San Juan Islands Washington

San Juan Islands Washington State: Overview of the San Juan Islands archipelago with history, transportation to and from, photos, and island attractions.

San Juan Islands, WashingtonWasp Passage in the San Juan Islands. Photo Credit Ian Mercer

Come visit the beautiful San Juan Islands!

Located between Vancouver and Seattle on the northwestern coast of the United States near the Canadian border, the San Juan Islands are comprised of hundreds of small islands and rocks, about sixty-five miles north of Seattle.

Access to the San Juan Islands is limited to boat, ferry or airplane. Plan accordingly with passenger and car ferry terminals in Washington or British Colombia.


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Located between Vancouver and Seattle on the northwestern coast of the United States near the Canadian border, the San Juan Islands are comprised of hundreds of small islands and rocks, about sixty-five miles north of Seattle.

Access to the San Juan Islands Washington is limited to boat, ferry or airplane. Plan accordingly with passenger and car ferry terminals in Washington or British Colombia.

With more shoreline than any other county in the U.S., Hundreds of miles of shoreline along the archipelago provide ample opportunity to explore local wildlife. Hiking, cycling, boating and kayaking are all popular activities on the islands. The area is largely rural with small towns at ferry ports on San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island.

The San Juan Islands do not receive as much rain as Seattle because they are located in the rain shadow of the Olympic mountains. With over 200 days of sunshine per year on average, temperatures on the San Juan Islands reach a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer and drop to the low 40s during the winter months.

Mt Baker behind Lopez and Shaw Islands in the San Juan IslandsMt. Baker behind the San Juans. Photo Credit Ian Mercer

The islands are known for stunning year-round natural beauty and a relaxed atmosphere fostering all sorts of activities. They draw thousands of visitors a year who enjoy the rural culture, the arts, fresh seafood, boating, whale-watching, fishing, historical sites, and golfing, all amidst the backdrop of breathtaking scenery.

Whether you arrive during the popular season between April and September, or the quieter season for a slower-paced schedule, the San Juan Islands Washington have much to offer visitors of every age and interest!

San Juan Islands WA Attractions and Points of Interest

Whale watching is a very popular attraction in the San Juan Islands WashingtonOrca whale in Canadian waters quickly reached from the San Juan Islands. This hungry orca is actively hunting harbor seals.

The San Juan Islands Washington is a popular place for families, boaters, art aficionados, foodies, fishermen, and historians.

  • The San Juans are the primary destination in North America for whale watching. See San Juan Islands Whale Watching.
  • The islands are also home to the highest concentration of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. 
  • State parks, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, beaches, tide pools and reefs are home to all kinds of wildlife that can be seen while hiking, kayaking or cycling around the islands. 
  • Enjoy the freshest of fresh seafood and stroll through harbor towns and historical sites. (Links to hotels, restaurants, and attractions will soon follow, check back soon.)

Transportation To and From the
San Juan Islands Washington

Sea plane servicing the San Juan Islands WASea plane servicing the San Juan Islands.

With no bridges to San Juan Islands Washington, all travel to the islands is either by water or air. Whether you arrive by passenger boat, plane, or ferry you’re guaranteed a ride with a view.

  • Get there via Washington State Ferries. The main WSF terminal is at Anacortes, WA, on Fidalgo Island (not part of the San Juan Islands)
  • Various bus services will pick you up from Sea-Tac International Airport and connect you with the transportation option you have selected
  • Between May and early October, seasonal passenger-only ferries provide another option, and you may be able to combine passage with whale-watching
  • A half-dozen airlines regularly service the San Juan Islands, originating in Seattle, Bellingham, Oregon, Victoria BC, and elsewhere.
  • Car or moped rental and inter-island transportation are available

San Juan Islands Transportation gives you a comprehensive look at all your options.

History of the San Juan Islands Washington

Prior to European settlement, the San Juan Islands (WA) were inhabited by Native American peoples, including the Songhees, Nooksack, Klallam, Samish and Lummi. The area was colonized by British and Americans by the late 1770s. Francisco de Eliza Spanish explored and mapped the San Juan Islands Washington in 1791. Within a year, George Vancouver of Britain also explored the area. Charles Wilkes led American explorations in 1841 and named many of the islands for distinguished US naval officers, several of which remain today, such as Shaw, Blakely, and Decatur.

Bald eagle in the San Juan Islands WABald eagle in the San Juan Islands WA

The 1846 Oregon Treaty established that all of Vancouver Island would remain under British control, but failed to specify where the boundary between the U.S. And Canada would be just southeast of Vancouver Island, where the San Juan Islands are located. Both British and American settlers lived and worked on the San Juan Islands Washington and each group claimed the area for their country.

Ten years after the treaty the uncertainty about the border resulted in a commission to try and resolve the issue but the results of discussions were inconclusive.

In 1859, direct conflict between an Irish pig rancher employed by The Hudson’s Bay Company and an American potato farmer quickly escalated. After the pig was found eating the farmer’s potatoes, the farmer shot it, and the rancher demanded compensation. The farmer refused to pay and British authorities threatened to arrest the farmer, who then called for military protection from the U.S. Insults between British and U.S. Soldiers were exchanged for several days, but fortunately no shots were fired.

Joint military occupation continued for over a decade until the U.S. and Canada agreed to international arbitration when it was decided that the San Juan Islands Washington would become part of the United States.

Today the San Juan Islands are home to many historical sites (eventual link to the SJIW points of interest page) such as San Juan Island’s English Camp, The Pig War Museum, Roche Harbor Mausolelum, Port Stanley Schoolhouse, Robert Moran’s Rosario Museum and the historic observation tower on Mt. Constitution to name a few. There are also several historical walking tours and living history presentations. 

Enjoy a great Visit to the San Juan Islands!

And when you do, please feel free to share your favorite photos and stories of your trip. Or, if you already have outstanding photos of the islands, we and other travelers will love to see them as well.

The process is easy: give your post a title, and tell us something about your photos, as much info as you think is good. If you'd like us to link your photos and your photo attribution to your website or other URL, provide that info as well. All posts are moderated, so we'll create that link for you as we post your submission.

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