June 29, 2016
Orcas Island / San Juan Islands, WA
The famous San Juan Islands are a group of four main islands (Orcas, San Juan, Shaw and Lopes) along with many more islets in the Puget Sound, connecting Straight of Georgia with Straight of Juan de Fuca and sandwiched in between the coast of northwest Washington and the southern Vancouver Island. Orcas Island is the largest among those and the summit of Mt. Constitution is the highest point in the San Juan Country. This peak is highly visible from Highway 91 in Delta, BC hence I can see it pretty much every day I drive to work. Needless to say, I’d like to bag it someday, although it’s nothing fancier than just a forested bump in the coastal lowlands.
To tag this peak one has to take a ferry ride to the Orcas Island from the mainland of Washington and that has to be schedule a few days in advance especially in the summer season (lots of tourists so the spots fill up quickly). Once on the island it’s about half an hour drive to Moran State Park and from there one has several options. Most hikers would prefer to take one of the several trails to the top but there’s also an option to drive the steep, narrow but paved Mt. Constitution Road to the summit. This was a specially hot day and neither Yujia nor myself got more than 4 hours of sleep in the previous night, so the road option and that’s it. Yujia had never taken a ferry ride and I had never driven my car out onto a ferry before so this would be a great experience to share with each other.
After having breakfast in Burlington’s Panera Bread we cruised down eastwards along SR 20 to Anacortes. We made to the ferry terminal just in time and 40 minutes later we were on board. It was my first time driving onto a ferry and I had to say that the instruction was very easy to follow. The 1-hour ride to Orcas Island was nice and scenic although it was a wee bit windy and cold. We stayed mostly inside but did venture onto the deck for some views.
Onto Orcas Island we firstly went to check out the West Beach and just as advertised, it’s a prime spot for taking a few days’ vacation. I’d also like to stay longer but we didn’t have much time left before having to move on. We grabbed some food from a small town called Eastsound before resuming the drive up Mt. Constitution. I was a bit tired at this point so Yujia took over the drive. She did an excellent job negotiating that narrow and winding road. It was super duper zoo up there and we were lucky to even find a parking spot.
From the upper parking lot it’s a mere 2-minute walk to the summit. The views were excellent towards east with some unique oceanic scenery and some high peaks such as Mt. Baker were also visible. The highest point on the summit was actually an observation tower so we climbed up, and got some even better views. Back down from the tower we found a picnic table on a shaded spot to have lunch, and about 1 hour later it’s time to head down to catch our scheduled ferry at 5:15 pm. Except for a traffic delay near Eastsound we had no further issue to catch our ride.
Now on the ferry it was still windy and cold, but at least we didn’t forget to pack a couple extra layers this time. We stayed much longer on the deck to take in the views before sitting down, chatting and exchanging our thoughts for this trip. The drive back to Burlington was uneventful and that concluded another great day.
Overall I’d say Mt. Constitution is well worth the effort to give a visit, but I probably would recommend to stay at least 1 or 2 nights on the island. There’s much more to explore other than this summit. In addition to that, the views from Mt. Constitution would also be terrific in sunset time and that way you also wouldn’t need to rush to catch the ferry schedule. All in all this is a great area to visit with family and friends and I’m sure I’ll be back someday.