Editor’s Note: Originally published in August 2014, this article was updated in May 2017 for accuracy and relevance.
Since 2014, the San Juan Island ferry routes have run on a reservation system. Spots open up at the beginning of each season, then more two weeks and two days before each sailing. Only ten percent of each sailing is left open for standby drivers that arrive without a reservation.
No, earlier than that. On summer weekends, car lineups for drive-up spots in Anacortes can top five hours. It’s why San Juan veterans and residents pack a pillow.
Monitor the mess
The Washington State Ferry terminal website hosts live camera views of the lines. They also update exactly how many car spots are left on each sailing.
Parking at the Anacortes ferry terminal is $10 per day, and the boats rarely reach capacity for walk-ons. Once on the island, vacation near the dock, hire a car, or, like a brave local, hitchhike.
Lake Union to Friday Harbor is just 45 minutes by float plane, sightseeing included. Plus Kenmore Air flights can land by the shores of islands that ferries never touch. kenmoreair.com
Shrink the boat
The Victoria Clipper does 3.5-hour trips from downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor from May to September, traveling via scenic Deception Pass on the way up. Boats can carry bicycles and trips may entail on-the-fly whale watching. clippervacations.com