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!