Wintertime in the San Juans is blissfully quiet, and the perfect place for some rest and rejuvenation.
Here’s some hard truth: we have several months before the warm weather returns. This makes a lot of us Northwesterners want to plan tropical vacations. But they’re so complicated and expensive. Why not take advantage of one of your favorite summertime spots, Orcas Island, in the winter?
“Winter is my favorite time of year,” says Christopher Peacock, the general manager and resident historian of Rosario Resort. “The ferry lines are short and it’s almost like you have the whole island to yourself. Even in the summer months, the island absorbs people really well, but when you’re hiking the trails of Moran State Park, and you don’t run into anybody, that’s pretty cool.”
That’s right, wintertime in the San Juans is blissfully quiet, and the perfect place for some rest and rejuvenation. Here are some tips for enjoying your cold-season trip.
First, get outside. Yes, you’ll need your fleece, raincoat, hat, warm socks, boots, etc. You know, it’s the usual Northwest dress code – layers. Once you’re geared up, take a hike on one of the island’s many trails.
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One of the more popular routes is to the top of the 2,409-foot Mount Constitution – the highest point in the San Juans. The views of the islands and surrounding waters are unparalleled and make for #greatphotos.
If you’d like a less-ambitious hike without as much elevation gain, consider the 3-mile loop around Mountain Lake or one of the many trails through Obstruction Pass State Park.
“Cascade falls is such an easy hike,” Ronda Greenawalt, guest services manager at Rosario Resort, says. “It’s not even a quarter of a mile to get to some amazing upper and lower falls that are very grotto-like. Most people drive past and don’t realize it’s so interesting, but with the falls and the meandering stream, it’s pretty magical.”
Hiking isn’t the only outdoor option. Some tours and adventures stay open for the winter, but they are usually weather dependent so you have to be willing to play it by ear. If the weather cooperates, take a whale watching tour or trail ride on horseback.
Second, get inside. You know the best part of being outside on a cold winter’s day? Coming back inside. After a hot bath, it’s time for snacks and hot beverages. Steamed clams and mussels with a pint of local cider? Irish coffee? Don’t worry, Orcas knows how to feed you right.
“Most of the restaurants on the island are doing farm to table and the quality of the food is just excellent,” Peacock says. “And, of course, the Mansion Restaurant is leading the way in that culinary program.”
When you’ve finished your comfort food, you can enjoy one of the island’s highlights, Rosario Resort’s History and Music Tour that happens every Saturday at 4 p.m. Seattle shipbuilder and mayor Robert Moran started building the resort as his personal mansion in 1906. At the time, the world was feeling the effects of the industrial revolution, and he wanted to create a place where he could regain his health – physical, mental, and spiritual.
“Cities were growing bigger, nature was being taken away, and people were working longer hours so they had less family time,” Peacock says. “A big movement was sweeping through the country. And Moran in his design and construction sort of epitomizes the return to nature, hand craftsmanship, and family time with the Arts and Crafts philosophies.”
The music room includes a giant pipe organ and a Steinway grand piano and walls that are covered with Moran’s photos from around the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s.
“I play the organ and I play the piano when I talk about the history of Rosario,” Peacock says, “And it makes the room come alive and takes people back to that period.”
Finally, what winter retreat would be complete without a spa treatment? No good one, that’s for sure.
“The Spa offers massages and facials,” Greenawalt says. “But the use of the therapeutic pool, hot tub, fitness center, and sauna is included in the room fees and available to the guests. So, without spending any extra money, you can come and relax and feel like you have the facilities to yourself.”
Who needs sunshine? It’s overrated. So, pack up your layers, or maybe just a book, and head up to Orcas for some quiet-season rejuvenation.
Rosario Resort & Spa is located on Orcas Island, 90 miles north of Seattle. Catch the WA state ferry from Anacortes (reservations available online) or fly to Orcas Island on a floatplane via Kenmore Air.