Travel With Teams

The Best Way to Experience the San Juan Islands

Susy Alkaitis - November 10, 2020

Through a year of unexpected changes, we have found ourselves living close to where we both grew up in Washington State, in the San Juan Islands. While we are primarily staying safe at home, we hit the road (and water) to explore more of the islands around us to share our favorite parts of the islands. Whether you live nearby and are hoping for a safe, physically distanced escape or the San Juan Islands are on your bucket list, these tips will ensure you have an epic trip when travel is safe and allowed

Learn About What Islands You are Going to and What You Will Need to Get There

Some islands are only accessible by public ferries, whereas other islands are only accessible by private or charter boats. For this trip, we visited our family that lives on nearby San Juan Island, but the next week we were able to access a smaller island nearby with our skiff.

Learn about Indigenous People and Their Connections to the Land and Waters, Both Past and Present

Indigenous People have stewarded the land and waters of the Pacific Northwest since time immemorial, as they continue to today. Learn about tribal sovereignty, tribal history, and current tribal connections and issues within the area. Research about current tribes in the area including the Coast Salish,Lhaq’temish (Lummi), S’Klallam, Samish, Tulalip, and Á,LEṈENEȻ ȽTE (W̱SÁNEĆ) People. Consider looking at the Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State  curriculum that has been endorsed by all 29 federally recognized tribes and is required to be taught in all Washington schools, and explore to gain a deeper understanding of whose land you are on.

Bring Binoculars (or anything with a zoom)

On our recent trip, we had the honor of experiencing orcas come close to where we were sitting and reading. Wherever you explore in the San Juan Islands, you most certainly will see an abundance of wildlife. We always make sure we bring our zoom lens camera and binoculars so that we can view whales, birds, otters, seals and all other animals and still give them lots of space. Even when you are really excited, it is important to never chase animals by car, foot or boat. Always back up and give animals more space.

Learn about the San Juan Islands National Monument- a Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site!

The majority of the San Juan Islands are protected as part of the San Juan Islands National Monument which is a Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site. Gold Standard Sites are exemplary models for how Leave No Trace education can be implemented and a part of everyone’s experience when spending time in an area. Want to learn more? Join us as we make dinner and talk more about Leave No Trace education in the San Juan Islands in the video above.

 Bring Identification Books to Learn More About the Flora and Fauna

From maiden’s hair fern to prickly pear cactus, you’ll want a fun guide to help you learn more about each plant. A favorite of ours is Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. This is a very comprehensive guide for all your plant ID questions, honoring that there are often more than one name and way to identify a plant. Another great resource if you are feeling adventurous and where regulations allow is Pacific Northwest Foraging by Douglas Deur.

Bring Extra Layers, Books and Games 

For us, exploring the San Juan Islands is a time to unplug and reconnect with ourselves and mother nature. No matter what season it is, be prepared for rain. The weather can change rapidly here, so we always bring lots of extra layers to stay warm and dry. As fall brings cooler weather, we like to get cozy and read books and play cards in our tent. You never know what you’ll see or experience in the San Juan Islands, but no matter what it is sure to be magical. 


By the Subaru/Leave No Trace Teams. For over 20 years these teams have provided tangible solutions to serious issues facing our outside space and reach over 15 million people every year. Learn more about the important work of our mobile education teams.  Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America,REI,Eagles Nest Outfitters, Thule,Fjällräven andKlean Kanteen.

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