For the last few years, Aaron and I have made it a tradition of taking a long walk over New Year’s somewhere in the San Juan Islands. Last year, we walked on tiny Shaw Island and the year before that, San Juan Island. This year we traveled to Orcas Island to walk over Turtleback Mountain, which through the efforts of the San Juan County Land Bank, the San Juan Preservation Trust, the Trust for Public Lands, and more than 2,000 private donors, is one of the largest protected natural areas in San Juan County. It is comprised of 1,718 acres of woodlands, grasslands, quiet forests, and scattered wetlands. It provides the walker with the occasional fabulous view to the north, west, and south.
We walked on the Washington State Ferry at Anacortes bound for Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where we lodged at the Earthbox Inn for two nights. Early in the morning on our one full day, we hopped on the smaller inter-island ferry bound for Orcas Island.
Turtleback Mountain has two trailheads; a northern and a southern. Since we were on foot, we decided to take a taxi to the northern trailhead, through-hike to the southern trailhead, and walk back to the ferry from there. I had arranged with Eric from the Orcas Island Taxi to meet us at the ferry and drive us the 5.7 miles to our starting point. He was waiting and knew exactly where to go! Eric told us he had a big night ahead…since it was New Year’s, he would be offering free rides home to folks between the hours of 12 midnight and 2 a.m…pretty sweet of him.
The trail immediately climbs and doesn’t stop until the highest point on the Raven Ridge Trail at 1519 feet. It was a crisp, clear morning and we were soon warmed through and through by the effort this trail required. We stopped at the North Valley Overlook and could see the refineries at Cherry Point near Birch Bay and the Canadian mountains beyond. We also stopped at the Waldron Overlook, which offers amazing views of Waldron Island and beyond to the west. We skipped the Turtlehead Trail due to time constraints. We had to make it back to the ferry by 4 pm and had roughly 4 additional miles of trail walking and about 5 miles of road walking back to the ferry. From the Waldron Overlook, we chose the Raven Ridge Trail, which took us to the summit and from there it was downhill all the way to the south parking lot/trailhead.
The trail is very well marked. Even so, in addition to food, water, layers, and rain gear, I would suggest bringing a map. Be prepared for a real workout. There are very few switchbacks and the trail is steep. We experienced the kind of post hike soreness that had us going down the stairs in our home backwards for a couple days, if you know what I mean. Also, the 2.5 mile section of road walking along Deer Harbor Road back to the main Orcas Road was the kind of road walking that no one should really do and I can’t recommend. There is virtually no shoulder and many blind turns. But, we made it and in the end had a wonderful day!
We arrived back at the ferry dock about two hours before our ferry. We grabbed a sandwich from the Orcas Village Store and took it to a newly opened wine bar called Champagne, Champagne. Since it was New Year’s, the owner was serving everything bubbly. We ate our sandwich with a glass of fizzy Pinot Noir, played a few hands of cribbage, and watched the sky turn to an amazing pink. The sun had long set as we arrived back in Friday Harbor.
I’ll close with a video of our day! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Happy Walking and Happy New Year!!