The Emerald Isle ~ Orcas Island, WA

Commonly called the Emerald Isle, with its lush forested hillsides, Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands.   Looking like two saddlebags or some might say a horseshoe, with the most populated village of Eastsound connecting the two, it has the largest mountain in the islands, rugged coastline, and rural countryside.  Old apple orchards and remnants of turn-of-the-century prune-drying barns could be seen as we wound our way around the island.

Biking is said to be a big sport with locals and tourists alike, but its steep hills and winding roads did not call out to us.  We much preferred the rolling hills on Lopez Island for our two-wheeled adventures.

If you were looking to take to the trails, this would be the island for you.  These hikes may not be of the same caliber as those we enjoy in the national parks and other well-known western trails, but a girl can only be without her hiking boots for so long.  We had read that Turtleback Mountain Preserve near Deer Harbor offered some nice trails so we decided to investigate.  The lovely 3-mile Turtleback Mountain south hike didn’t necessarily take our breath away with only an 830’ elevation gain, but the views from the lookout most certainly did.

And of course, after a hike it is important to replenish fluids, right? 😉  How could we turn down the opportunity to taste test a flight of craft beer from the only brewery on the island – Island Hoppin’ Brewery?  It seemed many others felt the same way, as it was rockin’ when we arrived.  Our favorite, no surprise, was the Oatmeal Stout.

The highest point on Orcas, at 2409’, Mt. Constitution, can also be hiked and is where you will find the tower.  Climb to the top and you are looking out over island-studded waters and snow-capped Mt. Baker, provided the stars are aligned and you are blessed with clear views  We had neither a clear day nor anyone manning the Learning Center, but luckily we had seen some beautiful images atop Mt. Constitution already, thanks to Nina of Wheelingit.

We were nearby the historic Rosario Resort, and thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we decided to tour the property. Shipbuilder Robert Moran, who held a deep respect for nature, hand craftsmanship and the arts, constructed this striking resort.  His meticulous eye could be seen throughout as we walked the resort and grounds. A presentation of the history of this unique building, via film and music, rounded out our time there.

Eastsound, one of a few of the little villages dotting the island, was a great place to grab a meal and wander the shops.  We enjoyed a great farm-to-table salmon salad at an Asian café, The Kitchen.

Like other islands in the San Juans, the arts play a big role in the culture of this island as well, with local artists’ work featured in many of the shops and galleries.  If you enjoy pottery, a visit to Orcas Island Pottery should be on your list.  For more than 60 years it has been a destination for those visiting the San Juans, being the oldest pottery studio in the Northwest.  Just a few miles from Eastsound this quaint cottage studio is tucked into a forest of old-growth cedar and Douglas fir, overlooking the President’s Channel.  The cottage, outbuildings, and the yards are filled with colorful, creatively designed pottery in all shapes and sizes.  And a grey whale graced us with an appearance in the channel off the back of the property.

Confined by the ferry schedule, we had to leave exploration of the south end of the island for another visit.  I am confident that will happen. 🙂

Ferry leaving Orcas Island
Ferry leaving Orcas Island

44 thoughts on “The Emerald Isle ~ Orcas Island, WA

  • Another collection of beautiful photographs showing some stunning scenery. You and Terry are looking mighty fine. Your summer travels seemed to have agreed with you 🙂

  • What a fabulous picture of the two of you! I love your attitude of taking in the craft brewery. A person has to do what a person has to do. As always your vibrant photos make me want to be wherever you are.

  • yippee, how great to have a slice of online time and catch this post! the title immediately made me think of this song, though it’s not about ‘this’ emerald isle.

    you both look great, and i’m glad to tag along on this tour!

    • It’s ironic you should mention this song Lisa as it came to mind for me as well when I was doing this post. Love it! Hope you are now fully recovered. 🙂

  • We really like Orcas Island, too. That’s my favorite pottery studio, and I have several beautiful large pieces in storage bought pre-full timing. This year I couldn’t resist a little pottery raven that can travel with us. 🙂 The views from Turtleback Mountain are gorgeous — now I’m really sorry that we got rained out the day we planned to hike it. We’ve never been to Rosario Resort or the brewery either…perhaps an expedition together next summer is in order? Terrific photo of you two!

    • I would have loved to pick up several pieces of their pottery Laurel…so lovely. We had read about some of the hikes in Moran as well and they are probably some we will want to do next time but the reviews from the lookout point on Turtleback were wonderful so that is what we chose. I would definitely go back. I’d say there is some exploring left to do next summer. 🙂 Enjoy the Sisters Festival.

  • There is just too much to see in this country! We are now on year six and we still have so much to see! I love the look of these islands and am really looking forward to see a few one day. Thanks for the great tour. Isn’t it nice to just take hike and not have to gasp for breath. Sometimes shorter and flatter is so much fun:) Love the photo of you and Terry:) Special people:)

    • Every time Terry and I talk about doing some international traveling again, we pull out our list of what we want to do in this country and the international travel plans are put on the back burner. We do love the islands so aren’t complaining about the lack of strenuous hikes but the trails are beginning to call to us. We leave the San Juans tomorrow. Miss you two! Sure hope our paths cross yet this year.

    • The islands are pretty sweet. I didn’t send the Lumix in yet. Have just been limping along with it. It seems some of the issues I have been having have disappeared, although the coloring when I use some of the settings still seems all wrong. It is a mystery. Just hope it holds up until we get back to CA.

  • Love the header, beautifully captured.
    Hey you guys look terrific and wishing we could meet up again someday now that we are back in the west.
    Thanks for scouting this for us, I know we have to go back to the islands not just San Juan.

    • Thanks MonaLiza. Now that you two are back to the west we will definitely have to see what we can do about meeting up. Our first visit was much too short. Would love to do some hiking with you two.

  • Your photos are absolutely marvelous. I’ve especially been enjoying those you’ve chosen for headers. What’s this about Lumix problems? I certainly haven’t been seeing any such in your images. For me the San Juans (along with the Olympic Peninsula) have been an elusive item on the bucket list. I keep dreaming about exploring them, but something always seems to get in the way. Your post (along with Nina’s) certainly increase that desire.

    • Thanks so much Gunta. Hope you are able to get back to the beach soon. My camera has not been focusing as I think it should and the coloring for many of the modes seems all wrong to me. It all started earlier this summer when I fell while hiking, unfortunately onto my camera. I don’t know if that caused the issues I’m having or not, but I don’t want to send it in until we return the CA. I am not hearing good things about Panasonic’s customer service. 😦

    • We had hoped to get to Canada this year but that will have to wait for another time. Terri, we are hoping to do some hiking in North Cascades NP, provided weather and smoke doesn’t interfere. We will then slowly make our way back to So Cal for the winter.

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