9 Must Dos for Family Fun on San Juan Island

Explore Friday Harbor as one to the things to do on San Juan Island with kids.
Friday Harbor on San Juan Island offers a picturesque town to explore, steps from the ferry. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Along the Canadian border in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I discovered San Juan Island with my family. With a temperate summer climate, shoreline whale watching and family-friendly activities, like hiking and glamping, San Juan Island offers an ideal destination. With a slow, island pace families can explore by bike, or even kayak, to all the things to do on San Juan Island with kids.

San Juan Island National Historical Park 

San Juan Island National Historical Park celebrates the success of peaceful arbitration between the United States and Great Britain. In 1871, they settled the ownership of San Juan Island with the help of Germany.

Explore San Juan National Historical Park is one of the things to do on San Juan Island with kids.
Explore the National Park site on San Juan Island for a few hours. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With two separate locations on opposite sides of San Juan Island, the American Camp and the English Camp, visitors can learn all about the land dispute of 1859. When a British pig rooting around in an American vegetable garden nearly started a war.

For 12 years, the island remained under peaceful joint military occupation. Then in 1871, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany ruled that San Juan Island belonged the U.S. Months later, the British moved out, leaving a civilized camp complete with a formal garden.

American Camp 

Explore American Camp as one of the things to do on San Juan Island with kids.
Take a hike with the kids to the beach at American Camp. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

American Camp features family hikes through wildflower dotted prairies to the South Beach. The six-mile rocky beach offers orca viewing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Visit Grandma’s Cove during low tide for tide pool opportunities.

Located at 4668 Cattle Point Road on the southern peninsula, stop by the year-round visitor center for maps and Junior Ranger booklets. Picnic tables are located at the visitor center along with the restrooms. The visitor center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the park is open from dawn to 11 p.m.

English Camp

Explore English Camp as one of the things to do on San Juan with kids.
Enjoy the formal gardens of the English Camp while the kids run around. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

English Camp offers more historic buildings including the barracks, commissary, block house and formal garden. If time permits the hike to Bell Point offer views of Garrison and Westcott bays.

The visitor center at English Camp is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer at 3905 W. Valley Rd.

San Juan Island National Historical Park’s grounds are open 365 days a year from dawn until 11 p.m. The San Juan Island National Historical Park is fee-free park site.

Kids at San Juan Island National Historical Park

Earn a Junior Ranger patch as one of the things to do on San Juan Island with kids.
Kids can earn a patch at San Juan Island National Historical Park when they complete a Junior Ranger booklet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about San Juan Island National Historical Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklets.

To earn the San Juan Island National Historical Park Junior Ranger badge, kids need to watch the park video, located in the visitor center at both locations. Kids will need to take a hike and complete the same amount of activities in the Junior Ranger booklet as their age.

San Juan Island in Washington is a secret getaway that my family adored with whale watching, a lighthouse, lavender fields and the perfect place to glamp in style. Family memories in the making just an hour from the mainland.

San Juan Island National Historical Park offers a traditional Junior Ranger badge along with an embroidered patch. The Historic Preservation Junior Ranger badge and the Underwater Explorer badge can be earned at San Juan Island National Historical Park as well.

9 Things To Do on San Juan Island with Kids

Add the ferry ride to the things to do San Juan Island with kids.
The ferry ride to San Juan Island is fun for the kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Getting to San Juan Island is part of the fun, the Washington State Ferry excited my kids since we drove our SUV onboard. We parked and explored the ferry during our passage that takes about an hour.

San Juan Island doesn’t have stop lights and there’s a 45 mph speed limit across the island. Adventurous families could bike around the island.

During my visit to San Juan Island, we stopped at The Whale Museum. Ideal for kids who yearn to learn about the whales seen from the shore. It’s a quick tour and can be explored in an hour. Located at 62 First Street in Friday Harbor, adult admission is $6, kids 5 to 18 enter for $3 and kids under five enter for free.

Walk in a field of lavender as one of the things to do on San Juan with kids.
Walking in a field of lavender tops my summer must do list. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lavender fields swaying in the gentle breezes of San Juan Island is nothing short of a watercolor landscape. During my visit, I stopped at Pelindaba Lavender, located at 45 Hawthorne Lane, to enjoy the annual Lavender Festival held in July.

I found the premier location to scout for orca whales at Lime Kiln Point State Park. A quick hike from the parking lot, visitors can occasionally see a pod of orca whales from the shore. Check in at the 1919 lighthouse for the most recent information about sightings.

Explore Lime Kiln State Park while on San Juan Island.
Lime Kiln Point State Park features a lighthouse and offers whale watching from the beach. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Admission is $10 for a one-day Washington Discovery Pass or $30 for an annual pass. Lime Kiln Point State Park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk during the summer season and located at 1567 Westside Road.

My kids love animals and I love to knit so we stopped at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, located at 3501 West Valley Road. With cuddly alpacas and a store packed with clothing and yarn, it’s a family-friendly stop.

I love art and my kids needed to run around so I stopped at the Sculpture Park, near Roche Harbor. I found a 20-acre sculpture park with 150 works on five marked trails, including a sand pit for kids to create their own art. Donations suggested.

Glamping on San Juan Island

During my visit to San Juan Island, I glamped at Lakedale Resort. My family had a canvas cottage ($$) along the shore of Neva Lake.

Lakedale Resort is one of the best places to camp with kids in Washington.
Take a moment and  enjoy the glassy lake at Lakedale Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The centerpiece of my canvas cottage was the chandelier that I never knew I needed until I had one. I especially loved looking at it from my king-sized bed dressed with flannel bedding. And did I mention my canvas cottage had decorative throw pillows, I found lots of them.

The front of our cottage overlooked the lake with a large deck inches off the water. With a wall of bug netting we left the front open for our entire stay, just an incredible view first thing in the morning.

Enjoy the deck of the Canvas Cottage, one of the best places to camp with kids in Washington.
With a large deck on the water, we enjoyed dinner al fresco. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The canvas cottage includes a twin-sized daybed outfitted with a trundle underneath and bedding. My kids loved sleeping on the trundle and day bed.

I found a large and bright bathroom that features a jumbo shower head with hot water. The bathroom includes a dressing area with a full-length mirror and a closet rod. The pedestal sink featured plenty of light to apply make-up and I even found a blow dryer.

Since Lakedale Resort is heavily treed, I didn’t see the RV or tent campsites from my site. I let my older kids explore on their own on the loaner bikes.

Enjoy family fun at Lakedale, the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
My kids found a ton of fun at Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island, like boats to rent, games and crafts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My kids found lots of activities just for them like games and crafts. I found a complimentary breakfast at the mess tent in the morning. So incredible helpful when trying to feed the kids and make it to the ferry on time.

Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes, is 5 miles from the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal. It features a 10-room lodge, two pet-friendly log cabins, canvas cabins and cottages, a vintage Airstream and standard camping and RV sites.

Where’s the San Juan Island National Historical Park

During my visit, I took the Washington State Ferry to Friday Harbor from Anacortes, Washington, 85 miles north of Seattle via Interstate 5. It was easy to load up my SUV and head to the top deck for a scenic ride.

For visitors without cars, floatplanes offer service to the San Juan Island from several locations including Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport).

Friday Harbor offers plenty of moorage for boat owners.

More Information:

Looking for more detailed information, I suggest the following book.

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands listed. This post contains affiliate links.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Friday Harbor is your place for shopping on San Juan Island from groceries to souvenirs.
  • I found all I needed for a picnic and a camp fire cookout at the grocery store.
  • Reservations for the Washington State Ferry are highly recommended, only 10% of the ferry capacity is available for drive-up passage.

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