Skip to main content

San Juan Islands for Families on a Budget

What to do with kids on Orcas, Lopez, San Juan and more idyllic islands

Lauren Braden

Published on: July 25, 2023

San Juan Islands for Families on a Budget

Driftwood and people wading in the water at South Beach on Guemes Island in Washington's San Juan Islands
South Beachon Guemes Island. Credit: docentjoyce/Flickr CC

Guemes Island for families on a budget

Haven’t heard of Guemes Island? Neither have most travelers bound for the San Juans, and that’s exactly why this small, quiet escape might just be the perfect choice. Pack all the food you’ll need, sturdy shoes for beachcombing, and ingredients to make s’mores over a bonfire and you’re all set. Besides leisurely walks on pebble beaches and playing board games on the cabin porch, there’s not much to do on this rural island, and that’s the point. Bring the bikes, though, for the island's quiet roads are perfect for family bike rides.

Getting to Guemes

Accessible only by boat, the Guemes Island Ferry (operated by Skagit County) leaves from Anacortes and crosses the water in just five minutes (departures are several times a day and the boat carries both passengers and vehicles; long ferry lines are rare). The round-trip fare runs around $20 for a family of four and their car — much cheaper than the ferry to the larger islands.

What to do on Guemes

Hike up the newer 1-mile trail to the top of Guemes Mountain for incredible views of nearby islands, ocean straits, the Skagit River delta and jagged peaks of the North Cascades. Got your app ready? Guemes is a geocaching hotspot. The Guemes Island Resort has kayaks available to guests, and on calm days you can’t beat a gentle paddle across the bay to Jack Island and back (2 miles round trip).

Where to stay on Guemes

Your lodging choices are limited but good. Stay at the island’s only resort or rent a vacation home. The family-friendly Guemes Island Resort (on the island’s northeast side adjacent to Hunt’s Park) hails from the 1940s and affords a stunning view across Samish Bay to snow-capped Mount Baker.

A row of rustic waterfront cabins with river-rock fireplaces are awash in nostalgia, while more modern and spacious cabins with steam showers and hot tubs are tucked away in the woods. The most affordable option, though, is “glamping” in one of the resort’s five furnished and heated yurts. Pets are welcome.

Where to eat on Guemes

Plan to do most of your own cooking. Guemes Island General Store is located at the ferry dock and is your must-stop for supplies, groceries, ice cream and cold beverages. It also houses the island’s only restaurant/pub, serving up salads, soups, burgers and a great kids' menu.

Next stop: Lummi

Image credit: docentjoyce/Flickr CC

Share this resource with your friends!