Amy Nesler | 03/18/2021 | Activities, Education, Hiking |   

Preparing to Recreate Responsibly

Spending time in nature has proven to be essential for all.  Whether you're a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a family heading out to a local park for the first time, we can all consider how to safely and responsibly recreate outdoors while caring for one another and nature itself. 

To help you plan your next visit to the San Juans accordingly—and avoid all-too-common visitor mistakes—we’ve compiled a list of necessities based on advice from park rangers and other locals. From survival essentials to entertainment, like a deck of cards to break out around the campfire, here are the must-haves that’ll make your trip as stress-free as possible. 

A Ferry Reservation

If you're bringing a vehicle, you'll need to make 2 reservations -- one coming to the Islands (westbound) and one leaving the Islands (eastbound) if you're visiting Orcas or Friday Harbor/San Juan Island. The system will prompt you to make a round-trip reservation. (Lopez Island and Shaw Island only have westbound reservations. During the summer the ferry line and wait time can be long since Lopez doesn't have eastbound reservations, so please be prepared.) Your tickets from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands will be a roundtrip fare. Eastbound sailings between the islands are free (example: Friday Harbor to Orcas Island) while westbound sailings between the islands (example: Orcas Island to Friday Harbor) are one-way fares for vehicles. International trips to Sidney BC are also one-way fares.  


Most people associate the Pacific Northwest with rain, and the Islands are no exception. However, the archipelago gets half the rainfall of Seattle and almost 250 days with sunshine. So, make sure waterproof layers are easily accessible for a quick change in the weather, and perhaps an extra sweatshirt for the cooler evenings. 

Appropriate Footwear

Though it’s a common mistake, this isn’t San Juan, Puerto Rico. The beaches are pebbly, trails get muddy, and evenings cool off quickly. Waterproof hiking boots are ideal for most terrain types, and your feet will thank you when you don’t turn an ankle scrambling around on the rocks and driftwood.


Once you leave the main hubs of Friday Harbor, Eastsound, or Lopez Village, a quick snack can be tricky to find, so having a few extra goodies in your packs will prevent your crew from getting ‘hangry’ and making the hike less pleasant for all involved.

Plenty of Water

You might be at sea level, but hydration is still important. Have a reusable water bottle on hand for each person – most parks have water fountains available when you need to refill. Nothing like a dehydration headache to take the shine off the moment.  

Fireside Activities

While it’s unlikely you’ll be bored on a visit to the island parks, it never hurts to have a little extra something for the kids around the campfire, or on a drizzly day. A deck of cards, Bananagrams, and Mad Libs don’t take up much room and are all good options to provide some laughs.

A Map

Our phones may be able to do everything but kiss us goodnight but having a paper map in the outdoors cannot be overstated. Cell service can be spotty in the San Juans, especially outside of the villages.

Patience and Flexibility

Increased interest in the outdoors often means the popular trailheads and beaches fill up quickly. Rather than creating an illegal parking spot, try another spot close by and come back to your first choice at a less busy time. Most parks report the highest use between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., especially on weekends. But there’s a range of critters that are more active at dawn and dusk, so perhaps add an early morning foray or sunset picnic to the schedule.

Treat the Islands as if they’re your own backyard—because, in many ways, they are. Pack out whatever you pack in, and leave the park as you found it, or even better!

Contact Us:
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
1-888-468-3701 | (360) 378-9551
P.O. Box 1330, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250
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