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Destinations | Drives | Nature | Guides

Kids & Nature

Family Vacations
in the San Juan Islands

including Friday Harbor, Rosario, and Roche Harbor

Kayaks

 

 
 
 
Kayaking on the sheltered
waters of the San Juans

Washington's San Juan Islands offer not only a chance for couples to have a quiet, romantic vacation, but the islands are a great place for families to explore fascinating West Coast history, and also to share in outdoor adventure, on land and on the sheltered inlets and channels between the islands.

The San Juans are located in the Gulf of Georgia, just north of Puget Sound, sharing the gulf with the neighboring Gulf Islands of British Columbia. The major islands attracting visitors are San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez. You get to them all by taking a ferry -- either from Anacortes on the Washington mainland, or from Sidney on Canada's Vancouver Island. Because they are islands, without a lot of urban development, you get the feeling that time has stood still for a while, with the islands retaining the ambiance that attacted its first European settlers more than a century ago.

San Juan Islands Map

Each of the islands offer a slightly different experience. Lopez is the least populated, and most rustic of the three major islands.

Orcas has a mountain (Mount Constitution) that offers hikes, picnic areas and a superb view of the islands, mainland, and ocean. It also has the long-time resort, Rosario.

San Juan Island is more populated, with the small city of Friday Harbor providing all the visitor services that one could want. This island also has one of the truly unique resorts in the U.S. Roche
Harbor
is an historic village -- previously a lime mining and shipping community -- set on the northern edge of the island. The resort has an antique hotel, modern condo-style accommodatioons and rustic cottages once occupied by mine workers. It also has the largest marina on the islands -- a new incarnation of what has long been one of the most popular boating stops in Washington.

San Juan is steeped in history. Its national park reflects the early 1800s, when the infamous "Pig War" was "fought" between the United States and the British on Vancouver Island. Not a shot was fired in this 1812-era war, and both the American and British camps have been preserved to some extent, and are on display near Roche Harbor.

Delving into the historical aspects of the islands, and exploring recreational pursuits, provide families with several days of great family activity, including hiking to "Pig War" scenes, visiting the unusual stone tower on Mt. Constitution -- modeled after watch towers in the Caucasus Mountains -- hiking on the mountain or along the seashore, and dining in unfussy restaurants which serve seafood of the region.

For a detailed guide to the San Juan Islands, Go to our Onroute Destinations Pages.

Hotel de Haro

 

 
 
 
Hotel de Haro,
San Juan Island

Roche Harbor is a one-stop vacation place. If you're interested in seeing wildlife, including whales, birds, and other denizens of the archipelago, the resort's marine center offers guided cruises for whale watching and other wildife-viewing. You can rent a kayak for your own excursion around the island. You can arrive on your boat and dock for your vacation stay at the resort's marina.

You can eat to your hearty's content, in either the upscale Roche Harbor Restaurant, or in the Lime Kiln Café which serves burgers, sandwiches and other comfort food. There's a bar for the adults, and even a consecrated Catholic church on the resort property -- popular for weddings by-the-sea. A grandiose mausoleum, set in the nearby forest, is an eerie reminder of the McMillan family, which developed the original mining operation and the Roche Harbor community.

Roche Harbor is close to the two national park sites that commemorate the war of 1812 (here it was the "pig war") and to the fantastic scenery of the outer, pacific coast of San Juan Island.

Fraser Bridges

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