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San Juan Islands Guide

San Juan Islands, Orcas Island, Washington, USA: History, Travel and Tourism

Ellis Robertson
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San Juan Islands, Orcas Island, Washington, USA. History, Travel and Tourism. Vacation Packages. Orcas is a special island. More rugged than Lopez yet less crowded than San Juan, it has struck a delicate balance between friendliness and frostiness, development and preservation, tourist dollars and priceless privacy for the time being, at least. Lying in the dry rain shadow of the storm-lashed Olympic Mountains, the island was once an important trading post for the North Straits Salish Native Americans, who maintained a permanent settlement in present-day West Sound. The first European homesteaders arrived in the 1860s and within a couple of years had set about clearing the old-growth rainforest for crops and fruit orchards. Another early industrial project was lime production, and by the early 20th century 35 lime kilns dotted the island, burning huge amounts of local wood. The growth of tourism is a distinctly modern development and an inevitable consequence of Orcas' refreshing get-away-from-it-all location