If you’ve taken a car to the San Juan Islands in summer, you’ve probably sat and fumed in the long ferry line, especially on weekends.
Here are some ways to avoid the crush by going to, and getting around, the bucolic Washington islands car-free for the summer season. (Or for those who need or want to take their cars, vehicle reservations may be on the way, possibly starting in the fall/winter of 2014.)
Take the island bus. Walk on the ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island or Orcas Island, and walk off onto a shuttle bus, called the “Scenic Byway Explorer” that meets ferries at the terminals on both islands. The bus shuttles to popular spots on both islands with a hop-on, hop-off service. There are three routes on San Juan Island and one on Orcas Island. Fares range from $5 for a single bus ride to $15 for a day pass, and a 2-for-1 special is available under certain conditions. The shuttle began running in mid-May for the summer season on San Juan Island; it begins on Orcas on June 21 and runs daily into September on both islands; see San Juan Transit for more info. Taxis also are available and some hotels/resorts may do ferry pick-ups.
(Wondering about the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway after which the shuttle bus is named? It’s a state-designated sightseeing route.)
Bike: Park your car and take your bike on the ferry (or rent a bike on the islands). Biking is fun on the San Juans; it’s not too hilly and the distances are not daunting.
Parking, ferry rates: For ferry rates and where to park in Anacortes, click here.
Take the Clipper
Clipper Vacations has ferry service from downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor on passenger-only catamarans, with daily service in the summer season (from mid-May to Sept. 8).
Take a float plane
Get there very quickly and scenically on Kenmore Air floatplanes from either Seattle’s Lake Union or Kenmore on Lake Washington. The floatplanes go to several destinations on both San Juan Island and Orcas, plus Lopez Island. Not cheap; save by watching for sales and signing up for their “deals” email.
Water taxis /tours
Ferry reservations on the way?
Washington State Ferries and a San Juan Islands community group are studying a reservation system for the San Juan Islands. Reservations already are available for commercial traffic to the San Juans and on a few other Washington ferries routes, including from Anacortes to Sidney, B.C. ). If a reservation system goes ahead, it would likely be in the fall/winter of 2014, says Washington State Ferries.