Summer’s days are numbered, and you haven’t had a summer fling yet. Fear not, there’s a place that will steal your heart that’s a five-minute ferry ride away from Anacortes. Guemes Island. The unassuming, quiet, little island that is a forgotten destination amid the popular San Juan Islands. It’s tall cedar and spruce groves, long, agate-filled beaches, and friendly locals provide the perfect weekend getaway from crowds and reality. But be warned, this little island will enrapture you with its charms and steal your heart.
There are a handful of rentals on Guemes, but the best bet is the Guemes Island Resort on the north beach of the island. Set back in time, but with all the comfort conveniences, this quaint collection of beach houses and yurts is home-base for island adventuring. Catch the Friday evening Guemes Island Ferry at 6th & I Avenue. The ferry lines can be long, with weekenders coming to the island, so plan ahead by checking the ferry schedule . When you arrive, unload and get thee to the beach immediately for the sunset. You get two evening shows: the alpenglow of Mt. Baker to the east, and the layered peachy, pink and purple glow of the sun as it sets behind Cypress Island to the west. Enjoying with a glass of wine is highly recommended. The Guemes Island Resort has a nicely curated store stocked with wine, beer, snacks and a few items you might have forgotten at home, like pancake mix or ice cream bars. Fall asleep listening to the hoots of barred owls in the distance and the soft waves lapping at the pebbled beach.
Wake up Saturday feeling refreshed and maybe already a little bit smitten. After breakfast and a walk along the beach, it’s a veritable choose-your-own adventure as to how to fill your day. The Resort offers 12 & 14 foot aluminum boats free of charge to guests, as well as kayaks and stand up paddle boards. You can also check out crabbing equipment to catch your own crab for dinner. You’ll need a license, which you can usually grab at your local hardware store for around $23. There’s enough activities you don’t have to leave the Resort if you don’t want to. But let’s say you do, because if you’re really going to fall in love with this island, you’ve got to get to know all it’s ins and outs. Rent a boat and crab gear, row out and set your pots, then while you’re waiting for that delicious Dungeness crab to scurry in to your trap, take a drive over to Guemes Mountain for a hike.
Though it’s hard to get lost on Guemes, the Resort does have maps of the island. It takes about 10 minutes to drive anywhere on the island, so enjoy the water view scenery along North Beach Road and the forested trees of South Shore Road, where you’ll find the trailhead. Just past the sign asking you to “drive slow please, for the bees” you’ll see a bike rack on the left hand side of the road. Park here, stretch, grab a few blackberries from the gnarly bushes across the road and start your ascent. It’s a mile and a half to the top, with two benches along the way that provide views and a place to catch your breath. The canopy of cedar and spruce trees and the monstrous ferns on the forest floor feel like you’ve entered nature’s cathedral. There may or may not be faeries inhabiting this forest. Island children will tell you there are for sure, so who’s to say, but you certainly get the feeling of natural magic during your hike. At the top you’re rewarded with 360 ° views of the San Juan archipelago to the west, Anacortes and Whidbey Island to the south, Bellingham to the north and Samish Island and the valley to the east, and on a sunny day you feel like you can see forever.
If you’re more of a beachcomber, Guemes has long stretches of beaches loaded with agates, and flotsam and jetsam waiting to be plucked up and coveted as treasure. Heading south from the Resort on South Shore Drive, you’ll come to an intersection at Edens Road. Take a right here, down a short hill and park for beach access. At low tide there is plenty of beach to trek, as well as views of Cypress Island and the state ferries coming and going. You may even see a pod of Orcas. You really never know what you’ll see while you’re on the beach. Another great spot for a beach excursion is Kelly’s Point Beach – named after the infamous Pirate Kelly. Legend has it that he used this point to look out for ships coming in to port, and, well, you can figure out the rest. He wasn’t called “Pirate” for nothing. Kelly’s is located at the intersection of West Beach Road and South Shore Road.
Lunchtime or afternoon is a great time to stop by the Guemes Island General Store. There’s a lunch menu full of local-sourced items like the Beach Burger, a Reuben sandwich, salads, whatever you’re craving. There are also eight taps of nicely-selected beers, most of which are local and regional. The store also has a cooler full of beers, wine, beverages, food and a pantry of dry goods and supplies. Be sure to check the concert calendar as there is probably a band playing the outdoor stage in the evening. Enjoy your lunch or drinks on the patio or lawn, where you can also play cornhole, disc golf, or hoola hoop. Yes, this is living. A sunny afternoon with a cold beverage, a view of the Guemes Channel, and nothing to worry about. You may be getting a funny feeling in your chest. That’s just your heart falling for this unique place.
When you return to grab your crab pots the Resort has all the equipment you’ll need to cook them up and crack them open for dinner. It’s really too good to be true. You’re sitting outside, eating crab you caught, listening to the water lapping at the shore, watching sailboats pass by. Sigh. C’est la vie. As day slips into the twilight hour, you can take a soak in the saltwater hot tub or warm up a bit (it can chill down at night) in the sauna. Just let the Resort staff know when you check in that you’d like to rent it. It’s an additional cost, but one you won’t mind paying once you’re enjoying the sunset in the relaxing tub.
Now it’s Sunday morning, and your last day here on Guemes Island. You’ve clearly fallen head over heels in love and never want to leave. But sadly you must. Your dog can’t live with the neighbors forever, and your real life would miss you too. The good news is the ferry lines tend to be really long on Sundays in the summer, so there’s no rush to get in line. Spend the day exploring whatever part of the island you missed on Saturday. And when you’re ready, park your car in line and wait for the ferry over at the Guemes Island General Store. You can get a quick game of cornhole in while you watch the ferry load and unload.
Leaving Guemes is hard once you’ve really gotten to know it’s charming personality. But know that you can come back and visit anytime. Guemes will still remember and love you just like it did the first time you visited.