5 miles round trip to the beach
    • Elevation Gain: 250 feet of gain and loss
    • Trail notes: The trail from the top of the hill down to the beach can be a bit rough, as it gets frequently pounded by weather. It’s steep, but very short.
    • How to get there: From the ferry landing, it’s about a 45 minute drive. Go the same way you would to Moran State Park, then continue through the park to Olga. In Olga, the right turn on Obstruction Pass Road is signed, continue from Obstruction Pass road onto Trailhead Road, which dead ends in the parking area.
    • Parking PassWashington State Discover Pass
    Islands and distant mountains seen from above at the summit of Mt Constitution. Text reads: The best hikes on Orcas Island
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    Jennie Flaming
    Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!