Book Reviews

Book Review: Dayhiking The San Juan and Gulf Islands

Around the time I turned 16, I was woken up by my Mom, who was way too cheerful. Who announced that in less than a month we’d be moving to this hillbilly place called “Whidbey Island”. As an adult with a teen the same age now, I realize she enjoyed pulling the rug out from under me. It made her having to move a bit sweeter to see me royally unhappy. After seeing my cosmopolitan lifestyle fade away, as we left a real city, I didn’t realize just how much island living would change me.

We lived across the street from the head of Cornet Bay, and I wandered around Deception Pass State Park. Because we lived 10 miles out-of-town, there was no transit and we had one vehicle. Yes, it sucked. For a 16-year-old at least. But it did open my eyes living up there.

When we moved my Dad had to restart his business, so we didn’t have spare money for a “vacation” (hahahaha do self-employed people ever take those things????), so we’d do what we always did, go for drives and explore. One island over, via the Deception Pass Bridge, is Fidalgo Island. The ferry dock to the San Juan Islands sits outside of the one town, Anacortes. So for a few miles gas, park the van, and walk on the ferry for a few dollars (well, OK, it was cheaper back in 1989…..) and we could go visit the San Juans. I’ve been riding ferries since I was a baby, and I have yet to tire of them. I love being out back, waiting for the engines to come alive, pulling away from the dock, seagulls going crazy, and when I was younger, the horrid stench of creosote soaked logs.

When Craig Romano mentioned awhile back he had a new book coming out, and it was on the San Juans and Gulf Islands (ay, that be the Canadian ones everyone!), I couldn’t wait to see it. And to get more ideas. Because even if one moved off the island 11 years ago, the memories never go away. One smell of salt water and the sound of an engine waking up…and you are ready to go and get to Day Hiking the San Juans and Gulf Islands: National Parks, Anacortes, Victoria.


When my oldest son, Ford, was little, he cut his hiking teeth in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL), a mix of trails that ranged from lakes to summits. He faithfully toddled behind me, over a couple of years, as we made every mile in the system (some of the best hikes are covered on pages 36-61). No ferry needed either! Fidalgo Island is connected to the main land via a small bridge, over a narrow passage, from the mainland. Even if all you do is drive to the top of Mt. Erie, you won’t be disappointed (Page 50 btw, for the hike). The views are phenomenal (that is Lake Campbell below, and beyond is salt water, with Whidbey Island to the upper right).


On my first trip through the San Juans, we went to Sydney, BC. I was 13 and getting ready to start high school that fall. I was sooo not happy we had to go on a “family vacation”, although getting to go to Victoria, BC did bribe me a bit. On the ferry ride through the San Juans we had a pod of Orcas follow us. It was so cool. And yes, I believe it overcame my “this is sooo lame” attitude.

In 2009, I talked Kirk into seeing the San Juans, on a “babymoon”, when I was pregnant with Walker. I could still move and had energy to get out. I got to stay in a B&B (woo-hoo) and visit an island I had not been to before – Orcas.


Mt. Baker is gorgeous to look at across the water, as the ferry leaves Anacortes.


The ferry stops at a couple of the ‘major’ islands, one being Shaw (which is not big by any means, but has a hike to explore). The Nuns of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist used to run the ferry dock, it was a cool thing to see the ladies out there in habits…..


The stops are Lopez, Shaw, Orcas and San Juan Islands – which can be a lot of fun if you bike and can take hills/narrow roads.


We spent some very enjoyable days on Orcas, exploring the state park, going to the top of Mt. Constitution, and looking out below:


Cascade Lake is something that grabs you – because you just don’t feel like you are on an island – it feels more inland. The lake has a neat hike around it (hike 40 in the book!).


The village of Eastsound is a must do when on Orcas. It is a pretty tourist trap, and you won’t want to leave.


But yeah, unless you are independently wealthy, ye old ferry will be where you end up. As with all ferry rides in the islands, get there early – or you will be sitting a veeerrrryyy long time (and yes, you could face an unplanned overnight in your car!) I once made the last spot, on the last ferry, to get home. I waited THREE hours to get on that ferry, and I had to park my truck sideways across the back to fit on. Which meant I was also the last vehicle off. But it was better than sleeping on a ferry dock I can tell you.


And then, the engines come to life and the ferry slips away. And you have hours to contemplate just how pretty it is out there – and why can’t you live there and make it (because nothing pays more than minimum wage + tips is one reason) –


There is so much to see out there, be it on the big islands where you can drive, or the small islands where you must arrange a boat – or kayak in, or even to go to Canada and explore. People think Washington State and British Columbia and they think about the mountains – yet there is a vast area to explore. Craig has trails on 25 islands – yes, 25! And 136 hikes to explore. And so many are kid friendly. And doable nearly year round (outside of storms, the islands don’t get snow very often, and the summers are considerably cooler than say Seattle). Go for the green, the blue and the breezes. And take Craig’s book with you – to find so many more trips than you could have imagined.

FTC Disclaimer: We received a review copy.

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