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The Best 20 Things to Do on Orcas Island – From Kayaking to Amazing Views

The Best 20 Things to Do on Orcas Island – From Kayaking to Amazing Views

Post created June 24, 2023

Located in the northwestern corner of San Juan County, Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands. Even so, it only takes up about 57 square miles of real estate, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more active, outdoor community. 

Orcas Island hosts many different sailing, charter boats, and kayak tour companies. The island is also a great place to hike and if you’re up for a challenge, bike (it’s fairly hilly here). The island is also home to a beautiful golf course, a handful of interesting museums, wineries, farms, local artists, and little shops worth seeking out.

Much of Orcas Island is rural and filled with forests and lakes. It’s a quiet place that is a haven for artists and those who just want to escape the big city life, even for just one weekend. Its beauty has been captured on film too including “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Lou.”

The 20 Best Things to Do on Orcas Island

Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island
A view from the top of Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island (philotera/iStock Photo)

We reviewed activities across Orcas Island and have the full details on 20 of our favorite things to do on the island:

  • Tours on the Water
    1. Deer Harbor Charters
    2. North Shore Charters
    3. Orcas Enchanted
    4. Outer Island Excursions
    5. Orcas Adventures
    6. Salish Seacrets Adventures
    7. Orcas Island Sailing
  • Moran State Park
  • Orcas Island Trail Rides
    • Wildlife Cycles
  • Orcas Island Golf and Mini Golf
  • Orcas Island Historical Museum
  • Crow Valley School Museum
  • Orcas Island Artworks Gallery
  • Food and Wine
    • Girl Meets Dirt
    • Doe Bay Wine Company
    • New Leaf Cafe
    • Madrona Bar & Grill
    • Brown Bear Baking

Tours on the Water

Orcas Island ferry dock
Orcas Island ferry terminal with car loading (jsnover/iStock Photo)

Whether you’re interested in exploring the Salish Sea by boat or kayak, you have a good chance of getting up close and personal with wildlife. Since Orcas Island is fairly remote, it’s not all that difficult to spot orcas, minke whales, harbor seals, porpoises, bald eagles, ospreys, blue herons, and a lot of seagulls. Depending on the time of year that you head out, you might see sea lions, gray whales, and elephant seals.

There are quite a few companies that offer tours for whale watching, kayaking, and fishing charters. Many of the companies who offer whale-watching tours promise that you’ll spot at least one whale, but very few guarantee that you’ll see an orca whale. Some will give you a voucher for a return trip if you get on a bum ride. They can be tricky creatures.

When it comes to fishing charter boats, some offer tours of bottom fish, salmon, ling cod, halibut, Dungeness crabbing, and spot prawns. Often it varies depending on the time of the year of your visit.

If you’re a seasoned kayaker, but don’t own your kayak, you’ll probably do just fine renting one. But if you’ve never tried it before and would like to, we highly suggest taking a tour. The sport is surprisingly easy to pick up and most tours will allow anyone to go age eight and up. 

Since their services tend to overlap, we’ve broken them down a bit offering what each company specializes in:

Deer Harbor Charters 

Orcas in Puget Sound (Image Credit: Shutterstock / Monika Wieland Shields)

5164 Deer Harbor Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
1400 Rosario Rd, Eastsound, WA 98245

Specializes in:
Whale watching, day sailing, boat rentals. Expect whale watching tours to last about 3-4 hours. Offers a free trip if you don’t see a whale from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

North Shore Charters 

Salmon Filet
North Shore Charters can help you catch a beautiful Northwest salmon (Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock)

5164 Deer Harbor Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245

Specializes in:
Fishing charters. Daily trips start at 3 hours and cost around $825 for four passengers on bottom fishing and lingcod tours. Fishing trips for halibut and salmon will cost more.

Orcas Enchanted 

120 Sucia Dr., Eastsound, WA 98245

Specializes in:
Whale watching, kayaking, water taxi service. Their whale watching tours will search for orcas and also grey whales, humpack, and minke whales depending on the season. Kayaking tours can take up to 5 hours and lead you to nearby islands like Sucia, which is known for its wildlife.

Outer Island Excursions 

Orca in Puget Sound
A killer whale on the surface in Puget Sound (dickysingh/iStock Photo)

8368 Orcas Rd., Orcas, WA 98280
120 Sucia Dr., Eastsound, WA 98245

Specializes in:

Whale watching and offers an “orca guarantee”, fishing charters, kayaking, water taxi service. Deparetures at both 10:30 and 3:30 daily during the summer give more flexibility.

Orcas Adventures 

3572 Olga Rd., Olga, WA 98279 (Moran State Park)

Specializes in:

Rentals of Kayaks, SUP’s, paddle boards and canoes. Orcas Adventures is located in the heart of Moran State Park, so you’ll be exploring lakes rather than the open ocean. If you’re a bit nervous about kayaking, this could be an easier option. Also, make sure to hit their “Sugar Shack” for some great ice cream and other treats after you rent a kayak!

Salish Seacrets Adventures 

340 Brandt’s Landing Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245

Specializes in:

Boat rentals, yacht charters, fishing charters. A 20′ boat that can be used for crabbing or fishing costs about $600 for 8 hours. Half day private charters of a 45′ boat start at $750.

Orcas Island Sailing 

1945 Obstruction Pass Rd., Olga, WA 98279

As long as you have at least an intermediate level of boating experience, you can rent a 19’ to 27’ sailboat from Orcas Island Sailing. Rentals are available for half day and full day excursions. But if you want to learn how to sail, they can take care of you too. All sailing lessons are private, are available for half day (three hours) or full day (six to seven hours). Rates include the boat, captain and up to six passengers to go with you!

Moran State Park 

Moran State Park
A dock inside Moran State Park (Vine Barnes/iStock Photo)

3572 Olga Rd., Olga, WA 98279

One of the more beautiful state parks in Washington, Moran State Park is an oasis for those wanting to unplug for a few hours to a few days. It features five fresh water lakes (for non-motorized watercrafts), 11 miles of bike trails, six miles of horse trails and 38 miles of walking trails. The park has boat and kayak rentals and a “Sugar Shack” snack bar.

The most popular trails lead to Mount Constitution which stands at 2,407 feet above sea level. The lookout tour on top offers breathtaking, 360 views. If you’re up there on a very clear day, you’ll be able to find Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Saturna Island as well as Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. The hike will take between 3-4 hours. ou can drive up there too, but where’s the fun in that?

If you’re so inclined, the state park has 151 sites but you can literally go glamping there. Five sites, maintained by Leanto, allow you to sleep in a real, queen-sized bed inside a large tent that is situated on a platform. It also comes with lots of other niceties like an umbrella over a picnic table, food storage areas, flashlights, etc. There is no electricity here and you’ll have to pack your own sheets, but it’s camping at its best.

Orcas Island Trail Rides

Horse Riding in a Forest
Orcas has several horse-riding trails (amaxim/iStock Photo)

Like the idea of hiking without the, uh, hiking part? You could go on horseback. Orcas Island Trail Rides can take you through an old growth forest, grassy meadows or up a mountain depending on how much time you have. They offer rides by the hour up to half-day. You’ll need to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes and you can’t be over 250 lbs. A rain slicker is provided in case the weather is iffy and you can even rent chaps is you so like.

Wildlife Cycles

Pacific Northwest Shoreline
While Orcas is pretty keep in mind there are plenty of hills! (gmc3101/iStock Photo)

350 North Beach Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245

Wildlife Cycles is not a “pretty” store. It’s a working shop, but it’s been featured in National Geographic and it won “Best Bike Shop” from King 5’s Evening Magazine. If your bike breaks down, this is where you’ll need to take it. But you can also rent bikes here as well including e-bikes which make the hills a lot easier to ride. Rent by the hour, day or week. You can even book online before your trip.

Orcas Island Golf Course and Mini Golf 

2171 Orcas Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245

Built on top of what was once a mustard farm, the Orcas Island Golf Course has been serving the community since 1962. (The clubhouse was the original 1890’s farmhouse!) It is unique in that is takes advantage of the natural springs, ponds, and forest trees. The regular course has nine holes and a very clever 18-hole mini golf was added in 2021. Among the obstacles to pass through or around are a number of boats, a spinning propeller, bridges, islands, a ferry boat and an orca whale or two. There is also a driving range, practice area, rental clubs and golf carts and a snack bar with a large selection of beer. Just sayin’.

Orcas Island Historical Museum 

181 North Beach Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245

You might know it at first glance, but there is about 6,000 items and artifacts housed inside the Orcas Island Historical Museum. Some of the things you’ll find here during your journey include an extensive collection of artifacts from early European-American settlers, an intact skull and partial bone remains of a 14,000-year-old bison antiquus, native American tools, utensils and textiles, lots of old books, brochures, 2,000 photos and the “Colton-Harris Moore Collection” which is comprised of materials and evidence from the Barefoot Bandit” events from 2008.

Crow Valley School Museum 

1668 Crow Valley Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245

Built back in 1888 (a year before Washington State was admitted to the union of the United States!) , the Crow Valley School was once called “Pleasant Valley” believe it or not. The schoolhouse saw between 27 and 57 students at a time from first grade to eighth grade and back then, the school year consisted of only 63 days! Today, the school is an intact museum. Private tours are given between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. 

Orcas Island Artworks Gallery 

11 Pt. Lawrence Rd., Olga, WA 98279

Once a strawberry barreling plant, the historic 1938 building now hosts the Orcas Island Artworks Gallery which boast of having the best of the best selection of the island’s artists and craftsmen. Here you’ll find paintings, prints, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, glass, wood, fiber and wearable art. Hundreds of pieces of art created by at least 44 different artists and craftspeople. 

Girl Meets Dirt 

208 Enchanted Forest Rd., Suite A, Eastbound, WA 98245

Once a city girl, Audra left a Wall Street career to move west and begin life anew with her husband and two dogs. She traded high rises for a farmhouse and to start up her Girl Meets Dirt business. She appears to be loving (almost) every minute of it. You’re invited to drop by for informal tastings and sample sampling in addition to see “what’s cookin’”. 

Here you’ll find everything that Audra and her crew make including small batch reserve jams (with inventive flavors like Shiro Plum and Mint, Rhubarb Lavender, Pear Balsamic and Hot Damn Pepper Jam), Shrubs (including Ruby Spiced Apple, Island Plum, Island Pear and Chili Lime and Tomato), bitters (Peach, Plum and Old Dames Orchard) and wines made by orchard fruit. You’ll also find a collection of other pantry items from other venders as well. Definitely worth a stop.

Doe Bay Wine Company 

109 N. Beach Rd. D1, Eastsound, WA 98245

The Doe Bay Wine Company was founded in 2016 as an online wine club. The next year, a physical tasting room was added. Today, the bottle shop is filled with wines, beers and ciders from around the world just waiting for you to try. They are open every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

New Leaf Cafe 

171 Main St., Eastbound, WA  98245

Located at the Outlook Inn, New Leaf Café offers what they call “tide-to-table” dishes for brunch or dinner. Executive Chef Andrew Martin blends his Italian background into the foods of the local culture making a “marvelous spin on exquisite yet approachable regional menus”. He also incorporates a number of local foods into his dishes as well.

On the brunch menu, three different Eggs Benedict are listed (traditional, crab cake and kale & mushroom) along with Corned Beef Hash, Crispy Confit Leg & Waffle, Smoked Salmon Toast and Savory Crepes. You’ll want to make reservations ahead of time for dinner. Surprisingly, this menu is a bit smaller but it still features delicious choices like Seared Black Cod, Braised Lamb Shank and Grilled New York Steak.

Madrona Bar & Grill 

310 Main St., Eastbound, WA 98245

It is said that almost every table within the Madrona Bar & Grill offers sweeping views thanks to the restaurant being built directly over the water. Inside, the décor is rustic; the food, Northwest-inspired.

Open for lunch and dinner, Madrona, offers upscale favorites like Fish Tacos (made with grilled rockfish, jalapeno slaw, pineapple pico, avocado, cilantro and chipotle aioli), Fish and Chips (hand cut and beer battered Alaskan cod), Grilled Flat Iron Steak (with melted blue cheese) and “Ravioli of the Day.”

Brown Bear Baking 

29 North Beach & Main St., Eastbound, WA 98245

Having been trained in the fine art of French baking at the San Francisco Baking Institute, Lee Horswill and David Ellertsen are members of The Bread Baker’s Guild of America. Everything that they bake at Brown Bear Baking is made in small batches all through the day. 

While this bakery is a fine place to enjoy a Buttermilk Current Scone or an Orange Morning Bun with a Victrola espresso beverage, Brown Bear also offers three quiches (Ham & Garden Leek, Roasted Tomato & Kale and Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese) during the morning hours. For brunch or lunch, the bakery offers two Monsieurs (Croque and Vegetal Croque), a Forest Mushroom Pastry (mushrooms, gruyere, and béchamel) and Jambon Royale (ham, brie, black olive, veggies and dijonnaise on a croissant).

Brown Bear is open Friday-Monday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ashleigh on ferry Island hopping.

Hi, I'm Ashleigh! Welcome to Seattle Travel, my little piece of beautiful PNW. This is home and I'm here to share all my experiences so visitors and locals alike can find the best experiences this part of the country has to offer. I started Seattle Travel in 2012 as a way to journal my experiences and over the years have been encouraged by family and friends to open up my adventures to everyone. I actively seek out the best food, activities, and day trips and give you a local perspective.  The Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and my goal is to let you explore it to the fullest. 

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