Camp Life on Orcas Island

Orcas will forever be the place that turned me on to camping vacations. While we had a few fumbles, namely mice in our car and a lack of some essential supplies, our time here was simple and blissful. We hiked and swam and beach-combed. We picked berries and apples and shucked oysters. In other words, I had all my favorite things in one place.

Our days were simple but filled with such abundance. Each morning I pulled out the stove and put together breakfast. We drank piping hot coffee and stayed bundled up in our warmest clothes before emerging from the pines into the sun. After cleaning up camp we’d set out to explore by car or foot.

Our first day we took on the Mt. Constitution Trail. The trail has countless switchbacks but the unbelievably large trees covered in moss and the frequent and unpredictable changes in climate along the way distract a bit. We approached the top and entered a mystical world filled with fog and spits of rain and a wall of cold air. Upon reaching the top that world is gone and replaced with a panorama of the other islands, the mainland, and even the mountains beyond in every direction. There’s an old lookout tower that elevates you even higher and provides an outstanding 360 degree view. We sat on the stone wall, soaked in the sun, and ate a snack before making our way down.

Our second day we took it easier and loaded in the car for a bit of an island tour. We took the road out of the park and set out to to Eastsound and buy mouse traps (see above). This town is small and quirky, just how I like ’em. There are little shops and eateries dotting the quiet streets. Wandering it was a joy, second only to our discovery of plum and apple trees dripping with fruit this time of year and free for the taking (per the store clerk where the plum tree grew). We walked around a path that extended out past the field where the farmers market is held and were immediately surrounded by blackberries. We ate our fill before returning to the road and walking over to the bay before continuing on.

Later that same morning, we walked a beach on the north shore, aptly named North Beach. Coming from the protected areas of bay and lake, the power of the north Pacific was a shock. We walked over the rocky shore before sitting on a log to enjoy our lunch. Oddly enough, as we returned to our car to continue our journey, a couple from our little Montana town was unloading right next to us. This is where we learned that the first

Before returning back to camp, we drove through the rolling hills and sun-drenched farmland before stopping at the marina in Deer Harbor. We gazed longingly at the boats as we’re known to do, and watched on as people hopped into varying boats for guided tours. The town of Deer Harbor is of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety, the center consisting of not much more than a post office and a couple of shops for provisions, but certainly an enjoyable stop.

Late afternoon on Orcas Island was my favorite. The sun cast a beautiful glow over the hills and lake, and we’d change into our suits and head for the little beach for a swim. After, we’d clean up and drive down the road to the little hamlet of Olga, home to Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. We selected our own oysters from the options on offer and with a quick demonstration were off to find a spot on a picnic table to shuck our own oysters and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Oh, how I love this place!

As the evening hours wore on, we drove a short distance back to camp and started to put together dinner. After the first couple of nights, I considered myself quite the camp cook. We learned the hard way, however, on the first night that we had to get a move on if we didn’t want to be walking back from the washing station in the pitch dark. Once the last of the sun went dark, we would do our evening chores (brushing teeth, etc.) before settling into the tent. Sometimes we would walk down to the lake and gaze at the starry night. Other nights we perched our flashlight in the tent and read or talked about our next adventure.


Tips for Camping on Orcas:

Stay:

  • Moran State Park is a beautiful campground that really spoiled me for the rest of the trip. The bathrooms have coin showers and there is a washing station down by the lake along with outlets to charge cameras and the like. We ended up at the North campground but if possible the attendant suggested the Mountain Lake campground for a bit more quiet.

Eat:

  • There are several cute restaurants in Eastsound, but we cooked all our meals.  To save major money,  stock up on food before you get to the islands. We went to the Costco in Kirkland, but there are many choices between Seattle and Anacortes.
  • During the summer there are farmers markets on the island, which judging from the countless farms, I’m sure they’re wonderful.
  • If  you’re an oyster lover, Buck Bay is an absolute must. A true highlight of the trip.

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