on an adventure begins with making a firm decision and setting a date. If
you're considering a San Juan Islands vacation boat trip, we offer sound advice
based on our many visits to these beautiful islands and villages.
Washington Park ramp
the Perfect Date: Choosing the right time for your trip requires careful
consideration. We have traveled throughout the San Juans from early spring to
late fall, and each month offers a unique experience. July and August offer the
best weather and blooming flowers but also attract the most visitors. May and
June may bring cooler and wetter days, but they also offer excellent sailing
winds and the chance to see newborn fawns. September and October may bring
foggy days, especially near Deception Pass and the Strait of Juan De Fuca, but
you might be rewarded with fewer crowds and wonderful weather. Keep in mind
that early spring and late fall may find some businesses and parks closed or
partially operational. It's essential to make inquiries to ensure it doesn't
affect your plans.
to Start: The answer to this question varies for each boater, but there are a
few common options. If you're coming by boat from Seattle or the Puget Sound
area, you'll need to go around Whidbey Island through either Admiralty Inlet
and Port Townsend or Deception Pass. Many skippers prefer Deception Pass due to
calmer waters and no commercial shipping. The Deception Pass route also allows
for a visit to Cornet Bay or a detour through Swinomish Channel to explore La
Conner and Anacortes. Although Port Townsend is an option, personally, I
recommend choosing La Conner and Cornet Bay.
Boat Arrival Options: Most boaters arrive with their boats on trailers. To find
suitable ramps for launching, you can refer to this comprehensive list: (http://www.sailingthesanjuans.com/p/taking-your-boat-for-camping-vacation.html).
However, only three ramps are typically preferred: Squalicum Harbor in
Bellingham, Cornet Bay at Deception Pass Park, and Washington Park in
Anacortes. Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes offers a travel lift hoist but no
ramp. Washington Park is the closest to the San Juans and allows for a quick
start, but parking may be limited during peak times. Parking at Cornet Bay and
Squalicum Harbor is always readily available. We have utilized all three ramps
multiple times, and our choice depends on our destination and who accompanies
us. Sometimes, dropping off children at Washington Park is convenient if they
need to return home early. Personally, I enjoy the Deception Pass area, so if
our agenda is clear, Cornet Bay is our preferred choice. Note: I do not
recommend taking a ferry to the islands with plans to launch at any of the
county ramps. The ramps are inferior, and most don't allow overnight parking.
An exception may be small skiffs or kayakers.
After Travel: If you've traveled a long distance and then rigged and splashed
the boat, chances are you are exhausted, and it is getting late. It's advisable
to spend the first night at a nearby dock or location. Both Cornet Bay and
Squalicum Harbor offer transient docks next to the launch ramps. Note that
Washington Park only offers a launch dock and is not suitable for overnight
stays. Anchoring out front in exposed Guemes Channel, while very doable, will
not be much fun due to the many wakes. Nearby welcoming places like James's
Island, Cypress Head, or Saddlebag Island, located about four miles away, offer
great options depending on your route. Keep in mind that anchoring requires a
dinghy to reach the shore. Alternatively, last summer, we tried inflatable
paddleboards instead of a dinghy, but their usefulness as a full-time dinghy
substitute is still uncertain.
Your Itinerary: Your itinerary doesn't have to be rigid, with specific stops
for each minute or day. It's more enjoyable to have a rough idea and a list of
preferred stops. For example, you might want to have a late lunch and buy ice
and groceries at Friday Harbor, but you can do the same at Lopez Village, Roche
Harbor, or Eastsound. Consider visiting stores when your ice melts on day two
or three and take the opportunity to enjoy a hot shower. Most villages and
marinas offer groceries, fuel, and shower facilities. Don't worry about being
turned away as ample anchorage is available throughout the islands. Consider
saving fuel and time by following a great circle route and avoiding
backtracking. Visit the outer points early while you still have ice and snacks,
and then recharge in the villages. Allowing seven days for your trip is ideal,
as anything less might feel rushed, while more time will be well spent.
Excursions: Don't miss out on Butchart Gardens and Victoria; both can be
day-only or overnight additions to your San Juan Islands trip. While
reservations aren't necessary, make sure to carry your passports for re-entry
into the US.
Day 1: Launch
at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass Park, spend the night at the transient dock.
Day 2: Run to Jones Island, spend the night at anchor or dock.
Day 3: Run to
English Camp, hike up Young Hill, have lunch at Roche Harbor, and return
Day 4: Run to
Friday Harbor, have lunch and showers, buy groceries, and return to Jones.
Day 5: Run to
Stuart, hike to the lighthouse, and dock or anchor for the night.
Day 6: Run to
Sucia, anchor or dock for the night in Fossil Bay, hike to China caves and
Day 7: Stop by
Saddlebag Park for a short hike, run through Swinomish Channel, have lunch
at La Conner, and arrive late back at Cornet Bay to spend the last night
at the dock.
following these guidelines, you'll be well-prepared to embark on an
unforgettable boat trip through the stunning San Juan Islands. Enjoy the
breathtaking beauty and create lasting memories. Most of all, you will
If you really want to take advantage of tides and currents, consider this guide
From time to time I refresh my thinking and remember our first visit more than twenty years ago. Specifically what a pain it was not knowing the simplest answers to questions many of us take for granted today. This post is written to help new cruisers headed to the San Juan's needing the same simple answers we needed.
I define the San Juan cruising area not by county or even country, but rather by places we want to visit and spend some time. But that also means, places we have the capability to get to without too much effort or time. So that being stated, I think of Port Townsend and Deception Pass Park (Cornet Bay), and Swinomish Channel as our loosely defined southern boundary. I think of Vancouver BC and Nanaimo as our northern most point, and everything in between Vancouver Island and the mainland completing the east west box. Keep in mind, with a day or two extra, you can run down to Olympia or up to Princess Louisa Inlet, but for this discussion, we are sticking to the core San Juan Island area and what you need to get there.
You need a boat, but you can rent a sail or powerboat in Anacortes or Bellingham if you prefer, and it doesn't take much experience to qualify.
Size matters, bigger is more comfy, costly and feels imminently safer in a storm. As size goes up, so do your skill requirements. Once past about thirty five feet you will find you don't fit at some docks and fuel burns at over twenty five gallons an hour. Smaller is better at times. Eighteen foot ski and fishing boats or day sailors are very easy to get in and out at virtually all places but with all your food and gear, you will be crowded on board. Above all - don't let your lack of a perfect boat cause you not to go. Take what you have, you can make it work.
Bring a dinghy, even a two person inflatable kayak is okay. You need a way to get to shore where there are no docks. You don't have to carry the dinghy on board, you can tow it everywhere you go. Yes you can beach your runabout and let the tide leave you dry but bringing a dinghy is so much easier.
Sleep on board, at anchor, at the dock, or in the many park campgrounds. (there are about twenty marine campgrounds, you can camp at a different park every night) If preferred, you can spend every night at a marina or resort and sleep on shore.
The best weather will be in July and August, but the shoulder seasons have less people and okay weather too.
I suggest you plan a week, but you can make a weekend work. If you have a comfortable all weather boat, spend the summer.
If you rent, don't forget you have to park your car(s) If you trailer, plan on a daily parking fee of around $12. (Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham is free, even long term)
See this posting for launch ramps. ---launch ramps with long term parking This is probably the only real planning decision you need to make before you go, but we have changed our planned take off point as we drove up the highway. Do not start your San Juan cruise down south in Olympia, Seattle or Everett or Port Townsend or Port Angeles. If you do you will spend much of your time motoring long distances (both ways) My advice is to start in Bellingham or Anacortes using one of the ramps from the list above.
You need with you on the boat, a chart, or you will get lost, count on it. You should have a list of parks, marinas and resources preferably marked on your navigation chart. Get this chart. Noaa # 18421 - We use noaa chart # 18421 you can see it by clicking here or anywhere charts are sold. Navigation charts do not show what's on shore, (roads, city's, marinas, parks, etc) so we carry a highway map as well.
Don't run out and buy an expensive chart plotter. At minimum, you need a paper chart, a portable GPS and a compass, your smart phone will probably do. All boats need a depth sounder or you are risking an expensive grounding.
Sample itinerary: #1. Begin at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham (open 24/7). 2. Head for Friday Harbor and get a slip for your first night or every night (they take reservations). 3. Use Friday Harbor as your base, returning every night to your own slip with power, water, restrooms, on shore restaurants and entertainment. This plan will work for virtually all boaters regardless of gear, experience or creature comfort requirements. None of the Marine State Parks have reserve-able docks or anchor buoys, everything is first come first gets it. This means you should plan on anchoring and using your dinghy, it also means when someone pulls out you may grab the spot at the dock. Rafting is the term used when several boats tie together at anchor or the dock.
Sample itinerary: #2. Begin at Squalicum again but this time head for Matia or Sucia. Next, Jump over to Stuart and then Roche Harbor or Jones, then to Friday Harbor, then Fisherman Bay. This itinerary will make sure you have a shower and food store available (Roche and Friday) when you really need and want both.
Fuel is readily available but you should try to have a minimum range of seventy five miles just to be sure should you encounter adverse conditions.
How many days you spend at each park is up to you, your car and trailer will be waiting in the free parking lot when you circle back to Bellingham.
Get my San Juan Islands Cruise Guide, it has all the parks, marinas, fuel, resources, phone numbers, etc. and is written specifically for visitors coming by boat. My companion book, the San Juan Islands Travel Guide is written for visitors coming by car or boat.
Don't be cheap, the books cost less than a meal and will pay for themselves in saved frustration, making your cruise a real success.
Lastly, I can't address everything you may want to know in a single post, so I suggest you search this site and read some more articles. There are several with detailed day by day itineraries. Next, after becoming more knowledgeable about what and where you want to go and do, set aside a week and go. It really is that easy. The central cruising area is small enough that you can completely change your plans on the fly. You don't need reservations, you don't need a plan, you don't even need to bring food, just grab your gear and boat and hit the road. OH - bring some cash for, fuel and park fees and that food I just said you don't need.
If you happen to see us on Kraken somewhere, please say hello. We hope to be anchored in Fisherman Bay for the Lopez Island 2019 4th of July show.
John and Linda
feel free to use the e-mail contact form with your questions
Lets start this Cruise at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park
(Your going to Canada and back, did you remember to bring your passports and Children ID's? the rules are changing)
Boat launch at Cornet Bay (Deception Pass)
Day one, you arrive at Deception Pass and its probably late in the day and your tired, so lets plan on spending the night right here on the boat securely tied to the dock at Cornet Bay. You will pay a launch fee and $10/day parking, plus 50 cents a foot for spending night at dock. Pay at the self serve kiosk. If your not sure of when your coming back simply estimate, leave a note explaining, the ranger will understand. The ramp is very good, all tide. The parking is huge, you will not have a problem.
There is a park store, but you should have done your provisioning in Anacortes.
Heading westward facing an incoming current, (another ten minutes and we wouldn't have the speed to overcome the 7+ mph current)
Day two, leg #1, our destination is Friday Harbor, but first you must time the pass. You should already be familiar with the tide levels and times at Deception Pass (download a page from any of of dozens of sites including NOAA) so cast off at high or low tide. You can be half an hour early or late, this gives you a one hour window. (it takes just ten minutes to reach the pass from the dock) If you are catching a falling tide (current is going out to sea) you can be very late but standing waves may scare you and the crew as you take a fast sled ride and shoot out into the Strait of Juan De Fuca. If you are late and head out on a rising tide, your boat may not have enough speed to overcome the in rushing torrent, and your stuck until the next slack water. The pass is not a problem, it is narrow with fast water for only about 250 feet, but slow sailboats can meet their match every four to six hours.
If your a beginner to the San Juans as well as a beginner to cruising (boat camping) you may find some useful advice here. But some people don't like being told what to bring or what not to bring, or ask for directions when they are hopelessly lost. So stop right here if you recognize yourself, and move on.
Okay, now that the captain and skipper have quit reading lets see if we can ease the pain somewhat. I'm not going to try to be all inclusive here, but just some little reminders to get you thinking about your cruise. Obviously you have a spotless well equipped boat and many things are already on board.
I'll bet you don't have an underwater flashlight, they are great for teasing sea creatures after dark, and will add hours of entertainment time to answer your children's "I'm bored" comments. (hint, stick a cheap flashlight in a ziplock bag) Now tie it to the end of your boat hook and poke it under water
How about heavy duty zip lock bags, or the ones they sell at the outdoor outfitter stores for river running, you know for your cell phone, ipod, camera, wallet, etc, etc, etc.....
speaking of waterproof have you got any good wood matches in a waterproof container?
here's one you really miss and then its too late - chap-stick with spf 99 (how high do the #'s go?)
remember that hat that blew off into the water? ditto for glasses!
you need a chin strap or leash.
OK, this is a good one, get a second or third corkscrew, uh huh! (try em at home to make sure they work well)
Dramamine in all forms for everyone
cheap little led flashlights, lots of em, they're cheap
plastic kites for beach fun, don't forget the string
multi-function tool that you carry in your pocket all the time
boat cleaning supplies, wax, polish, paint thinner to remove tars you track on board with your shoes. We seem to do our heavy cleaning while on a cruise, I see others doing the same.
misc. boat repair supplies and tools. (sail tape) get a bottle of soft scrub it's my best friend (paint thinner too)
These are just some starter ideas, feel free to add your favorites.
Since some folks really benefit from in depth detailed instructions and are lost without to-do lists, I have added below a list created for a general travel article.
Click here and read more >>>>>