Fidalgo Island is located in the northern part of Puget Sound, in Skagit County, about 60 miles north of Seattle. The island is most known for its largest city, Anacortes—and Anacortes is most known as being the place you catch a ferry to get to the San Juan Islands. However, Fidalgo Island is more than just the gateway to the San Juan Islands. There’s also plenty to do on this bit of land, so stay for a day or two and explore.
There are many parks and waterfront spaces to enjoy on Fidalgo Island, but if you visit just one, make it Deception Pass State Park. Deception Pass is the most popular state park in Washington, and for a good reason. It’s gorgeous. At 4,134 acres and with 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and 33,900 feet of freshwater shoreline on three lakes, Deception Pass offers all kinds of natural pursuits. You can camp, hike along rugged cliffs with stunning views of the water, bike through lush forests, go fishing, boating, and more. Note that you will need a Discover Pass to park here. If you don’t already have one, you can buy either a day pass or annual pass (good for all Washington State Parks) at one of the pay stations in the park.
As the island’s largest city, Anacortes is worth some time all on its own. There are hotels and B&Bs alike if you want to base your stay here (which is an excellent idea as the island is not so big that everything to do here is far away). In the heart of town, you’ll find shops and galleries, antique stores and restaurants. Anacortes also has spas, tons of parks (Washington Park, Volunteer Park, and Cap Sante Park are all within its bounds), playgrounds, a farmers market in the warmer months, and two museums—the Anacortes Museum and the W. T. Preston, which is the last stern-wheeler that operated in Puget Sound and one of only two snag boats remaining in the US.
Go to a Festival
Anacortes holds several annual festivals. A few highlights include the Spring Wine Festival in April, Anacortes Waterfront Festival in June, and Bier on the Pier in October. The Spring Wine Festival welcomes in about 30 wineries so attendees can taste a variety of vino complete with food pairings and a wine shop if you find one you love. Because Anacortes is in Skagit Valley, the festival makes a lovely complement to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, where you can wander expansive and stunning tulip fields (also, be warned, you won’t be the only one walking the tulip fields. It’s a popular event). The Anacortes Waterfront Festival is a celebration on the water with live music, food, arts and crafts, and lots of family fun. Bier on the Pier is a 21-plus beer festival with more than 40 breweries and cideries in attendance, as well as food trucks and live music. Anacortes also lights up for the holidays with everything from a tree lighting ceremony to holiday markets to a holiday art walk.
Explore Shops and Galleries
If you love to stroll and duck into shops, Anacortes is the place for you. You can explore the retail offerings in the heart of town anytime, but one of the best ways to see what the town has in store is to join the First Friday Artwalk. Held on the first Friday of each month from 6 to 9 p.m., this event sees the galleries and a coffee shop or two along Commercial Avenue open their doors all at the same time. There are also several antique shops and boutiques located along this strip.
Hit the Tommy Thompson Trail
There are plenty of places to hike and walk on Fidalgo Island, but one of the most all-around-enjoyable is the Tommy Thompson Trail. With trailheads at 22nd Street and R Avenue, Fidalgo Bay R.V. Park, and 30th and U Avenue, there are a few jumping-on points. The trail measures 3.3 miles and is flat and paved the entire way, making it perfect for a walk or a bike ride, but also accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. Along the way, you’ll spot views of Mt. Baker, Fidalgo Bay, and plenty of local wildlife (especially blue heron).
Take a Day Trip to the San Juan Islands
You can catch a ferry from Anacortes to several San Juan locations—Friday Harbor, Lopez Island, Orcas Island and Shaw Island—as well as Sidney, British Columbia. You can’t walk on to these ferries, though, and will need to book a reservation online. Friday Harbor, especially, makes a great day trip from Fidalgo Island as the ferry takes a little over an hour, leaving plenty of time to explore the cute, waterfront town. Have lunch at a restaurant overlooking the water and boat traffic, take a whale watching tour or get out on the water yourself with a rented kayak. It’s also a lot of fun to drive around San Juan Island (the island home to Friday Harbor) and admire the scenery. Just make sure you book return ferry reservations, too, and keep an eye on the clock.
Go to a Park
Fidalgo Island is home to all kinds of parks beyond Deception Pass State Park. Washington Park on the island’s west side is a 220-acre park filled to the brim with things to do, including a boat launch, picnic sites, a playground, campsites, and a loop trail/road for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars. The loop is a fantastic place to enjoy some top-notch views of Guemes Channel and Burrows Bay. If you’ve got kids, Storvik Park has a fabulous wooden playground. If you’re in it for the views, Mt. Erie Park is the place to be. At 1,270 feet, Mt. Erie is the highest point on Fidalgo Island, and there are four view spots in this park where you can enjoy views galore. Mt. Erie Park also has lots of trails through forested areas. Some parks have beach access too!
Take a Scenic Drive
If you haven’t been following the plot, Fidalgo Island is filled with views. With the San Juan Islands just offshore and water stretching out in all directions, it’s no wonder. You’ll find views no matter where you go, but sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy nothing but views. Fortunately for you, there’s a drive for that. Essentially, just follow Highway 20 around the perimeter of the island, for the most part. Head toward Washington Park, and then you’ll need to take Anaco Beach Road to Marine Drive, continue to Rosario Road, and drive into Deception Pass State Park (you can drive through for free. It’s only parking that requires a Discover Pass). You’ll connect back with Highway 20 inside the park and continue around the rest of the island. Oohs and ahs guaranteed.
Go Whale Watching
The San Juan Islands are known far and wide for their whale watching tours. Anacortes is just a short ferry ride from the waters surrounding the islands and makes a great jumping-off point for whale watching tours as well. Tours take about a half-day and don’t travel set routes. Instead, the course varies each day based on where the whales are most likely to be. You will also see other wildlife, including bald eagles, puffins, porpoises, sea lions and seals, humpback whales, all kinds of birds, and seagulls…so many seagulls.
Gamble at Swinomish Casino
Located in Anacortes, Swinomish Casino is worth a stop if you want to try your luck at any number of slots and table games. The casino has a 98-room hotel and most rooms have views of the water or San Juan Islands. The gaming floor is open 24 hours a day and features 800-plus slot machines, table games from blackjack to pai gow to roulette to craps. Grab a bite to eat at one of several restaurants, or hit the link-style golf course.
Get out on the Water
With so much shoreline, it’s almost a given that you should get out on the water in some way or another. Whale watching is one of the best ways, but only one of many. If you have your own boat, you’ll find ample moorage on the island, or if you want to charter a boat, there are several charter companies in Anacortes. You’ll find sport fishing opportunities year-round in the area. Sea kayaking is also a treat in the waters off of Anacortes. The entire area is located in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, which means there’s relatively little rain, and the water is calm. You can find companies that lead kayak tours out of Anacortes, whether you’re a beginner or advanced kayaker.