Our Favorite 10 Day-Trips From Anacortes, Washington
When we arrived on Fidalgo Island in April we had no idea how many great destinations we would explore from our campsite at Pioneer Trails RV Park. We waited a little late in the season to get a spot for the summer but we did manage to find a site for five weeks using our RV Trip Wizard App and we were excited to settle in to Washington State island paradise. We knew that Anacortes was the “Gateway to the San Juan Islands” but we didn’t realize at the time how many unexpected treasures we’d find in every direction from our home-base. Here are our 10 favorite day-trips from Anacortes.
Whale Watching - Nobody visits the North Puget Sound without expecting to see whales. The best way to go about getting this goal checked of the bucket list is to take one of the local whale tours. We chose to go with Island Adventures in Anacortes. For about a hundred dollars a-piece we booked a four hour tour across the Rosario Straight to the more shallow waters around the San Juan Island Chain. The “Island Explorer 5” was a fast and steady catamaran with a warm up room, hot and cold drinks served, and three decks that made it possible for everyone to have a front row seat. The Captain had a crew of two or three skippers who doubled as deck hands, snack and drink bar servers, whale spotters and naturalist guides. By the end of the day we had seen eight Biggs (Transient) Orcas in two pods (families), one giant Gray Whale and a bunch of Steller Sea Lions. By law boats are prohibited from approaching Orcas any closer than 100 yards which is close enough to really see these magnificent creatures in action and even hear the sound of their blows. It did get a little tense as the Orcas approached a small offshore rock loaded with Sea Lions. But they ended up moving on without stopping for lunch.
Washington State Ferry - Anacortes is a major Washington State Ferry Hub and for someone who doesn’t own a boat it offers a cheap, easy and quick way to get out and explore the water world that is the Salish Sea. You can walk on or drive on and we did both during our visit. We walked on to a morning ferry to Friday Harbor for about $30 for the two of us and we had enough time when we got there to have a eat lunch at a dock side restaurant patio and hit a few tourist gift shops before catching our ride home. We love the Washington State Ferry!
Orcas Island - Orcas Island has been on our radar for a number of years now. The mysterious and romantic name alone beckons a person to want to visit although ironically it was named after a person and not the killer whales that are so prevalent in the San Juan Islands. A day trip to Orcas requires a morning ferry ride with your vehicle from Anacortes which will give you about seven hours to explore the island before returning to catch your ride home. After departing the Ferry at Orcas we drove north through picturesque ranch land to the village of East Sound before making the horseshoe turn to go south again toward Moran State Park. Within 45 minutes we were taking pictures of the glassy reflections on Cascade lake before driving on to the 2400 ft. summit of Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. From there the views of the islands below is breathtaking. The sky was a bit hazy on the day we were there but we could still easily make out Mt. Baker, The North Cascades and a number of high peaks beyond Vancouver, British Columbia. Climbing the steps of the historic stone observation tower was well worth the effort. Back down at the base of the mountain we stopped at the trailhead for a series of waterfalls known as Cascade, Rustic, Cavern and Hidden. The furthest fall was an easy .6 miles away so all were easily reached. When it comes to waterfalls and cameras we don’t move quickly and we ended up spending at least a couple of hours appreciating this wildly beautiful setting. After the falls we had just enough time to take a stroll through the Village of East Sound before driving back to Orcas to get in line for the ferry. We loved our day on the island and we got to see just enough to know that this is a place we want to return to.
Skagit Valley - The Skagit (pronounced Ska-jit) Valley doesn’t seem like a valley at all. Rather it is a relatively flat agricultural region to the west of Mt. Vernon and I-5. The Skagit River exits the North Cascade range here and winds its way through fertile farm land to the sea. By happenstance we ended up timing our visit perfectly with the Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and we were treated the the progression of brilliant colors every time we drove through the valley. Productive farmland blankets this region like the patch work of a quilt and with snow capped Mt. Baker in the background the scene is truly stunning. The diverse variety of crops here is not only visually appealing but it fosters a real “farm to table” kind of vibe. We so much enjoyed visiting the Snow Goose Market, the Pickle Barn Art Gallery and Schuh Farms were we returned several times to by homemade strawberry rhubarb pies. Oh My My you have to try!.
La Conner - Being a couple of artists who live, work and travel in an RV we are always on the lookout for the historic, scenic and artsy towns. For fuel and food we go where it convenient but for inspiration we look for towns like La Conner to fill our tank. La Conner is a well preserved 1800’s harbor town on the 11 mile long Swinomish Channel that separates Fidalgo Island from mainland Washington. The copper colored “Rainbow Bridge” casts its reflection on the calm water below which creates a brilliant maritime composition from just about anywhere along the waterfront. An eclectic mix of shops and galleries line the main street and popular restaurant patios are a great place to soak up the remarkable waterfront setting while dining. All of the historic buildings in town are well cared for and a lot can be learned about LaConner’s colorful past by paying attention to the prominently placed interpretive historical markers that are scattered around town. Yep, La Conner is a charmer!
Mt. Erie - Fidalgo Island’s Mt Erie rises to nearly 1300 ft. above sea level and has a south facing rock wall that is vertical enough to be one of the most popular technical climbing spots around. Those features along with the tall radio towers at the summit make the landmark easy to spot from as far away as the San Juan Islands. During our five week stay at the base of the mountain we came to depend upon its visual prominence to orient us home after long days of exploring in the region.
To get to the top you can either hike up forest trails or drive up the windy narrow paved road. We drove our dually to the top several times and never had a tough time finding parking although it could get congested in peak season. The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular. On clear days Mt. Baker, the N Cascade Range and even Mt. Rainer and the Olympic Peninsula provide a mountainous backdrop. However It is the tapestry of water and land draped below that really steals the show. The moment We first walked up to the edge of the cliff our jaws dropped. This was a landscape like we had never seen before and we felt grateful that we had chosen this place as the next stop in our journey.
Deception Pass State Park - In the seafaring world of the Puget Sound a “Pass” isn’t a mountain road, It is a narrow channel that passes between two land masses and has a larger bodies of water on both ends. Deception pass divides Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands and Skagit Bay is on one end and the Rosario Straight on the other and. Entering these waters during tide changes can be hazardous as the current has been known to reach 10 knots creating rapids and waves and whirlpools. Deception Pass State Park encompasses the shorelines of the pass on both islands. On the Fidalgo Island side you can park at Bowman Bay or Rosario Beach and explore from there. A short hike around Bowman Bay and Lighthouse Point has a little bit of everything including a few sketchy drop offs so be careful. It’s probably only about a mile round trip and you’ll get the best views of boats passing through as well as the 180 foot high expansion bridge overhead. The Whidbey Island side the State Park offers extensive shoreline access and roughly 30 miles of hiking either on the beach itself or on maintained trails. Cranberry lake adds a fresh water dimension to the park and for us it was the perfect place to launch our new inflatable kayak for its maiden voyage. (If you haven't seen that video check it out here.)
Sea Kayaking - Kayaking in the Sound is a whole different experience than paddling in a lake. There are mighty currents and tides to contend with and water temperatures are dangerously cold much of the year. And then there are the creatures below, some of them very large that we haven’t “been one with” before. We hired Anacortes Kayak Tours to hold our hands our first time out. Our guide outfitted us with paddles and life jackets and taught us the proper way to get into place and secure the sea skirts that would prevent water from getting into the boat. We paddled out of the harbor into the open water of Burrows Bay and felt a bit of anxiety as we made the one mile crossing to Burrows Island. Once there, we hugged the shore of Burrows Island and we became much more relaxed as we circumnavigated it in clockwise fashion. In all we paddled about 6 miles and we had a blast. We didn’t see any whales or sharks but we did have a brief interaction with a few harbor seals and that was exciting enough for us. We did have one tense moment when our long boat was caught sideways in the wake of a speeding sea taxi but we lived to see another day and nobody went swimming. If sea kayaking is on your bucket list we highly recommend hiring a guide your first time out.
Chuckanut Drive: Two friendly resident artists at the Pickle Barn Art Gallery recommended we visit Chuckanut Drive otherwise we likely would not have discovered it. Chuckanut Drive is Washington State Route 11 and the states first designated Scenic Byway. It begins at the northern end of the Skagit Valley and leads north to Bellingham along the coast. The road gets a tad curvy and narrow in spots along the cliffs where the North Cascade Mountain Range makes one dramatic final descent into the Sea. Hiking trails and an Oyster Farm appear to be popular based on the traffic at roadside pullouts. Larrabee State Park offers ample parking and provides direct access to beach combing, tide pools and great San Juan Island views. We stopped for lunch on a restaurant patio in the historic Fairhaven District of Bellingham before taking I-5 for a much quicker trip home.
Anacortes - Our tenth favorite Day-Trip out of Anacortes is Anacortes itself. It turns out there is more to do in Anacortes than meet the Ferry. The sidewalks of the historic Old Town are lined with a few shops and most of the restaurants have outdoor seating. No matter what street you’re on you’ll be keeping your eyes peeled for the 150 hand painted murals of a local artist Bill Mitchell who was paralyzed from the waste down. You will also want to check out the busy and picturesque Cap Santa Marina and hike to the top of the adjacent hilltop to take in the views. We also drove the loop through Washington Park in our dually. It was quite narrow and one way so once we were on it, we were on it until we reached the other end. Next time we would ditch the vehicle and walk it.