The Island Ferries, Part I

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Useful Information if you are new to the Washington State Ferry System and want to go to San Juan, Lopez, Orcas, or Shaw. This Blog is in three parts.

Get a ferry schedule before you tell anyone when you will be arriving.  You can go online to  This is the department of transportation’s ferry website.  It has the most up-to-date information.  For example, sometimes the ferries are on special holiday schedule and occasionally one will break down or be late.  Also, note that the ferry schedule (and also the prices) changes four times a year.  The prices and the lines are highest in the summer.  So, go online and make sure you are looking at a current schedule and that nothing is out of the ordinary for the day you are choosing.

Here’s a good suggestion:  try to arrive on a weekday as the bulk of people coming to the island travel on weekends.  Why does this matter:  the ferries are often overcrowded. Except for ferries going to Sidney B.C., there are no reservations (unless you have had surgery and your doctor has faxed in to the ferry terminal a request for you.)  This means that if you choose a weekend and try to get on the ferry Friday night or Saturday you may have a big wait.  Even if you are going on a regular weekday, it is wise to give yourself at least an hour or more from the time of your arrival at the Anacortes terminal to when your ferry leaves. (It follows that the best time to leave, as far as the flow goes, would be on a weekday also.  Some summer visitors can have long waits on a Sunday afternoon.)

Look at the ferry schedule.  You will see that not all the ferries go to all the islands.  Some schedules for summer have a different schedule for the weekend than the weekday.  Be sure you are looking at the right place.  Each island usually only has about five to seven departures daily.  Some ferries stop at all the islands; some go straight through to one island.  You will also see that not all ferries depart from Anacortes.  Some ferries just toot around between the islands of Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and Friday Harbor.  Islands call these the Inter-Island ferries.  Once you are in the San Juan Islands, you can use the Inter-Island ferries with a lot less worry about lines and waiting.

Now, look at the departure time, from Anacortes and follow it to the island you wish to visit for the arrival time.  Here’s a hint:  do it at least twice, or better yet, have another person check it with you.  It is not rocket science, but I doubt you could find an islander who hasn’t made a mistake at least once in this simple step.  Yours truly included, and I’ve lived on the island since 1977.  In the next installment we will discuss the ferry terminal.

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