Kayaking in Sucia Island State Park

©istockphoto/Donki13Fair warning: once you visit the San Juan Islands, you’ll never want to leave. Nestled into the northwest corner of Washington State, this Pacific Northwest archipelago is known for pastoral landscapes, breathtaking wildlife encounters, and some of the best organic bakeries around.

Horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, one of the biggest in the chain, is home to 4,000-odd residents who live on tiny lavender farms, waterfront homes, and the occasional yurt. The only town is Eastsound, and the east side of the island is dominated by Moran State Park’s old-growth forest and Mount Constitution (2,398’). Everywhere you turn, the glistening Pacific flashes light through the trees.

Directly north of Orcas Island is Sucia Island, a tiny atoll that boasts a 564-acre marine park with 77,700 feet of shoreline. The island is considered the crown jewel of Washington State’s marine park system, and is consistently ranked as one of the top boating destinations in the world. Orcas, sea lions, and curious seals frequent the island’s coastline. Visitors can hunt for fossils, scour tide pools for colorful sea life, and explore the island’s hiking trails. It’s an easy day trip from Orcas, and for visitors who want to spend the night there are plenty of beachfront campsites ($12/night). There’s even running water to refill bottles. And here’s the best news of all: you don’t need a yacht to explore! With a free weekend, a sea kayak, and a sense of adventure, Sucia Island is yours to explore.

Getting There
From Seattle, drive two hours north to the Anacortes ferry terminal, where you can either walk or drive onto a boat to Orcas Island (reservations are recommended). The scenic ride takes roughly an hour, and you’ll disembark on the west side of the island. Drive or catch a ride to Eastsound, then hit the local organic food coop or Brown Bear Baking for lunch.

Where To Stay On Orcas
There are a variety of lodging options on Orcas Island. The best is Doe Bay Resort, a 38-acre waterfront retreat that offers campsites, yurts, and cabins. Amenities include a saltwater beach, a café whose menu features locally grown ingredients and freshly caught fish, and clothing-optional saltwater hot pools.

If you’ve brought your own boat, make sure it’s a sea kayak with a spray skirt, bilge pump, and paddle float for self-rescue. If you’re renting a boat, try Outer Island Expeditions, who will hook you up with a Necky kayak—and while you’re there, go ahead and schedule your water taxi to Sucia Island ($45/person.) Intrepid kayakers sometimes paddle across the 2.5-mile channel, but currents and tides can be unpredictable. Don’t try it unless you’re an experienced paddler.

What to Bring
In your kayak, you’ll want plenty of fresh water, snacks, sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, a wide-brimmed hat, rain gear, and plenty of warm layers. If you camp on Sucia, prepare to be self-sufficient for at long as you’ll be on the island. And don’t forget your camera!