Custom Tours for Winter San Juan Island Visitors
Just because the temperature has dropped some and there may be a bit more precipitation or wind, doesn’t mean the island has shut down for tourism.
We’re happy to introduce Suzie and Hawk Pingree at Westcott Bay Cider Company, who have offered customs tours for our inn guests. The Pingrees bought into the company in August, and are in the process of ramping up the business to include distilled products. The cider works is way back at the end of a gravel road that winds along Westcott Bay – a treat in itself to experience the island from a vantage point that most visitors never see. The simple structure is being revamped to include a tasting bar, gift center, picnic area, and a windowed room to view the distilling process; but right now, it’s fun just to chat with them and have them show you the equipment and explain the cider-making process. Currently they produce traditional English-style cider (which means no malolactic fermentation) in Very Dry, Dry and Medium Sweet. In the works: Eau de Vie, Pommeau, Gin, and Calvados. (See our Coho Restaurant blog for more information on this interesting process). They only produced 400 cases this year, most of which is sold through distributors to high end stores in West Seattle. We carry it here at our inns and restaurant, but you’ll definitely want to buy it at the source – it just “tastes” so much better when you buy direct from the producer whom you’ve visited.
Naknek Charters, our local dive company will take visitors out on their boat to see the Steller Sea Lions. They have comfortable indoor seating on their boat, and provide hot beverages and cookies during the three-hour tour – that big cooking stove they have heats up the cabin marvelously. Co-owner and Captain Peggy is a naturalist certified by the local Whale Museum, and she points out eagles and other fowl and sea critters you might see along the way. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the site where the sea lions hang out, and they spend about a half hour there watching the antics of these testosterone-charged males. Yes, males – no females. The females are all at the breeding grounds raising the kids, and the males only show up there when it’s time to do their thing; from about October to April, they hang here around the Cattle Pass area on San Juan Island. Steller Sea Lions, the largest of the eared seals, are now on the Endangered Species list do to their declining numbers. The cost of the tour is $65 for adults, $35 for children 12 and under – all they ask is a two-person minimum.
San Juan Outfitters still has kayak guides on-island, and continues to offer their three-hour tour throughout the winter as long as the weather is reasonable – they don’t want to be on the water if the wind and waves are high. Their tours may be at different locations around the island rather than just on the west side, and the focus is on wildlife viewing. Reservations are a must – if there’s no one booked, those guides just might head off island to go skiing or vacationing elsewhere.
The Zip San Juan tour has finally been completed, though winter tours are a bit sketchy – it’s definitely something you can only do when there’s no wind or rain. Hanging from cables strung through the forest canopy from platform to platform, you traverse over wetlands, a lake, and stunning scenery. The tour is designed for people who are relatively physically fit, with average mobility and strength, and in reasonably good health. Children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult. For safety reasons, there are weight restrictions of 60 to 300 pounds. The 2 ½-hour tour runs $75 for adults, and $65 for children age 14 and under.
Ryan Browne, our local wild forager, is still on island, offering custom tours of the islands’ forests and fields. He is well versed in the historical uses of the plants and trees, whether they were used for food, medicine, soaps, cosmetics, tools or shelter, as well as modern-day purposes. Guests always come back enthusiastic and amazed at Ryan’s breadth of knowledge. On this tour you’ll need to be prepared to tromp through puddles and mud – but that’s part of the fun. Also, it’s another rare treat to be guided through areas where most visitors never have opportunity to go. Private tours require a minimum of two people and run $60 plus tax and gratuity if you choose.
We still have concierge services at the inn, and we’re happy to set up any activities you’d like – just give us a call, ask for Stephanie.