The San Juan Islands are a contradictory combination of remoteness and accessibility. San Juan Islands transportation can be a bit of a puzzle but it also helps maintain the quiet small town atmosphere.
What is the best route for driving to the San Juan Islands?
- I5 north from Seattle, or south from Canada
This is the most common driving route to the San Juan Islands. I5 is often the fastest way to go even if it’s not the most scenic. Stay on the interstate until you get to Burlington, then head west on highway 20. You can also go west through Mount Vernon, which is an attractive historic farming community.
- North Cascades Highway
This northern route across the Cascades is a scenic byway well worth the name. It leads straight through to Anacortes from the eastside of Washington State. It often closes earlier in the season than other passes but makes an amazing summer drive.
- SeaTac International Airport
Airport Code: SEA
Located about 90 miles south of the San Juan Islands near Seattle. This is a large international terminal, most domestic and many international airlines have scheduled flights here.
- Vancouver International Airport
Airport Code: YVR
Located across the border in the Canadian city of Vancouver this is a large international airport with occasional ticket deals that make the border and distance worth it. The drive is about the same distance as that to Seattle, but with the border and its requisite lines.
- Bellingham International Airport
Airport Code: BLI
This is a small regional airport served only by Alaska, Horizon, Allegiant, Northwest Sky Ferry, and San Juan Airlines. The last two also fly directly to the San Juans from Bellingham. It’s the closest airport to the San Juans serviced by a major airline like Alaska.
- Local small airports
All of the major islands and several of the smaller ones have community airports that can handle small planes. There are several local companies that regularly fly to and from the islands. Seaplanes are also a common mode of transport in the San Juan Islands.
Do I need a car to explore the San Juan Islands?
It can be very convenient to have a car in the San Juan Islands but it can also be expensive and a hassle to get one there from the mainland.
- The ferry lines in the summer can mean a nearly endless wait with a car.
- Bikes and walk-on passengers can just walk right on without the wait, and with much cheaper tickets.
- Likewise inter-island ferry traffic is free and easy for those without a car.
- On the other hand it rains occasionally all year long and your car can be a dry sanctuary from inclement weather.
- You can rent cars and mopeds on Orcas and San Juan Island, this might be a better option than bringing your own depending on how the ferry lines are and what kind of activities you are planning.