Washington Islands

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News March 2014

When it comes to a cool destination for summer vacation, it’s tough to beat Anacortes, Wash., on Fidalgo Island just 80 miles north of Seattle.

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Historically a fish cannery town, Anacortes is now a quaint community that attracts thousands of art enthusiasts and tourists. With the San Juan Islands to the west and the hazy, blue North Cascades Mountains to the east, Anacortes has plenty of beautiful scenery.

I wanted to see it all, too — Anacortes, the San Juan Islands, the North Cascades — all from a comfortable hotel I knew was wheelchair accessible, the Marina Inn (

My husband, Don, and I crossed the bridge that connects Fidalgo Island to the rest of Washington state. As the sun set, draping the horizon in hues of orange and gold, we drove under the arch that read “Historic Downtown Anacortes.” We had arrived.

Sights & Sounds of Town

Along Commercial Ave., scores of beautifully painted murals and historic buildings brought the town’s past to life.

An icon of Washington, ferryboats are a scenic and accessible way to visit Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

Even the street trash cans were cloaked in replicas of long-ago cannery labels. Access was easy thanks to well-designed intersections and wheelchair-friendly public restrooms.

We lingered at a corner where a street musician strummed his guitar before heading to the Port of Anacortes. Smells of fish and saltwater filled the air along with the chug-chug of a ferryboat on its way to Guemes Island.

We sat on the dock in the sunshine next to a local fisherman. I could make out the silhouette of the old general store on Guemes Island across the blue waters of Guemes Strait.

At Cap Sante Marina south of downtown, a boat owner told us, “this is one of the premier marinas in the Northwest.” With nearly 1,000 ships, it’s an impressive sight.

We followed the sidewalk at the marina’s edge. The view of the San Juan Islands ( rising from the water in green swells as sailboats played in the glittering, blue ocean was mesmerizing.

The local farmers market was small and felt like a community festival. The aroma of roasting hot dogs awakened our appetites.

We made our way to one of the many bay-side restaurants and watched sailboats dancing around each other in the bay.

Peaceful & Serene

The North Cascades National Park ( is 45 miles east on State Route 20, but it took us hours to drive through it. The drive took longer because we couldn’t pass up the countless breathtaking vistas and inviting trailheads!

My favorite accessible trail was the Happy Creek Forest Walk at mile marker 135. The boardwalk was excellent by wheelchair. I rolled into the shade of the towering cedars and firs. I soon felt part of the outdoor life, surrounded by ferns and old growth forest.

I heard the tapping of a solitary woodpecker. The earthy smell of decaying fir needles and mushrooms brought memories of long hikes in the woods.

“Lilly, if you could walk way out in the middle of nowhere, as far as you could go, this is what it would look like,” my outdoorsman husband says.  I was delighted to access this peaceful and serene old-growth forest via my wheelchair.

Farther east was Diablo Dam. It was the tallest dam in the world when completed in 1930. The meandering walkway lined with colonial-style street lamps crowns its crest, providing scenic views of Diablo Lake. 

At Diablo Lake Overlook east of the dam, we could barely make out three kayaks paddling in the crystal, azure waters far below us.

Breathtaking Sunset

Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island ( is 15 miles south of Anacortes via Deception Road.

The view of the pass is spectacular from Deception Pass Bridge. We spotted a harbor seal playing in the kelp, diving for dinner. The seal seemed to pay no attention to the sailboat lazily making its way through the pass into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Friday Harbor ( on San Juan Island is an hour-long ferryboat ride from Anacortes. Ferryboats are a Washington icon. They’re completely accessible and a pleasant way to travel.

Making reservations and notifying the ferry terminal that wheelchair access is needed, especially if bringing a vehicle, is the best way to make sure everything runs smoothly (

We chose to board as foot-traffic. For us, it was all about the ferry ride. Breathing in the fresh ocean air as we cruised across Rosario Strait, we saw seagulls and cormorants. We hoped to spot an orca, but no such luck this trip. Plenty of shopping and site-seeing opportunities greeted us at the ferry landing in Friday Harbor.

Back in Anacortes, we spent a relaxing evening at the 220-acre Washington Park. We followed the looped road that winds its way through the wooded campground and found ourselves at Sunset Beach. The 2.2-mile loop has great views of the San Juan Islands and Olympic Mountains.

I sat at the edge of Rosario Strait. The breathtaking sunset of pink, orange and gold was dazzling.  The waves gently lapped the shore and the ocean breeze lightly brushed my face. It was a peaceful end to a beautiful day.

For more information on Anacortes, Wash., visit 


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