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San Juan Islands

  • Distance: 30 miles
  • Routes: Washington State Ferry
  • Estimated Driving time: 1-2 days

The San Juan Islands include 172 habitable islands and several hundred tide-washed rocks clustered in the northern waters of Puget Sound and the southern extremity of Georgia Strait. The International Boundary Line, zigzagging through a maze of waterways, leaves a hundred or more islands to Canada; all are a part of the same submerged mountain chain that rises above sea level to a maximum of 2,454 feet in Mount Constitution.

Along the jagged shores of the islands, sinewy red-trunked madronas and wind-stunted green conifers stand above tawny rocks, white sand, and gravelly beaches. The woods present a leafy tangle, brightened in summer with gleaming white dogwood and rose-red flowering currant, each shaded sanctuary adorned with delicate green ferns, honeysuckle, trilliums, and other wild flowers. The breeze-swept adjacent waters contain an extraordinary variety of marine life; no less plentiful is the island fauna.

While the names of some of the islands embody the long record of successive explorations, from the Spaniards in 1790–2 and the English in 1792, to the American Wilkes and others of the 1840s, physical peculiarities are responsible for many homespun names such as Peapod, Goose, Dot, Ripple, Flattop, Saddle Bag, and Hat Islands.

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The ferry terminus is a fishing and lumbering center on the northwest point of Fidalgo Island, connected with the mainland over bridged sloughs. The town is a checkerboard of wide streets, where neat buildings of brick and concrete predominate over old frame structures. Parkways and skillful landscaping distinguish parts of the residential section. The ferry departs from the ferry landing at the west end of Guemes Channel and heads out...

Learn more about Anacortes Ferry Terminal
Points of Interest
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Rosario Strait

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Decatur Island

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Guemes Island

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Cypress Island

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Sinclair Island

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Vendovi Island

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James Island

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Decatur Island

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Thatcher Pass

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Blakely Island

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Frost Island

The ferry turns westward through a maze of waterways, studded with rocks and wooded islets. Broken Point, a small cross-shaped peninsula, reaches out from the indented and stratified shoreline of Shaw Island. A rocky point with a considerable amount of fracture on the north shore of Shaw Island is directly south of the entrance to West Sound on Orcas Island in central San Juan County. In 1872, this descriptive name...

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A cluster of small rocks, extending from Neck Point (Shaw Island), marks the entrance to San Juan Channel, subject of controversy in 1859 when Britain claimed it to be the International Boundary Line. In the 1940s, on almost any summer day purse-seine boats with their elevated round sterns and swivel platforms are seen circling about. Purse-seining, which traps fish in an encircling net with a draw-string at the bottom, is...

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Friday Harbor took its name from “Friday,” an aged Hawaiian Islander brought here by the Hudson’s Bay Company to herd its sheep. From the ferry landing the main thoroughfare ascends a gradual incline, fronted by a variety of mercantile establishments, to the flat above the harbor where the residence district, school buildings, and courthouse spread out from the main street. Small-launch transportation between the islands has centralized insular business at...

Learn more about Friday Harbor
Points of Interest
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San Juan County Courthouse

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UW Oceanographic Laboratories

The ferry route follows an easterly winding course along deep green aisles between rock-bound, tree-covered islands, every turn presenting a new vista of tide-washed shore. The water passage between the north end of Lopez Island and the southeast shore of Shaw Island is named Upright Channel. Canoe Island, mid-channel, reduces this passage almost to river width. The passage was named Frolic Strait by Cmdr. Wilkes in 1841 for the British...

Learn more about Upright Channel
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Canoe Island

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Shannon Point

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