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Escape to Lopez Island: the PNW’s Hidden Gem in the San Juan Islands

Confession: I am currently in the midst of a long term love affair with the Washington State Ferries. This escape to Lopez Island was, partially, just another excuse for riding a new ferry route. Living in downtown Seattle, the ferries are a constant rhythm as they come and go from the downtown ferry dock. Since my very first ferry ride in Seattle, the ferries have represented escape, rest, and retreat from urban life.

Ferries are one of my favorite things to do in Seattle. From the crowds and crushed atmosphere of downtown Seattle, hopping an $8 ferry is a guarantee of at least a half-hour to breathe deep in wide-open spaces and be delivered to a coast with a completely different vibe. From time to time, I’ll hop a ferry in Seattle just to enjoy the round trip- never getting off on the other side.

Vacationing on Lopez Island in the PNW

 

Friday Harbor and Orcas Island are two of the most popular ferry-serviced island retreats for Seattle locals, and I had the opportunity to visit both during my first year in Seattle. On the return voyage from Orcas Island, our ferry stopped briefly to load a few cars at a lesser serviced island. I stood on the upper, outside deck as the ferry approached and docked at this tiny and very wild looking island named Lopez Island.

 

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Lopez’s ferry docks says a lot about the islands delightful lack of tourist-centric businesses.

Even though I was planning to sell my car within the next few weeks to try out the urban car-less life, I vowed to return to this wild little island with the ferry dock that had whispered to me of adventure. It was nearly a year later that I began planning my trip to Lopez Island.

Why Lopez Island?

Lopez Island is part of the San Juan Islands. Most of these islands are popular vacation spots for Pacific Northwesterners but Lopez is NOT. While the other islands are slowly becoming overgrown with tourist-targeting shops, resorts, and high priced restaurants, Lopez Island has remained relatively untouched- retaining a wild and solitary feel with many farms and many quiet, undisturbed beaches. This island was perfect for a relaxing retreat after a busy semester of grad school. Long days, long walks, and hours spent reading on secluded beaches was exactly what my heart needed after a challenging season.

I wanted to write this post to share with you a few of my favorite shots from my picturesque trip to Lopez Island in 2017.  We loved Lopez Island because it was easy to navigate, affordable, and full of spectacular hikes that didn’t have extreme elevation gains.

Spencer Spit State Park

Spencer Spit is a secluded beach with 360° views of the Puget Sound and surrounding islands. The walkable sand spit separates a quite inlet from the open water of the sound, so a short walk across the large sandbar can suit your tastes for quiet lapping waters or the sound of stronger waves crashing.

When we visited in April the beach was completely secluded and was the perfect spot to read, fly a kite, and watch ferries in the distance as they trudged past the head of the island.

Spencer Spit features a historical site, a reconstructed settler’s cabin, plenty of picnic tables and some of the nicest public fire pits I’ve seen in the PNW.

hh pnw lopez island spencer spit

Spencer Spit, projecting about 1/2 mile into open water, was the perfect spot for relaxing kite flying and soaking up the sun.

 

 

 

Spencer spit State Park

although the state of Washington is known for its many beautiful state parks, Spencer spit State Park on Lopez Island is one of my personal favorites. Located on a just-above-water-level spit that juts out into the Puget Sound, this state park features 360° of extravagant views. Read More/a>.

 

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Scenic picnic lunch on the spit

Shark Reef Sanctuary

Shark Reef Sanctuary was such a nice, short hike and such an epic view that we did it twice- the night we arrived and the day we left. After a short hike through dense but level woods, the path emerges on the coast and follows the waterline for another half mile or so.

hh pnw lopez island roadtrip 15

With a 2 bald eagles overhead, from this point we were able to watch seals sunning on the rocks just offshore.

This beach provided some of the most dramatic photography and wildlife. Both times we visited we sighted seals in the water and on the exposed rocks just offshore. Overhead, bald eagles soared against a bright blue backdrop.

This trail didn’t provide any benches or firepits, but I’d absolutely visit again. Take a towel or mat to sit on if you plan to stay for a bit, as the rocky ledges were somewhat uneven. (Also, lemme know if you see my glow-in-the-dark Nalgene, ’cause I lost it here.)

 

hh pnw lopez island roadtrip 6

Though our visit to the much-lauded tide pools were disappointing, the views from Shark Reef are some of my favorite in the PNW

 

Iceberg Point

The longest hike we did was iceberg point, an uphill walk over a terrain that felt foreign to the island or even the Pacific Northwest. The wind howled over Moorish hills and flats in a way that felt like we were thousands of miles away in Ireland or Scotland.

hh pnw lopez island iceberg

Not well marked, this faded sign was the only indication we were at the trailhead for Iceberg Point

 

Getting to Lopez Island

Lopez is only accessible by ferry, but the ferry ride is half the fun! Riding international ferries has made me realize just how nice the Washington State Ferry System is. The boats are clean, on time, and (except with the San Juan islands in the summer) never full, so you can check in just a few minutes before departure. You can check the schedule on WSF’s Website. If you are planning to travel with a vehicle during peak season (May-July) you can reserve a space in advance online or on the WSF app, which is worth downloading for convenience.

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Staying on Lopez Island

Lopez Island has a kitschy hotel or two, a scattering of traditional BnB’s, and one nice hotel, but since being a host when I lived in Missouri, I love staying at AirBnB’s. So we rented this adorable “Ship Supply Cottage Airbnb”  in the main village on Lopez.

 

hh pnw lopez island roadtrip 4

 

 

hh pnw lopez island cottage

 

Eating on Lopez Island

Lopez Island doesn’t offer many dining out options- especially off peak-season or on weeknights. There is, however, a traditional grocery store and a natural market, both of which offer sandwiches. If your lodging offers a kitchen, I’d recommend bringing groceries with you or picking them up on arrival, and planning to prepare most of your meals. Grocery store sandwiches worked well for daytime adventures, and cooking in our AirBnB or grilling over a firepit was a fun way to relax while waiting for Lopez Island’s spectacular sunsets.

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Lopez Island definitely doesn’t enjoy the mild celebrity status of the other San Juan islands of the Puget Sound, but it’s laid back atmosphere makes it my favorite. If you’re looking for low key adventure that includes rest and beauty without all the intrusion that tourist-centric economies bring to a place, Lopez Island fits the bill. Long beach walks with wildlife sightings (and no other-human sightings) puts Lopez Island top on my list of PNW getaways.

hh pnw lopez island roadtrip

For More information on getting to and from Lopez, see the Ferry Schedule:

Lopez Island Ferry Terminal

Sailing Schedule for Anacortes / San Juan Islands / Lopez

 

Wine tasting on Lopez Island

winetasting is a popular way to see Lopez island and sample the local wines. Lopez Island Vineyards offers locally produced winds grown from organic grapes grown on both Lopez Island and nearby Yakima Valley. The winemakers and schedule a tasting at lopezislandvineyards.com

 

 

wb san juan islands lopez tall

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