Content by Toni Shiurba Published on August 9, 2017
In 2009, Washington State designated the 30-mile ocean ferry route to the San Juan Islands part of our Scenic Byway. This marine passage is the same that Coast Salish people navigated in their cedar canoes long ago. Add in two driving segments, one on San Juan Island and the other on Orcas and there you have it – the perfect scenic route.
Why have a Scenic Route through the San Juan Islands?
There are a total of 25 Byways in Washington State. By highlighting scenic beauty and places of historic and cultural meaning, we are sustaining the best our state has to offer.
Sometimes referred to as the Jewel of Washington State, the San Juan Islands sport idyllic farmlands, sunset vistas, grape vineyards, historic national Parks, Lighthouses and extensive beaches. The twenty-mile adventure on San Juan can be undertaken by bicycle, kayak, electric vehicle or conventional car.
Take the Tour on San Juan Island!
If you bicycle, you’ll need a reasonable amount of leg power to navigate the rolling hills and sparse pavement shoulders. Don’t be daunted though, because I know you can do it. Strap on your water battle, helmet and polite roadway demeanor and you’ve got it made.
Start out Roche Harbor Road winding your way along pastures gold. Further down, a picturesque red barn stands waiting in a valley. The kind artists love to paint.
Move onward, north past the 1895 white Schoolhouse turned tasting room next to geometric rows of grapes. Stop here for some wine tasting and perhaps a small purchase of a bottle or two.
Be sure to pause awhile soon after the vineyard to coax our famous ungulate over for a pet. What’s that, you ask? It is an even-toed animal like cattle, deer and hippopotamuses, oh my!
Mona is no hippo, though. She is our one and only resident camel. Brought here originally for an exotic animal farm, she has remained as a precious pet of her owners. A lover of attention, Mona sidles up to her visitors for some gentle stroking and adoration. Appreciation is her modus operandi-you know, how she rolls.
Mosey on down the road until you see Sportsman’s lake. Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch and Pumpkinseed Sunfish practically jump on your hook.
Keep on truckin’ till you pass the apple orchard where fine cider is made and an oyster farm that is most worthy of a visit. Enter under the arches and up the winding road to Roche Harbor Resort. More than a historic Lime Kiln Quarry, the resort is a compilation of historic inn, restaurant and bar. Down on the many gangways of Roche’s docks are boats of every kind. The incredible grandeur of the luxury liners that moor here will amaze you. We are talking Big Boats!
Yachts, sailboats, schooners and catamarans glisten in the sun. Happy people throng up and down the wooden walkways. Get a massage or find a homemade pair of beaded or silver earrings from one of the local craftsmen. Smell the flowers in the Rose Garden. Have a fancy meal at the restaurant. Dance to a band. Kick your heels up anyway you please.
Camps and Parks
Moving westward, arrive at English Camp for a history lesson about the islands. This is a day-use kind of camp with adjoining hiking trails.
When you’ve had your fill, go ahead and meander down the road for some R & R at the San Juan County Park. There you will find twenty overnight sites and magnificent views of Haro Strait, the Olympic Peninsula and at night, the lights of Victoria, Canada. Several years ago, a famous home was constructed for the film “Practical Magic”. So close your eyes and you’ll feel the lingering spell.
Get up early and start using your pedal power, launch your kayak or take motorized transport to reach Limekiln State Park. No kayak? No problem. Take a walk along the cliffs and shoreline to scan the horizon for our famous resident Orca whales. During summer months and especially in July, one or all of the three pods, J, K and L, occasionally surface to give you a show.
You will then want to continue southward with a detour at Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Twenty-five acres of organically grown lavender puts a purple blush to the grounds. At the store, pick up some artistically crafted lavender products. The presentation of the soaps, candles, essential oils and household products is gorgeous!
Now You’ve Made it to the South End!
The roadway winds along until you come to South Beach, the islands longest sandy beach. This is the home of American Camp where you can continue to understand our islands past and the war between British and American troops over who shot a farmers pig. Better known as the Pig War.
Then, watch the fishing boats throw out gillnets and pursane boats circle the salmon to draw them up in one fell swoop. Cliffs continue the journey towards the Cattle Point Lighthouse. The beach here is rocky with shorter stretches of sand. Word is this is the place to find colored beach glass and maybe an agate or two.
The last loop of the Byway takes visitors to Jackson Beach where locals play beach volleyball and dogs fetch driftwood sticks.
Head Back Towards Town
Well, there you have it in a nutshell. Come and take a trip and see the panoramic landscape that the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway has to offer. Let the Tucker House Inn be your starting point. Enjoy our relaxing jacuzzi bathtubs or hot tubs once you finish your tour!