15 Fun Things to do on Orcas Island

Orcas Island is one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, a perfect year round destination in the San Juan Islands for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, particularly hiking, kayaking, swimming and fishing. It’s also a wonderful place to slow down and just be among the quiet forests and gorgeous sunsets and island vistas! It’s perfect for diving into a novel, exploring art galleries from local artists and sample delicious seafood, baked goods, wine and beer. This article is all about the best things to do on Orcas Island and how to plan the perfect Orcas Island getaway for you!

Orcas Island is the homeland of many indigenous people including the Tulalip TribesW̱SÁNEĆ First NationsSamish NationK’lallam and Lhaq’temish (Lummi) People.

Related: Complete guide to camping in the San Juan Islands, 11 Interesting things to do on San Juan Island

How to get to Orcas Island

a ferry terminal on orcas island. there is a ramp and white buildings with red roofs on each side. It's getting dark and the buildings are surrounded by forest
The Orcas Ferry landing (Orcas Hotel is on the hill to the left and the store is on the right at the top of the ramp)

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. You can also take your bike on the ferry and bike around the island.

Getting around Orcas Island with a car

If you have a car, it’s easy to get around the island. Parking can be 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.

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. There is an Orcas Island 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.

When is the best time of year to go to Orcas Island?

Orcas Island is an extremely popular summer destination, especially in July and August when it can be a challenge to get a vacation rental or hotel reservation if you didn’t plan ahead.

While summer is an amazing time to visit Orcas Island, this makes for a wonderful year round destination! Hiking and beachcombing are activities you can enjoy all year, along with taking in the scenery. There are less restaurants and tour operators in the winter, the trade off for less crowds. I particularly like to visit Orcas Island in late spring, especially May and early June.

I have been to Orcas Island many times in the middle of winter (late November through early February) and there are plenty of things to do in the winter! Hiking is wet but beautiful and solitary, the waterfalls in Moran State Park and rushing at maximum water volume and there are hardly any people. I’ve even been lucky enough to visit during a rare winter snowstorm and it was absolutely beautiful.

Things to do on Orcas Island

There are so many wonderful things to do on Orcas Island no matter how long or short your trip is! While you can certainly spend lots of money on tours and adventures, there are also lots of activities you can do for free.

Explore the town of Eastsound

The charming town of Eastsound is easily walkable and has lots of beautiful buildings and fun shops. Don’t miss the bookstore and the bakery! You can also visit the Orcas Island Historical Society and various other shops around town.

Drive the Orcas Scenic Byway

Orcas Island is the largest island in the San Juans and the most fun to explore in a car. The island’s many inlets, farms, forests, views and beaches make a drive from the ferry terminal over to Deer Harbor and then up to Eastsound and around to Moran State Park, Olga, Obstruction Pass and Doe Bay a delight.

I recommend spending some time walking around the marina at Deer Harbor, hiking at the Turtleback Mountain Preserve, stopping at the winery and brewery, walking around Eastsound, exploring Moran State Park (including Mt Constitution) and then heading out to Rosario Resort, Olga, Obstruction Pass and Doe Bay.

This route will take you to most of the best things to do on Orcas, so you can drive around to see where you want to spend more time at the beginning of your visit.

Go to the Beach

Obstruction pass, one of the best things to do on orcas island is seen from above between two trees. There are distant islands and two sailboats on mooring balls in the water. The sun is just about to set
Overlooking the beach at Obstruction Pass State Park

Much of the beach area on Orcas Island is privately owned an inaccessible, however there are plenty of public beaches on the Salish Sea and several on lakes in Moran State Park (see below). My favorite beach on Orcas Island is at Obstruction Pass State Park, located between Moran State Park and Doe Bay. This beach requires about a half mile walk from the parking area, but it’s totally worth the walk and it’s the largest public beach on the island, with plenty of opportunity to take in the scenery and tidepools.

Hiking

hiking is one of the best things to do on orcas island. the view from the summit of turtlehead mountain includes a dry grassy meadow, forested lowlands beyond and many forested islands in the blue water. In the far distance are the olympic mountains
Spectacular view from Turtlehead Summit

Orcas Island is the best island in the San Juan Islands for hiking! There are lots of trails and there are lots of different kinds of trails from big views to old growth forest to waterfalls and lakes and beaches, Orcas has a hike for everyone. I even have a whole article just about Orcas Island hikes.

My personal favorite hike on Orcas Island is Turtlehead Summit, described in detail in my Orcas hikes article. It climbs up to an amazing view and has very few people, even on summer weekends.

Moran State Park also has some amazing hikes, include to Cascade Falls and around the lakes and up to Mt Constitution’s summit which has an absolutely stunning view (you can also drive there, see below).

Moran State Park and Mt Constitution

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

There are so many activities to enjoy in Moran State Park, from hiking to swimming to kayaking to seeing waterfalls, old growth forest and views! Even if you aren’t a hiker or a swimmer, I still highly recommend taking a drive through Moran, which is absolutely beautiful. Spend some time with a picnic or a good book at Cascade Lake or Mt Constitution and take your time on the winding but beautiful roads.

Mt Constitution is a stunning must see place on Orcas Island and you can either hike or drive there. The drive is slow, steep and winding but totally worth it. There’s a small visitor center, restrooms, picnic tables and an observation tower at the summit. From here you can see all over Canada and Washington State, including Vancouver Island, other San Juan Islands, Mt Baker and other mountains of the Cascade range and other islands in Washington State.

Swimming in Cascade Lake or Mountain Lake

lake swimming is one of the best things to do on orcas island in the summer. Cascade Lake's swimming beach is roped off and next to a grassy area. The lake is behind and forests surround it.
The swimming beach at Cascade Lake in Moran State Park

Excellent swimming is found at both Cascade Lake and Mountain Lake in Moran State Park. You can drive to both lakes and they have areas designated for swimming. You can also bring or rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards. There are lots of picnic tables and grills for a whole day of lake fun!

Orcas Island Artworks

a historic wooden building with windows and flower boxes surrounded by forests
Orcas Island Artworks

Orcas Island Artworks is a gallery featuring local artists housed in a historic building in Olga. This is a wonderful place to explore and buy local art! Other locations on the island include Crow Valley Pottery in a historic cabin and the olderest pottery in the Pacific Northwest, Orcas Island Pottery on the north side of the island. Orcas is the perfect place to find some local art.

Orcas Island Farmer’s Market

May through September, if you’re on the island on a Saturday, do not miss this wonderful market! Orcas Island and the other San Juans have many farms with everything from organic vegetables to eggs and meat. In addition to island grown food, there are also lots of arts and crafts and food vendors.

Buck Bay shellfish farm

Seafood lovers should not miss the chance to enjoy super local clams and oysters along with fish and chips, crab cakes and crab macaroni and cheese! Find them near the village of Olga on the east side of the island.

Island Hoppin’ Brewery

A beer in a glass next to a plate of crackers and cheese at island hoppin' brewery, one of the best things to do on orcas island
Enjoying the cheese plate with a beer at Island Hoppin’ Brewery

A local favorite for their fantastic selection of local craft beers, this is just outside the town of Eastsound and a wonderful post hike or kayak stop! In addition to beer, they have few snacks such as pretzels and cheese plates. Dog friendly too!

Boathouse Cider Works

Boathouse Cider works is a great place to pass time while waiting for the ferry and try some tasty, inventive and fun local cider! They also have interesting and yummy non alcoholic offerings like mulled juice and house made chai.

Orcas Island Winery

Bring a picnic or buy tasty picnic food and then relax in this lovely winery setting tasting some delicious wines! Orcas Island Winery is dog and family friendly too. They’re located near the Turtlehead Mountain Preserve, so this is a great post hike stop.

Kayaking

a kayak near orcas island. the kayak is read and has a rope tied to the front and you only see the front of the kayak. It's on blue calm water with a forested island in the background

If you’re driving to the island and already have a kayak, you can certainly bring it with you on the ferry. Make sure to know the height of your vehicle with the kayaks on top as this may cost a bit more if you’re tall enough you have to go in the center of the ferry.

If you don’t have your own kayak, or choose not to bring yours with you, there are plenty of places to rent kayaks as well as take a guided kayak tour.

Cascade Lake in Moran State Park has kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals for a mellow lake experience. There are also several companies offering rentals and tours from Deer Harbor, the ferry terminal area, Eastsound and Olga.

Whale watching

There are several companies offering regular whale watching excursions from Deer Harbor Marina, near the ferry terminal and the north side of the island. All are excellent for getting out into waters with plenty of resident orca whales and sometimes other whales which migrant through Washington’s waters in spring and fall.

There is also lots of opportunity to see other marine mammals while whale watching, such as seals and sea lions.

Boating, Sailing and Fishing charters

If you want to experience the Salish Sea on a bigger boat, but smaller and more intimate than a ferry or whale watching boat, there are plenty of places to charter different kinds of boats on Orcas Island.

You can charter power boats, sailboats and fishing charters so it all depends on what you want to do. This is a great place to learn about sailing with an experienced captain to keep you safe and know where you’re going!

Fishing charters are available for crab, spot prawns, salmon, halibut, ling cod and other bottom fish. Exact options depend on the fishing season at the time of your visit and fishing charter operators can advise you about your best options for catching fish during your visit.

Explore the Outer Islands by water taxi

a water taxi on the beach with a landing ramp on the gravel beach. It's a calm day and there are other boats, forested islands and a snow covered mountain in the distance
a water taxi ready to pick up guests

It is possible to take a water taxi from the north side of Orcas Island to the outer San Juans Islands, which is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who loves to really get away from it all! My favorite of these islands in Sucia Island, but Patos and Matia Island also offer solitude and incredible pacific northwest beauty.

Best places to eat on Orcas Island

a historic white building seen from the hillside below. It has a covered porch with hanging flower baskets
The covered porch at the Orcas Hotel has seating to enjoy a dinner while waiting for the ferry

There are some wonderful restaurants on Orcas Island! It’s a small community and restaurants are not always open and sometimes have more limited hours than you might expect. Expect to pay more for your meals in this remote location where it’s not always easy to get supplies and ingredients! It’s worth looking into what restaurants are near you and their hours and days of operation so you don’t miss out. It can also be helpful to consider staying in a vacation rental so you can cook some of your own meals. There are groceries available in Eastsound and at the end of the Orcas Island ferry terminal. Some great places to try include:

  • Island Pie – a local favorite for pizza located next to the Deer Harbor Marina
  • Orcas Hotel Cafe – this is the perfect place to sit outside and wait for your ferry to come in while enjoying a drink, burger or fish and chips
  • Brown Bear Baking – amazing pastries and coffee
  • Wild Island Restaurant – tasty local vegetarian and vegan options
  • Island Skillet – excellent breakfast and lunch spot
  • New Leaf Cafe – tasty food located in the Outlook in at Eastsound, particularly good for brunch
  • Madrona Bar and Grill – get a reservation and sit on the patio with a view of the water
  • Inn at Ship Bay – intimate fine dining in a historic building with a great view, this is your best option for a romantic dinner
  • Doe Bay Cafe – delicious local food in an intimate setting – note: at the time of this writing (July 2021) the cafe has limited capacity and may not be available to guests who are not staying at Doe Bay
forested lowlands seen from above with islands in the blue water beyond. Text reads: 15 fun things to do 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!