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Orcas Island facts for kids

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Nickname: Gem of the San Juan Islands
Orcas Island locator map.svg
Location of Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands
Orcas is located in Washington (state)
Location in Washington (state)
Orcas is located in the United States
Location in the United States
Location Pacific Northwest
Coordinates 48°39′15″N 122°56′18″W / 48.65417°N 122.93833°W / 48.65417; -122.93833
Archipelago San Juan Islands
Area 57.3 sq mi (148 km2)
Highest elevation 2,409 ft (734.3 m)
Highest point Mount Constitution
United States
State Washington
County San Juan County
Largest settlement Eastsound
Population 5,387 (2010)
Pop. density 30.09 /km2 (77.93 /sq mi)
Orcas Island aerial view EPA photo
Aerial view of Orcas Island with the Cascade Mountains in the background
Orcas Island Ferry Landing
Ferry landing at Orcas

Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest, which are in the northwestern corner of San Juan County, Washington.


The name "Orcas" is a shortened form of Horcasitas, or Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791. During the voyage, Eliza explored part of the San Juan Islands. He did not apply the name Orcas specifically to Orcas Island, but rather to part of the archipelago. In 1847, Henry Kellett assigned the name Orcas to Orcas Island during his reorganization of the British Admiralty charts. Kellett's work eliminated the patriotically American names that Charles Wilkes had given to many features of the San Juans during the Wilkes Expedition of 1838–1842. Wilkes had named Orcas Island "Hull Island", after Commodore Isaac Hull. Other features of Orcas Island named by Wilkes include "Ironsides Inlet" for East Sound and "Guerrier Bay" for West Sound. One of the names Wilkes gave remains: Mount Constitution. Wilkes' names follow a pattern: Isaac Hull was the commander of "Old Ironsides" (the USS Constitution) and won fame after capturing the British warship Guerriere in the War of 1812.


With a land area of 57.3 square miles (148.4 km²) and a population of 5,387 (2010 census), Orcas Island is slightly larger, but less populous, than neighboring San Juan Island. Orcas is shaped like a pair of saddlebags, separated by fjord-like Eastsound, with Massacre Bay on the south side, and tiny Skull Island just off the coast. At the northern end of the island is the village of Eastsound, the largest population center on Orcas and the second largest in San Juan County. In 1989, the people of San Juan County asked the federal government to purchase a Lummi Nation site on Orcas Island's Madrona Point in Eastsound. The land was given to the Lummi who agreed to operate it as Madrona Point Park, a private preserve characterized by hundreds of twisting madrona trees sprouting from the rocky shoreline. Several years ago, the Lummi tribe declared the land sacred ancestral burial grounds and the park was closed following incidents of vandalism. Public access has been denied since that time.

Other, smaller towns - or hamlets - on the island include Orcas (where the inter-island/mainland ferry lands), West Sound (technically part of Eastsound), Deer Harbor, Rosario (technically part of Eastsound), Olga and Doe Bay. There are a number of former settlements that no longer exist, which were mostly built up around the lime kiln industry, including Ocean, Newhall, and Dolphin Bay.

Orcas Island is accessible by air via Eastsound Airport or water landings by seaplane as well as by water via the Washington State Ferry system or private watercraft. During the summer season, there is an island shuttle that runs from the ferry landing to Eastsound and other points.

Island access and sights

The state supports island access through the Washington State Ferries system. In addition, the island can be accessed through a variety of private air and sea charter services.

  • The Orcas Island Historical Museum is located down town Eastsound and is the only object-based, interpretive heritage facility for the island, with a permanent collection containing approximately 6000 objects, paper documents and photographs.
  • Orcas Island is also home to three historic camps: Camp Orkila, Four Winds Westward Ho and Camp Indralaya.
  • The Lambiel Museum is a small private collection in the home of local resident Leo Lambiel. Lambiel's museum contains a collection of works inspired by the San Juan Islands, including works by Helen Loggie. The museum is open to the public by appointment.

Moran State Park

View eastwards from Mount Constitution over the Rosario Strait with Mount Baker visible

Mount Constitution (elevation 2409 feet - 734 meters) is the highest point in the San Juan islands. The mountain is part of Moran State Park, the largest public recreation area in the San Juan Islands. Moran State Park encompasses over 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of woodland and has several lakes and numerous waterfalls. The park was given to the Island.

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