The Bigger, The Better

Whidbey and Orcas are the two biggest islands in the state of Washington, where the cruising is a breath of fresh air.

Destinations, Washington, Photos
August is one of the least rainy months in Washington, with average highs around the 70s, lows around the 50s.Pfleming

About 20 nautical miles separate Orcas Island from Whidbey Island’s Cornet Bay, which is the main saltwater access point for Deception Pass State Park. The short hop means that on any given day at sunrise, you can anchor off Orcas and hike up toward the billowy clouds that sometimes seem to brush the top of Mount Constitution — the highest point in all of the San Juans — and then be at the park on Whidbey in time for a sunset feast at one of the hundreds of picnic tables ashore. There’s maybe no better cruising destination for the outdoorsy set.

The views (oh, those views) are phenomenal, but I must admit that the thing I like best about standing on the shore at Orcas Island is the simple act of breathing. Somehow, the air just seems fresher here, as if the rest of us are living our lives underneath some invisible, civilization-tainted dome. This is the place where you want to close your eyes, inhale as if to infuse the very marrow of your bones and spirit, and then open your eyes as you exhale, reminding yourself that you are, indeed, a creature born of nature.

And this is the time of year to set course. August is one of the least rainy months, and daytime temperatures in the low 70s are divine for all that hiking and exploring ashore. Lows around 50 mean you can get good use out of your favorite sweater or soft blanket at night, just as your body is ready for a well-earned hot toddy followed by one of those deep slumbers that only exist in other people’s dreams.

Sure, you can find some civilization here too (you are, after all, in the general orbit of Seattle and Vancouver), but I say that if you see buildings and lights ashore, push the throttle to the pins and keep going. Yes, even on a trawler. Ramp that baby up to a full 8 knots and put your face to the wind.

Around one of the countless craggy outcroppings in the distance, you’ll find your own views to treasure, and you, too, can take a moment out of life and just breathe.

Gambling Fest

The Dog House Tavern was originally home to a store on the bottom level and a meeting space upstairs — a nice way of saying the place hosted everything from vaudeville shows to boxing matches to what The Seattle Times called Sunday “gambling fests.” More recently, the building has been home to a restaurant. Plans for renovations are in the works.

Destinations, Washington, Photos
The Dog House Tavern in Langley, on Whidbey Island, is a longtime favorite historic site.Lawrence Freytag

Triangle of Fire

During the late 1800s, Admiralty Inlet was armed and ready for intruders. Three forts were created for triangulation of defenses: Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, Fort Worden at Port Townsend and Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, where the restored Admiralty Light stands today as part of the scenic Fort Casey State Park.

Destinations, Washington, Photos
Admiralty Light on Whidbey Island has been restored, but it’s inactive. It is on park grounds.Lowestock

Dock and Explore

Expect to see small and large boats alike at Deception Pass State Park, which has mooring space plus several launch ramps and different dockage areas in fresh and salt water. Even more tourism-friendly diversity can be found ashore, with separate trails marked for hiking, horseback riding and bicycling.

Destinations, Washington, Photos
Deception Pass State Park offers hiking, kayaking and more.Lowestock