How to Plan a Day Trip to the San Juan Islands

Don't have the time for an overnight trip? Couldn't find lodging? That doesn't mean you can't enjoy a trip to the Islands! Come up for the day and spend time exploring the "must see" spots, shopping in town, and taking notes for your future overnight trips. 

A day trip is a great way to get a taste of what each island has to offer - though you'll only scratch the surface. The Islands are best experienced over several days when you have the opportunity to adjust to "island time," enjoy both a sunset and a sunrise, and take your time at each stop. 

Until you're able to spend a weekend with us (or better yet a whole week!), here's some advice on how to make the most of your day trip to the San Juan Islands.

Pro-Tips for day trippers coming by ferry:

1) Make vehicle reservations for the ferry if your route includes Anacortes (except Lopez to Anacortes). All other routes are first-come, first-served at the ferry terminal and you should plan on arriving at least an hour before the ferry departs for all routes.

2) If you can, try to limit your day trip to a single island. We know it is hard to choose between them, but by only exploring one island per day, you will spend less of your time traveling or waiting in line for the ferry and more time can be spent enjoying the island itself. You can also use these day trip itineraries for Lopez, San Juan, or Orcas Island to guide you in making the most of a full day on each island.

3) If you just have to see more than one island, take the earliest possible ferry you can from Anacortes and do no more than two. This way you can have at least a couple of hours on a couple of islands before heading back to the mainland. Again, the line for the inter-island routes is first-come, first-served at the terminal, so be sure to get in line early to get onboard for your next stop.  Also, when you leave the last island for your return to the mainland, plan on departing no later than the second to last ferry of the night. We suggest this to be sure you have the buffer of another ferry, in case of any unplanned long delays or cancelations. 

4) Try to avoid booking a tour or any activity that requires ticketing or reservations within 3 hours of your ferry's scheduled arrival on island. If the ferry is delayed, you may not make it in time for your trip. Many operators do not provide refunds if the ferry is delayed.

5) Be sure to subscribe to the WSDOT ferry alerts a couple of days ahead of your travel, so that you can be made aware of any delays or cancelations with as much advanced notice as possible.

Consider leaving your car behind and walking onto the Washington State Ferry, taking a water taxi, or flying via charter plane. No matter where you're visiting from, there are creative transportation solutions to make the most of your day trip.  

Each island is unique and offers exciting experiences - even if just for the day. Just because you aren't booking a room for the night doesn't mean you shouldn't still plan ahead. Booking activities and dining in advance will make your trip run smoothly and you'll be more likely to get your first picks. Most tour operators have generous cancellation policies in case you need to make changes. (Check with individual companies to be sure of their policies.) 

During your day trip to the San Juan Islands, it's important to keep "island time" in mind. The pace is a little slower here, so pack your patience and enjoy the serendipity of exploring new places. Be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles and be a mindful and respectful traveler while you're here.

Below, you'll find some of our tips and tricks for being a responsible day-tripper. Plan ahead, go with the flow, and enjoy your getaway! 

Get the Local Scoop

While you're here, locals ask visitors to acknowledge and appreciate the fragility of the ecosystem. Keeping a few simple guidelines in mind will both protect what we all love about the Islands, and make the experience even more enjoyable for locals and visitors alike.

Sign the Pledge

The San Juan Islands Pledge is simple: when you act as an ecologically and socially responsible visitor, you are actively contributing to the future of the San Juans. So by taking the pledge, you help our small islands in a big way. By committing to be a responsible visitor, you can help protect that the San Juans.

Responsible Travel Tips

The San Juan archipelago is one of the most cherished destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Be a responsible visitor and use these tips to help ensure the San Juans remain a beautiful and unique place to live, work, and play for generations to come.  

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

Site by Drozian Webworks
©2024 San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
Privacy Policy