Orcas Island uncovered: Go off the beaten path in Washington’s San Juan Islands

The wilds of the San Juans are calling! Take your next family vacation to the largest isle in Washington State’s gorgeous under-the-radar archipelago. Think lush forests, picture-perfect lakes, stunning wildlife sightings, peak outdoor recreational activities and nature at her most unspoiled.  

Why you should go to Orcas Island together

It’s hard to believe that this horseshoe-shaped jewel off the coast of Seattle has maintained its wild beauty and off-the-grid status despite being an ideal spot for nature-loving travelers and sightseers. The island’s green forests, jaw-dropping sea and mountain vistas and rugged topography are as astonishing and untouched as ever, likely because the San Juan Islands, which sit between Seattle and Vancouver Island on the Salish Sea, are reachable only by ferry ride or seaplane. Orcas is the largest in this remote archipelago and, true to its name, boasts unparalleled whale watching in addition to endless recreational activities, making it a dream destination for families. 

Where to stay in this Pacific Northwest paradise

While they’re definitely off the beaten travel path, the San Juan Islands are well-known enough to offer plenty of amazing vacation retreats, and Orcas is no exception. Since so many homes here hug the coastline, sightings of its legendary sea creatures and views of breathtaking sunsets from private decks are standard issue. Considering how incredible the local fresh seafood and farmers markets are, having a state-of-the-art kitchen for preparing meals together is a must. Whether you choose the hopping hub of Eastsound, the artsy enclave of Olga, the peaceful haven of Doe Bay, the marina at Deer Harbor or the historic shores of West Sound, there are family-friendly stays in all of the island’s distinct villages. Escapes like Eastsound’s Lighthouse on the Shore boast a chef’s kitchen, a fire pit, a hot tub and an actual lighthouse perch for sweeping views of the Sound.

Eastsound’s Lighthouse on the Shore

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More outstanding Orcas Island stays

What to do as a family in a legit natural wonderland

Imagine encountering pods of orcas on one of the best whale-watching tours in the world, or picture yourselves sailing next to porpoises and sea lions as peregrine falcons buzz overhead. Maybe you’ll even kayak the fjords with your crew! And if terra firma is more your thing, consider romping around the island’s scenic countryside. Bike, swim, hike or horseback-ride along Moran State Park’s 38 miles of trails comprised of varied terrain, multiple lakes and cliff-diving perches. Take the Orcas Island Scenic Byway tour, a 2- to 3-hour hike on the main road connecting all the villages, and you won’t miss any of the action.

How to capture all the fam-tastic travel memories and moments

Looking for a ridiculously picturesque backdrop for next year’s holiday card? The three-mile loop around Cascade Lake and half-mile climb up Obstruction Pass are both suited for easy group hikes and snapshots. Moran Park is also an excellent spot for once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings you and the kids can share — it’s home to 250 species of birds, including bald eagles. Mount Constitution’s medieval observation watchtower, the highest point in San Juan County, makes for gasp-worthy 360-degree views of the surrounding islands peppering the Salish Sea.

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