The San Juan Islands are an archipelago in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The San Juan Islands are part of the U.S. state of Washington.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines the San Juan Islands as the archipelago north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west of Rosario Strait, east of Haro Strait, and south of Boundary Pass. To the north lie the open waters of the Strait of Georgia. All these waters are within the Salish Sea. The USGS definition of the San Juan archipelago coincides with San Juan County. Islands not in San Juan County are not part of the San Juan Islands, according to the USGS.
At mean high tide, there are over 400 islands and rocks in the archipelago, 128 of which are named, and over 770 kilometres of shoreline. The majority of the San Juan Islands are quite hilly with some flat areas and valleys, often quite fertile, in between. The tallest peak is Mount Constitution, on Orcas Island, at almost exactly a half-mile (800 metres) elevation. The coastlines are a mix of sandy and rocky beaches, shallow and deep harbors, placid and reef-studded bays. Gnarled, ochre-colored madrona trees (Arbutus) grace much of the shorelines while evergreen fir and pine forests cover large inland areas.
The San Juan Islands get less rainfall than Seattle, about 105 kilometres to the south, due to their location in the rain shadow of Olympic Mountains to the southwest. Summertime high temperatures are around 21 °C while average wintertime lows are in the high thirties and low forties. Snow is infrequent in winter except for the higher elevations, but the islands are subject to high winds at times - those from the northeast sometimes bring brief periods of freezing and Arctic-like wind chills.
Air service to the San Juan Islands is provided by:
You can take your car on some ferries (see below).
Three ferry systems serve some of the San Juan Islands:
Passenger-only ferries serve more islands. Passenger-only ferry service is usually seasonal and offered by private business:
Bringing a car on the ferry is a popular option for exploring the remote areas of the main islands, but car rentals are also available in such areas as Eastsound. Other smaller islands may have unimproved county roads, but due to their remote locations and lack of ferry service these roads often serve as foot trails and you are more likely to see someone traveling by horse than car. The lines for loading cars onto Washington State Ferries can be notoriously brutal during peak season and weekends. It is not unusual to wait in line for many hours and missing the last ferry can mean a desperate search for unplanned accommodations to spend an unplanned night on the islands so plan accordingly.
The winding paved roads of the main islands are ideal for exploring by bike and bike rentals are available near many areas in the San Juan Islands, however the smaller more remote islands often do not have paved roads making traveling by bike more of a challenge. Bicyclists have priority boarding on Washington State Ferries so bikes can bypass the sometimes ridiculously long car lines and walk right onto the ferries.
The four largest Islands - Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, and Shaw are connected by Washington State Ferries. Water Taxi services can transport to the small islands such as Blakely, Decatur and Henry Islands.
Fresh Seafood including fish (especially salmon), Dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels and clams is readily available.
Few, if any, American regions can challenge the Pacific North West's love of coffee. According to a group of industry market researchers, there were an amazing 1,640 coffee shops in the Puget Sound region in 2011, ranking it the most popular coffee region in the country and the San Juan Islands are no exception to the rule. Coffee shops are frequent and popular and even small harbors with perhaps one store will still be expected to have some espresso options.
Microbreweries and beer in general are a Northwest specialty, and the area has many to offer for beer enthusiasts. The larger brewers, like Redhook and Pyramid, distribute their products regionally or nationally like their coffee cousins, while other brews can only be found in local stores or bars (some notable brewers don't bottle their product). Ask your servers for local beer recommendations and search out regional microbrews in stores.
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