|Jewel of a Resort on Gem of an Island
By Chris McBeath
The narrow roads reminded us of driving through the English countryside. Names like Otters Lair Lane, Prune Alley and Enchanted Forest Road charmed our imagination while in between the tall hedgerows peek-a-boo views revealed hillsides dotted with grazing sheep, clusters of Garry oaks, and picturesque cottages with abundant gardens. But this was far from England. We were on Orcas Island, the largest and one of the most beautiful of the San Juans.
With every turn, our anticipation mounted. We were heading for the Resort at Deer Harbor, a delightful destination that was to become our home away from home. Ranked with ‘three well-deserved smooches’ in Best Places to Kiss, and promising ‘the best view in the islands’ by Frommer’s Guide, we couldn’t wait to discover this getaway for ourselves.
Then suddenly, there it was, perched on a quiet beachfront alongside Deer Harbor Marina. Made up of 26 new and historical cottages, the resort is a peaceful haven at the end of a winding road. Each cottage is built for privacy and nearly all have a private deck, hot tub and spacious interiors which include cozy fireplaces, a spa-oriented bathroom, a microwave, coffee maker and romantic touches such as in-rooms books and CDs. The resort was exactly what we had hoped a place of luxurious tranquility where we could walk, talk, read and explore at leisure.
The onsite restaurant, the Star Fish Grill, was equally welcoming and a perfect place to plan the our stay. Our only distraction was a Great Blue Heron skimming across the bay; an otter swimming to shore and the golden glow of a sunset before it melted into the darkness.
Covering an area almost twice the size of Manhattan Island, Orcas has much to offer. Within a two mile drive lies a wonderful wildfowl sanctuary where Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans and various species of dabbling ducks make their home. Further afield is Moran State Park, a spectacular reserve of evergreen virgin forests, shimmering lakes and waterfalls as well Mt. Constitution, the highest peak in the San Juan Islands. You can drive to the top or enjoy any one of the numerous, well maintained trails offering something for all hiking levels including an easy, five-mile walk around Mountain Lake. However you get there, standing atop Mt. Constitution is nothing short of breathtaking - the San Juans lie at your feet and the vistas stretch to the horizon for as far as you can see. Climb the steps of the stone lookout tower, built in 1936 as a fire lookout and observation area, and you’ll have an uninterrupted 360 degree view of the San Juan Archipelago, Vancouver Island and the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges. Be sure to remember your camera.
For action-oriented visitors, there are also opportunities to sail, kayak, golf, horse-back ride, mountain bike and whale watch so you can understand why planning your day becomes important. And if Earhardt’s blood burns in your veins, then a flightseeing excursion in a TravelAir biplane is a must. Originally built in 1929 and completely rebuilt in 1984, this two seater aircraft offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience across this island paradise.
Whatever you do, you’ll soon begin to feel the magic of Orcas Island - the kind that speaks to a gentler time. Eastsound, the village, is filled with picturesque churches, galleries, restaurants and a village green used for a variety of community events. During our visit, it was hosting a Gardener’s Club fund-raiser. Amidst the seedlings and saps, were displays of home-made jams and jellies, hand-quilted garden blankets, artist-created birdhouses, patio furniture and more. One artisan, Paul Freedman, was making cherry-wood rakes and alder chairs, sculpting the handles and legs with a foot-operated lathe as craftsmen have done for hundreds of years.
Orcas Island attracts many such artists and as we toured the island, we came across potters and kilns, spinners and weavers, cutting gardens for dried flower arrangements, jewelry makers, watercolorists and photographers. We also discovered Artworks , a cooperative representing the talents of almost seventy artists from Orcas and neighboring islands all under one roof. It was a creative feast for the senses.
But it wasn’t until we returned to our personal retreat at Deer Harbor that we realized the richness of our day. Sitting in our private hot tub, enjoying the views and anticipating the sunset, we could see why Orcas is often referred to as the jewel of the San Juans. It has a therapeutic quality that eases the mind and a natural beauty that feeds the soul. And as we watched the boats jostling with their reflections in the water, and the Great Blue Heron skim across the bay, we were glad to be staying a while.
If You Go:
The Resort at Deer Harbor
PO Box 200
Deer Harbor, Washington 98243
Tel: (360) 376-4420; 888-376-4480
Web site: www.deerharbor.com
Washington State Ferries
Tel: (800) 843 3779
By Car & Ferry: Driving north or south on I-5, take the Burlington/Anacortes/San Juan Ferry exit #230
Follow signs up the Anacortes ferry dock
The Washington State Ferry provides scheduled service from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands and from Sidney, British Columbia.
The ferry ride is approximately 80 minutes.
Once off the ferry at Orcas Island, drive approximately 2.5 miles to Deer Harbor Road.
Turn left (west), and continue on Deer Harbor Road for another 4.5 miles
The Resort is on the left overlooking the Deer Harbor Marina
By plane: From Seattle, you can take a Kenmore Air floatplane and land at the Deer Harbor Marina.
From Bellingham, Victoria, or Anacortes, West IsleAir is available for short flights to Friday Harbor Airport (FRD)
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