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Anacortes Ferry Terminal

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 into Rosario Strait for the islands. Along the ferry ride there are multiple islands to see.

Guemes Channel is between four and five miles long and connects Padilla Bay with Rosario Strait between Guemes and Fidalgo islands in west central Skagit County. It was named Hornet’s Harbor by Cmdr. Charles Wilkes in 1841 for the Sloop-of-War Hornet, which fought in the War of 1812 under command of Capt. James Lawrence. The Spanish name has been adopted.

Not the least of this region’s marvels is the skill of its navigators, who, during the fall and winter fogs, nimbly trace their way through treacherous passages in the blind mist. It is said that the late Captain Sam Barlow could thrust his head out of the wheelhouse window and with one sniff tell his exact location. Local pilots can determine their ships’ positions in fog-bound waters by the echoes of their whistles from the invisible shores.


A Journey through the San Juans, a film by the Washington State Ferries, ca. 1940s. Take a look at early ferry travel to the islands, visiting attractions and towns on Orcas, Lopez, San Juan Island and more. Presented by TVW with footage courtesy of the Washington State Archives.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Rosario Strait

Rosario Strait, which links Georgia Strait with Juan de Fuca Strait, is much traveled by ships bound for the “inside passage” to Alaska. The current here often reaches a velocity of eight miles an hour, so that the waters are beset with boiling tide rips and whirling eddies. Sleek porpoises frequently bound in graceful arcs through the strait, and huge blackfish known as pilot whale, occasionally rear above the surface, flirting enormous black tails. Discovered by the Spaniard, Quimper, who called it Boca de Fidalgo, the strait was renamed Canal de Fidalgo by Lieutenant Eliza, Ringgold’s Pass by Wilkes, and finally Rosario Strait, by the British Admiralty in 1847.

Decatur Island

Rocky Decatur Island was named for Stephen Decatur, distinguished American naval officer. Not quite four square miles in area, its heavily-forested slopes descend to a curving beach on the west; here crabs are found in abundance. Off-shore, a few hundred yards from the south headland of this half-moon bay,

Guemes Island

Guemes Island, its southwest corner marked by a yellow bluff. Triangular in shape, its eight square miles are heavily wooded. On the southeast, the shore land rises steeply to the highest point. A few farms are scattered about the island, and a tiny Native American village is on its northwest tip. Large deposits of plastic clay are found here. The name was given in 1791 by Lieut. Juan Francisco de Eliza, for the Viceroy of Mexico, Don Juan Vincente de Guemes Pacheco y Padillo Orcasitas y Aguayo, Conde de Revilla Gigedo. Various portions of the Count’s name were given to other locations in the Pacific Northwest. In 1841, Cmdr. Charles Wilkes charted it as Lawrence Island, for Capt. James Lawrence, USN, who commanded the Sloop-of-War Hornet in the War of 1812. In 1853 the name Dog Island was given for an episode in which wild dogs raided the camp of Russell Peabody and Capt. Roeder, and ate their food.

Cypress Island

The boat channel narrows between Cypress Island, on the left, named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver for what he took to be cypress trees. Botanists say the trees Vancouver noted on Cypress Island, two miles farther, on the left, were actually junipers. Virtually devoid of roads and scantily populated, the island has deposits of iron ore that have never been developed.

Sinclair Island

Sinclair Island rises to flat-topped wooded hills from long sandy beaches surrounded by shoalwater. Here was the home port of Larry Kelly, notorious smuggler, who evaded all efforts of revenue officers to stop the illegal importation of Chinese from Canada during the nineties. Under cover of darkness the Chinese were landed near Everett or Seattle for a fee of $500 each, cash in advance; it was said that when hard pressed, Kelly would throw the immigrants overboard to save himself from arrest. The island was once covered with cottonwood trees. Spanish explorers charted it as Isla de Ignacio or Isla de Aguayo. Pioneers called it Cottonwood. The Native American name was Scut-las in the Lummi language. The present name was chosen by the Wilkes Expedition for Capt. Arthur Sinclair, a prominent officer in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812 who died February 7, 1831. The name used was Sinclair’s Island.

Vendovi Island

Vendovi Island a rockbound cove below a wooded hill opens into the channel. The north shore was once the site of a Father Divine colony that attracted many members from New York and California during the summer. In 1790, this island, with Sinclair Island to the west, received the name of Islas de Aguayo from Dionisio Galiano. The present name was given by Commander Charles Wilkes in 1841 for a Fiji Islander named Vendovi who was a prisoner on one of his ships having been arrested for the murder of an American seaman in the Fiji Islands. Vendovi, a colorful character, marched in the parade of July 5, 1841, the first celebration of American Independence in northwest America. A local name once used was Hog Island.

James Island

James Island was named by Cmdr. Wilkes in 1841 for Reuben James, a U.S. sailor, who saved the life of Stephen Decatur in an undeclared war with Tripoli in North Africa.

Decatur Island

Decatur Island was named by Cmdr. Charles Wilkes for Capt. Stephen Decatur, U.S. naval hero of the War of 1812. Wilkes named it Decatur’s Island, but on subsequent charts, the possessive form was dropped. This happened to most of the names Wilkes gave in the region.

Thatcher Pass

Thatcher Pass is used by ferries through the San Juan Islands. It was named in 1854 by the U.S. Coast Survey, who changed the name given by Cmdr. Wilkes in 1841, Macedonian Crescent, for the waters surrounding Decatur Island.

Blakely Island

Blakely Island slopes steeply from the water to stony heights. In 1841, Cmdr. Charles Wilkes named it for Capt. Johnston Blakely, who was killed in the War of 1812 on the ship USS Wasp. The Lummi Native American name for the island was Com-com-rach.

Frost Island

Frost Island’s present name was charted by Cmdr. Charles Wilkes for John Frost, boatswain of the expedition’s ship Porpoise. It was listed at one time as Foost Island.