Five hidden gem islands in Puget Sound whose cultures cater to recreation, paddling, wildlife and seafood
written by Jen Sotolongo illustration by Erwin Sherman
The Puget Sound is filled with many beautiful islands that are popular destinations for tourists seeking a taste of Pacific Northwest island life.
While some of these islands, such as Orcas and San Juan, are well-known and highly visited, there are a handful of lesser-known hidden gems that offer visitors a chance to escape the crowds and immerse themselves in a unique experience. These islands, such as Anderson, Lummi and Guemes, offer a range of recreation including: hiking, biking, kayaking and camping, as well as opportunities to experience the local culture and cuisine.
Despite their proximity to the mainland, these islands feel like a world away, with their rugged coastlines, lush forests and charming small towns. Getting to these islands requires a bit of planning, but the journey is worth it for the chance to explore these hidden gems of Washington’s coastline.
A twenty-minute ride on the Steilacoom Ferry just south of Tacoma takes you to Anderson Island, the southernmost of the Puget Sound Islands. Just 8 miles long with approximately 1,000 residents, this quiet island features a variety of activities to keep you busy for a full day.
The Johnson Farm is a century-old farm with a community garden and historic buildings. On a hot day, head to the Ol’ Swimming Hole to cool off in spring-fed Florence Lake. To explore by foot, check out Andy’s Wildlife Park, a 170-acre wetland and tidal estuary, or the Andrew Anderson Marine Park to take a peek at the salmon nursery and enjoy three-quarters of a mile of public beach access.
If you prefer to explore the island from the water, rent a kayak. The trip around the island totals 13 miles.
At just 5,505 acres and 8.6 square miles, Guemes Island is small, but packs a punch of wildlife diversity, hiking trails and exploration. The eight-minute ferry from Anacortes in the Skagit Valley makes for an ideal day trip or weekend getaway. The ferry runs twice hourly and can accommodate up to twenty cars, but the best way to explore the island is on two wheels.
Be sure to pop into the Guemes General Store, a one-stop-shop where you can buy groceries, imbibe in local beer and wine, and order locally-sourced meals to go or to enjoy on site. For a killer workout and view, make the climb up Guemes Mountain, a 1.2-mile climb with 500 feet of elevation gain and survey the San Juan Islands and Cascade peaks from the highest point on the island. The Guemes Island Resort welcomes overnight guests in vacation homes, cabins, and yurts, with beach access and free watercraft rentals.
You won’t need a ferry schedule to get to Sucia Island because the only way to access this State Marine Park is by watercraft. Among the northernmost of the San Juan Islands, the 814-acre marine park consistently ranks among one of the top boating destinations in the world, and includes 77,000 feet of shoreline, 10 miles of hiking trails, and sixty camping spots located in parks throughout the island. In addition to epic tidepooling during low tide, wildlife is abundant on the shores of the island. Keep an eye out for otters, sea lions and numerous species of waterfowl.
If you don’t have your own boat, there are two water taxi options: the Island Express from Anacortes or Outer Island Excursions from Orcas Island. For an additional fee of $35, you can bring your kayak on board. Alternatively, Outer Island Excursions offers kayak rentals and day tours from Orcas Island to Sucia Island.
Perhaps one of the best kept secrets of the San Juan Islands, Lummi Island is located just twenty minutes from Bellingham. The idyllic rural countryside meets the mountains on this tiny and remote island with no traffic lights or gas station and a population that hovers around 1,000. Despite its small size, there is plenty to do on Lummi Island.
Hiking options include the Baker Preserve, Otto Preserve and Curry Preserve, all of which have short hikes that range in difficulty. Rent a kayak to paddle along the shores of the island or visit one of the public beaches. Wine enthusiasts should stop into the Artisan Wine Gallery, a small wine shop that features affordable wines from around the world. If you go on Friday, you’ll experience locals picking up their bread and pastry orders made by one of the staff members, offering a glimpse into the Lummi Island community.
If you find yourself in Port Townsend for a few days, add a visit to Marrowstone Island to your itinerary. A twenty-minute drive takes you to the no-ferry-required island. The Nordland General Store sells local provisions where you can pick up goods to enjoy a picnic on Portage Beach on Indian Island. Marrowstone Vineyards offers locally produced wines to enjoy on the patio that overlooks the Cascades and the Puget Sound. When you’re ready to stretch the legs, take in some U.S. military history at Fort Flagler Historical State Park, one of the three forts that defended the entry to the Puget Sound. Recreational activities abound, visitors can hike, fish, crab, or paraglide from within the walls of the fort. There’s also a campground for anyone who wants to stay the night.