Orcas Island Travel Tips: Moran State Park Travel Guide

Moran-State-Park-travel-guide

Last month, I traveled to Orcas Island in the San Juan archipelago off the coast of Washington state. This charming island is home to Mt. Constitution, the tallest mountain in the San Juans, and is characterized by dark rocky shoreline, huge evergreen trees, and a friendly, artsy mood. 

The reason for my trip was to celebrate the wedding of one of my best college girlfriends, and I give her major props for picking a wedding location that put the outdoors at our fingertips. The wedding itself was located in Moran State Park, a super green, lush forest covered in blankets of ferns and dense groves of Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir. It was absolutely gorgeous and a truly memorable weekend.

Normally the draw of the San Juans is the ocean, but here in Moran State Park, the forest is the main attraction. With 38 miles of trails and 5 freshwater lakes, here’s my recommendations for how to make the most of your time in this enchanted forest. 

 

Orcas Island: Moran State Park Travel Guide

THINGS TO DO

Moran State Park Hiking

Moran State Park has more than 38 miles of hiking trails, from laid back forest loops to the challenging ascent to the top of Mt. Constitution. Depending on which hike you choose, you may encounter mountain lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, and stunning views of the Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges. When you enter Moran State Park, the Ranger will provide you a brochure with a map and trail descriptions, and once you are on the trail, everything is really well marked with clear signs. 

Moran-State-Park-Map

 

Mount Constitution Loop

Distance: 6.7 miles 
Elevation Gain: 1,490 feet

This is a challenging trail with a good chunk of uphill hiking, but it’s totally worth the effort. You cover all of the best ground in Moran State Park, passing by several isolated lakes that you will likely have all to yourself. The climax of the trail is the summit of Mt. Constitution, where you get sweeping views of the ocean and the surrounding islands. For folks that are unable to do the trek, you can also drive to the top. But driving means you will miss all of the sites along the way. I recommend doing the trail clockwise from the parking area at Mountain Lake. 

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An overlook of Mountain Lake from the Mount Constitution Loop Trail
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The view from the summit of Mt. Constitution, the tallest point in the San Juan Islands.

Picnic Area to Cascade Falls

Distance: 1.5 miles to the falls
Elevation Gain: 200 feet

This easy hike leaves from the day use parking area on Cascade Lake, passes by some giant trees, and eventually crosses the road before reaching a 75 foot high waterfall. Once you’ve taken some pictures, rather than turning around and hiking back the way you came, I recommend making a clockwise loop by following the Equestrian Trail to the South End Campground. Once at the campground, you cross the road again and eventually connect back up with the original trail. 

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Non-native, but beautiful foxglove on the trail to the waterfall

Moran-State-Park-waterfall

 

Moran State Park Swimming

Cascade Lake

Take a colorful sunset swim in Cascade Lake. The water is surprisingly warm and the sun sets over the northwest end of the Lake, making it a perfect way to finish off a day of hiking.

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 The sunset over Cascade Lake from Camp Moran

Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake is cooler than Cascade Lake, but thanks to an epic rope swing, swimming here is worth the chills. To find the rope swing, hike north from the Mountain Lake Campground for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye out for a faint trail on the right leading down the lake. The trail is not well marked, but it is parallel to a large island that is in the middle of the lake. When we were there, we had the rope swing all to ourselves, and we even saw a bald eagle soaring overhead. (Warning: swing at your own risk!)

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The rope swing into Mountain Lake. And yes. I am plugging my nose. Total nerd alert.

Boat Rentals

If you are looking for a relaxing day out on the water, rent a boat from Orcas Adventures (360-376-4665), located at the day use parking lot on Cascade Lake. This small lakeside shop rents pedal boats ($20/hour), single kayaks ($15/hour), double kayaks ($20/hour), row boats ($20/hour) canoes ($20/hour), and stand up paddle boards ($25/hour). They also offer half day rates. Reservations are not accepted, and boats are rented on a first come first serve basis from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The shop opens at 10am.

Fishing

The Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks Cascade and Mountain Lakes with trout. The park also rears Kokanee that are released into Cascade Lake. The fishing season begins on April 30th, and a fishing license costs $8. Electric boats are allowed with a $7 launching permit. 

 

LODGING

Camping

Moran State Park has 131 standard campsites, with the best sites at the South End Campground on Cascade Lake. These lake front sites are isolated from the road and are situated perfectly for watching the sunset. However, there are no restrooms at these sites. If you need a nearby restroom, check out the Mountain Lake Campground. Standard campsites run $20-31 per night depending on the season. To see pictures of all of the campsites or to make reservations, visit the Washington State Park website

 

Nearby Hotels

If you prefer to explore Moran State Park by day but retreat to a comfy bed at night, these are some good close by options:

Doe Bay Resort and Retreat

Doe Bay is a hot springs resort about 10 minutes from the Park located right on the water. They offer cute and comfortable cabins that range in price depending on the size of your group. The cheapest cabin is $70 and sleeps 2 people. Or you have the option of renting a private yurt. Some of these are really cool and are right on the beach. Yurts do not have heat and also require a short walk to reach the bathroom. Yurts run $50-120 per night. What’s really special about Doe Bay is its waterfront soaking tubs (clothing optional) and its cafe that serves up local delicacies, some of which are grown right on the property. They also make a bomb bloody mary. 

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Doe Bay Resort and Retreat. Check out that yurt hidden in the trees!

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Rosario Resort & Spa

Rosario is perfect for those seeking a bit more luxury. Also located right on the water, Rosario is known for its shipbuilding museum, its gorgeous spa, a waterfront pool, and a fabulous restaurant with amazing views. Depending on the season, standard rooms range from $99-189 and suites range from $159-399.

 

GETTING THERE

Getting to Orcas Island takes a little perseverance, especially if traveling on a summer weekend. The ferry to Orcas Island leaves from Anacortes, which is a one and a half hour drive north of Seattle. If you are taking your vehicle on the ferry, it is recommended that you arrive to the Anacortes ferry terminal up to three hours in advance in order to get a spot on the ferry. The ferries fill up quick, especially on summer Friday afternoons, and they only leave every few hours. So missing the ferry because it is full is a major bummer.

The round trip cost is $51 per vehicle plus $13 per person traveling in the vehicle. To view the schedule, go to the Washington State Ferries website and in the drop down menu on the left choose Anacortes / San Juan Islands. Note that not all ferries leaving Anacortes make a stop on Orcas Island. After you depart from the ferry terminal, the whole trip takes approximately one hour. 

Once on Orcas Island, depart the ferry terminal and follow Orcas Road until you hit Main Street. Take a right and drive through East Sound, the main part of town. Then hang a right on Olga Road and follow it for 4.5 miles straight into Moran State Park. 

 

ADDITIONAL TRAVEL TIPS

A few final tidbits of information:

  • Day access to Moran State Park costs $10. 
  • There is limited cell phone service in Moran State Park, so plan ahead.
  • If you have time to explore more of Orcas Island, make sure to swing through the town of East Sound. There are several restaurants, a bunch of cute shops, and a grocery store.  There is also a farmers market every Saturday from May to October.
  • For those interested in trying some salt-water activities, San Juan Island Outfitters, located on neighboring San Juan Island offers both single day and multi-day sea kayaking itineraries, where you’ll have the chance to encounter the region’s infamous orcas, eagles, other marine mammals, and tide pool creatures.

Have you been to the San Juan Islands? Share with us your travel tips in the comments below!

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There are 15 comments on this post.

About the author

Hi! I'm Kristen....blogger, hiker, sunset-watcher, and dance floor shredder. I feel most alive in the outdoors and created this website to help you enjoy the best that the West has to offer.

15 Comments on “Orcas Island Travel Tips: Moran State Park Travel Guide

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  1. I LOVE that Foxglove picture. All of your pictures are amazing.

      Thanks Dawn! I really appreciate you checking out my post!

    Great post. We are going to be on Orcas and San Juan in August. Cannot wait to explore Moran park. Your pictures are very inviting.

      Awesome Florence! Have a great time and come back and share some pics. -Kristen

    Thanks for all this great info! We\’re traveling to Washington in a few weeks, and it has been really helpful! When we\’re traveling back from Orcas Island on the ferry do we need to be especially early?

      If you don’t have a reservation, then you will want to show up early to the harbor. You can always take a little walk once your car is in line.

    Hi Kristen, my husband and I are traveling to Seattle and have about 2 days to spare out of the city. We love what you did and would like to know if your trip spanned 1 or 2 days. Also, would you be able to tell us at what time of the day you started your trip and where you stayed? Thanks!

      I think 2 days is necessary to make the trip up to the San Juans worth the effort and money. Leave Seattle in the early morning and catch a ferry. I camped on Orcas Island and when I went to San Juan Island I rented an Airbnb.

    Excellent article on Orcas Island, we live in Seattle area but haven’t visit there yet for whatever reason. We have a Sprinter camper as well, and now we have s reason to go explore. How easy is it to find camping spot on the island? Is the island campervan friendly? Cheers.

    Great info! I am headed to Orca’s this weekend. Happy that it’s not peak season, Moran state park as first come first serve campsites now. I can’t wait to check out Doe Bay.

    Thanks for the great article. I\\\’m glad you had such a great time on Orcas, and at Moran State Park in particular. A couple of quick notes from a local (me): Ferry reservations: Get \\\’em! They\\\’re critical in the summer. Also lodging and campground reservations in the summer. The South End Campground has restrooms. Enjoy the park and the island, visitors!

    Hi Kristin, great tips on Moran State Park! We are heading to the Island in May and I wasn\’t sure they best way to tackle the park so this definitely gave us some tips! Just curious, about how long do you think the Mt. Constitution Loop takes to hike (for the intermediate hikers, without stopping). We\’d like to see as much as possible in the park but intend to do other things that day so could we fit it into a morning/lunch? Thanks for the advice!

      Hey Lauren – its been a little while since I did it. I think we started in the mid-morning and were back to our campsite in the mid-afternoon and we stopped at the rope swing. I think if you got an early start you could be done by lunch time.

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