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