Friday, May 10, 2013

Trip Report: San Juan Islands Luxury Backpacking Overnight

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I'm pretty sure my own pageviews still make up 90% of my blog readership, but here goes...

If you've been following my last two posts, you know that my wife and I took advantage of the nicest weekend Seattle has seen this year and spent a night camping on Shaw Island, the smallest of the San Juan Islands serverd by the Washington State Ferries system. This post will both desscribe what we did and provide a mini-guide for any other Seattleites looking to try the same, or a similar, weekend trip.

Summary We drove from Seattle to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, which takes about 1.5 hours, so we left early. Park in the upper parking lot and walk down the hill, past the vehicle toll booths, to the pedestrian terminal to buy your tickets for Friday Harbor. Tickets are purchased for a round trip, and inter-island trips are free for walk-on passengers, so no need to worry about visiting a ticket booth for the remainder of the weekend. On the boat, the best views were from the cateteria deck, which is the highest passenger level, and convieniently also where they sell beer. Too early for beer? Nope.

Friday Harbor isn't very large, but has some good local character, including a store dedicated to hot sauce, a rooftop bar with a ridiculously friendly bartender, and a pub that cooks a mean burger and definitely doesn't skimp on the bacon.

The Firday Harbor farmer's market was pretty small compared to the ones we have in Seattle. I had hoped there would be something we could pick up to bring to Shaw Island for dinner, but nothing really jumped out at us. Instead, we stopped at the grocery store and picked up some cous cous, italian chicken sausages, and one of those pre-done ceasar salad kits. We finished off our couple of hours in Friday Harbor with a scoop of ice cream and a siesta at the waterfront park.

Next we hopped on an inter-island ferry headed for Shaw Island. You're on island time here, so every ferry ride presents you with some downtime. Take advantage:

On Shaw Island, it was only a short 2-mile walk along the rural roads to Shaw Island County Park. The route follows Blind Bay for about a mile, and then cuts accross the island to the south-facing shore of Indian Cove.

The county park only contains a handful of spots, but the sites have excellent views, the bathrooms were well-stocked and clean, and the beach was beautiful; soft sand, shallow water, and an excellent view of distant mountains. While reservations are accepted online, we opted for first-come first-serve and were the only ones at the campground. A few others were on the beach for the day, but left as soon as the sun started going down. Registration and firewood purchasing at the campground are on the honor system, with registration tags provided in a small covered booth. 

Our only complaint about the campground was that the water had an off taste, and was a bit cloudly yellow. It didn't seem to help to let the water run before filling bottles, so I'm guessing the well water source is a bit murky, rather than a crack in a water line somewhere. If you're car camping, bring water. If backpacking, maybe consider filtering or at least bringing some powdered drink mixes.     
The rest of the evening revolved around a couple bottles of wine and a campfire. Dinner was tasty - I grilled the sausages over the fire and cooked the cous cous on my canister stove. For dessert we had Nutella and graham crackers. And more wine.

Sunday morning was relaxing. We packed up and walked our way back to the Shaw Island ferry terminal. The general store is closed on Sundays, so we couldn't grab a cold drink like we'd hoped. I stole some water from the hose bib around back of the store. Sorry.

The ferry back to the mainland was direct from Shaw to Anacortes. We stopped in at Skagit River Brewery for lunch on the way home. Honestly not as good as I remember, or maybe I'd been spoiled by the burger I had in Friday Harbor.

All in all, an excellent one-night trip from Seattle, and definitely a spot I hope to visit again.

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