June 30, 2017

San Juan Islands Planning Part 2: Washington State Ferries Fares and Reserve Ferry Tickets

Thanks to the Washington State Ferries service, hopping through the San Juan Islands is very convenient. The islands that the inter-island ferries operate at this time are: San Juan, Orcas, Shaw, and Lopez islands.

If you just want to visit one island at a time, make sure to check the Part 1 of the San Juan Islands Planning: Which Island? to help you decide which island to stay on. If you want to experience multiple islands, it is very important that you know how the fares and ticket reservations work.

First thing first, the Washington State Ferries operate from the Anacortes town, which is about 1 and half drive from Seattle to one of the San Juan Islands. This is the most economical way to get to San Juan Islands from the mainland. When planning your trip, keep in mind for the following fare structures of Washington State Ferries:

  • A trip from Anacortes to San Juan Islands, whether you are bringing car with you or not, you will need to pay the passenger fare. 
  • Island Hopping/Inter-island Ferries: 
    • Pedestrians and those with bikes can ride the inter-island ferries for free. 
    • If you are going Westbound, you will be charged for your car.
    • If you are going Eastbound, including the trip back to Anacortes, you will NOT be charged for your car. 
In other words, if you are bringing your car with you (which is highly recommended for those that are interested in exploring more than one island), the trip from Orcas to Friday Harbor on San Juan island will incur a fee because that's considered Westbound sailing, whereas a trip from Friday Harbor to Orcas, it's free of charge because that's Eastbound sailing. 

Here are the points that you will need to keep in mind when taking the vehicle with you for island hopping: 
  • Anacortes to any of the four islands - Yes charge.
  • San Juan to Orcas island - Free of charge. 
  • Orcas to Shaw island - Free of charge.
  • Shaw - Lopez island - Free of charge. 
  • Any of the four islands to Anacortes - Free of charge.
As long as you are sailing Westbound from one island to the other, you will NOT be charged for taking the vehicle with you.

For more information on the ferry fares, you can go to the Washington State Ferries Fare site and plug in the departing terminal and arriving terminal, the site will tell you how much it costs.

For information on the ferry schedule, go to the Washington State Ferries Schedule site.

Now that you know how the Washington State Ferries fares work, the next question is how to purchase the ferry ticket?

I personally find the Washington State Ferries website very simple and user-friendly. At this time, you are able to make online reservation via the website for the following routes:
  • Anacortes to any of the four islands. 
  • Friday Harbor on San Juan island to Anacortes
  • Orcas island to Anacortes
Any other islands to Anacortes cannot be reserved online. You will need to plan on getting to the ferry terminal early to ensure you get on the time slot that you prefer. The inter-island ferries, on the other hand, typically don't get really busy, so there's always space available. 

I also recommend that you create a login account with the Washington State Ferries website. This will enable you to make changes to the reservation much faster and easier. Below are the change and cancellation rules: 
  • The online reservation system asks for credit card information to charge only in the event of a no-show. The fee is $10. 
  • Reservations must be canceled by 5pm the day prior to travel in order to avoid a no-show fee.
  • Unlimited changes are permitted up to 5pm the day prior to the reserved sailing. 
  • One change is allowed after 5pm but must be made more than two hours in advance of the reserved sailing for Anacortes/San Juan Island reservations.  
  • Any reservations cancelled after making the one allowable change after 5pm the day before will be charged a no-show fee.
  • Reservations for San Juan Island travel are reserved as separate legs. Please be reminded if you change or cancel an outbound trip, you may also need to change or cancel the return trip to avoid a no-show fee.
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June 29, 2017

San Juan islands Planning Part 1: Which Island?

Ever since I heard about San Juan Islands in Washington, I have always been wanting to visit. There are many islands that make up the San Juan Islands, but only four of those islands that are reachable by Washington State Ferries leaving from Anacortes town, which is 1 and half hour drive from Seattle.

Those four islands are: San Juan, Orcas, Shaw, and Lopez. These islands are still under-developed, especially Lopez and Shaw. Let's take a look at each island to help you planning a trip there and decide which island to visit or maybe visit all of them.

You can take Washington Ferry from Anacortes town to Four San Juan Islands

San Juan Island
This is the most developed island. The Friday Harbor is a town itself on the island that has various types of lodgings, restaurants, and shops available. The ferry also stops right in the center of activities in this town, making it super convenient to check things out without having to drive. This is perfect for a half day to one full day trip. With that in mind, if you want to explore more on the San Juan Island, you will need to drive. Renting car on the island is also an option, but this requires super well in advanced reservation as availability is very limited.

Orcas Island
This is the second most developed island. Just the name of the island itself is intriguing. As the name suggests, whale watching activity is one of the highlight things to do on the island. If you are into hiking, there's the Moran State Park. Lodging is more limited compared to San Juan Island, but it provides more relaxing atmosphere for those that don't like crowds and just want a quiet lazy island time. Staying on Orcas Island, you will definitely need a means of transportation.

Shaw Island
This is the least developed island among all four islands. You will find the island is very private. It has more local residents that live on the island than tourists, and therefore it's not really visitor friendly. You can go ride bicycle and explore the island or stop for a picnic, but if you are looking for more things to do, Shaw island is not an ideal destination for that. You will also need transportation to do things on this island.

Lopez Island
Lopez island is not as developed as San Juan and Orcas, but it definitely has a lot more to offer than Shaw island. It's a very bike-friendly island. With that being said, walking is not recommended to visit Lopez island. You will need to drive or cycle, making this a perfect half-day or one day excursion from the other islands.

San Juan Islands in Washington may not be on everyone's list of places to visit; but if you are looking for a weekend getaway to have some "island" time that's just a short ferry away from the mainland, all four unique islands: San Juan, Orcas, Shaw, and Lopez, each has its own characteristic to offer visitors.

If you are looking for a pedestrian friendly town on the island and it offers a lot of things to do, then go to the Friday Harbor on the San Juan Island. If you are looking for more tranquil time, then consider going to Orcas Island. I'd say that for any first time visitor, these two islands are the most popular ones among all four. Lopez island is ideal for a day trip from these two islands, and so is Shaw island; however, Lopez has a lot more to offer than Shaw. If you have multiple days of vacation, you may as well do island hopping on San Juan Islands. Thanks to the Washington inter-island ferry service.

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