Many Islanders will tell you that the end of Summer or the beginning of Fall is their favorite season. They use the word Indian Summer to describe the cool mornings, often with the low toot of fog horns from the ferry, the garden harvests, the sunny afternoons, bright sunsets, and dwindling of visitors. It is as if the residents and the islands themselves breathe a long sigh of relief when school starts up again and people return to their everyday lives. It is an excellent time to visit the islands; ferry travel is less crowded and getting accommodations or finding a parking spot is easier. For outdoor activities during this time of the year, the temperatures are perfect for hiking one of the many trails available through Island Recreation or the National Historic Parks. One of my favorites is up Young Hill at English Camp on San Juan Island. There are lovely crunchy maple leaves along the trail as you climb up for about half an hour to get to the view spot on top that takes in vistas of land and water out over the bays to the Straits and Canada.
The Orca whales will leave the islands sometime in September, so this might be your last chance to see them until next year. Viewings can be from one of several outfitters or tours but an excellent and economical way is to go to the west side on San Juan Island to Whale-watch Park or any of the land bank owned property adjacent to it and view them from land. Take along some wine, bread and cheese and have a sunset picnic. Even if the whales don’t come by you will enjoy the views and other wildlife (eagles, minkes, raptors, deer) and see passing boats, kayaks, and perhaps freighters.) Afterwards you can drive up the Scenic Bypass Road on Westside drive and see the colors of Fall starting in maple and madrona groves.
On Orcas Island you will want to visit the colors at Moran State Park. A huge parcel including many lakes, there is even a trail around the entire park called the perimeter trail for the hale and hearty. For the rest of us, a trip up Mount Constitution in the afternoon after the fog has burned off in our vehicles will reward us with wonderful views without exerting much exercise at all. The lovely resort of Rosario is open and that is worth a stop to see how the wealthy philanthropist, who donated his land to the park, lived in his mansion. It is now a restaurant and hotel. A ferry trip to the islands in the late summer will be a road trip you will not forget, one that will remind you of the delight of nature and fresh air and being outside long after the season passes.