Travel USA: Glamping or Camping With A Twist! Exploring San Juan Island’s Lakedale Resort

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Lakedale Resort Lodge on Lake Neva - San Juan Islands, Washington

Lakedale Resort Lodge on Lake Neva – San Juan Islands, Washington

Travel USA: Glamping or Camping San Juan Island Lakedale Resort

By Linda Ball

The great outdoors is therapeutic for all of us. Touching nature, appreciating the sounds and smells, s’mores by the campfire, peace and quiet. But what if you really hate going without a shower every day? Or you enjoy a bed rather than a bedroll? The answer is glamping, or glamour camping.

I was intrigued by the concept when I heard about Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island, in the islands of the same name in Northwest Washington State. I have been to Lakedale three years in a row now, so obviously I’m hooked! I do enjoy the outdoors, but I really hate being dirty!

The first time I went up was in September 2010. I’d always heard how beautiful the San Juan Islands are, so I finally made the trip. After reading an article about glamping, and its recommendation of Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes on San Juan Island, I made plans a few months earlier. It was cheaper than any other accommodations on the island (still not cheap), and I viewed it as a most awesome adventure.

Getting There – After a two-hour drive north and west to Anacortes, I boarded the ferry to the island. The scenery along the way was beautiful but I didn’t see any whales, darn it. The ferry ride is an hour and a half; much longer than many I’ve taken before. I rolled off the ferry at Friday Harbor at about 5:30 PM, and drove straight to Lakedale so I could settle in before it got dark.

Tent/Cabin 355 – My room was a canvas wall tent complete with a wooden floor, very comfortable queen size bed with great linens, a table and chairs and my own fire pit outside with more chairs around it. Much to my dismay, I never did get a fire going. I’d lost all my Camp Fire Girl skills. I almost got one started then it started to sprinkle so I gave up! The tent had no heat or electricity, just a Coleman lamp and a flashlight to make my way to the communal ladies/shower/potty facility. I worried I’d freeze to death or get eaten by a bear.

Neither happened! That tent – cabin – was wonderful, and there are no bears on the island.

Glamping at Lakedale Resort - Cabin/Tent 355

Glamping at Lakedale Resort – Cabin/Tent 355

Location – Lakedale is just about halfway between Friday Harbor and the lovely little village of Roche Harbor. Not really knowing my way around, and the fact that it was getting dark, I decided to go up Roche Harbor Road a couple of miles to a restaurant called Duck Soup Inn for dinner.

Duck Soup Inn – Rustic, yet totally elegant, this is the ultimate date restaurant – in the middle of nowhere! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven over the food. I started with the ginger carrot soup finished with a dollop of basil mint feta, which was absolutely heavenly. The house salad had a touch of feta and a light, flavorful dressing. And – the homemade bread came with anchois butter – emulsified olive oil with garlic and lemon which was just heavenly. For my entree I had the saffron seafood stew which was served over polenta and included fresh oysters, shrimp, salmon and clams. Just when I didn’t think it could get any better I had the vanilla creme brûlée and totally screwed up the diet, but it was irresistible. Not only that, I had two glasses of a 2007 Cabernet Franc from San Juan Vineyards, which is no longer available, and it went down like butter, baby! I highly, highly recommend this restaurant. I’ve been around a bit, and this is one of the best in the world. Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Travel and Leisure magazines have all endorsed the Duck Soup Inn.

Lakedale Resort – Back at the tent, it was so dark I almost got lost getting back to the tent from the bathroom facility! I had to have a nice couple point me in the right direction! It rained overnight, and was sort of lousy in the morning, so I poked around the farmer’s market and the shops in Friday Harbor, then had a good lunch of salmon tacos at The Downrigger. Nice water view, good salmon. Seafood, seafood, seafood right? Hey, this is an island!

Roche Harbor – As the weather cleared and the day became quite lovely, I drove up to the lovely little village of Roche Harbor. Truly, this is a village – no mayor, no school….it’s there because the town was established in 1886 due to rich lime deposits. This was once a boom town, sort like the Alaska Gold Rush. Now, most of the buildings are on the historic register. Lovely boats dot the tranquil harbor, and new summer “cottages” have sprung up for part-timers or retirees. Could be a great place to retire someday.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Lime Kiln Lighthouse – From there I drove south to Lime Kiln point on the west side of the island to see the lighthouse and watch for whales. Apparently the whales had moved up north toward Vancouver, B.C., but the view was still spectacular, and the lighthouse was magical. I had dinner back in Roche Harbor at an old, old place – McMillens, which was named after the town’s founders and was once their home. Quaint and lovely, the food was fine but nothing like Duck Soup Inn.

Another rainy night with thunder, but I thought it was a dream. In the morning it cleared up, and I broke camp(!) at 11 a.m. the official check-out time. Very cool experience. I even met a new friend, a lady who biked all the way up there from Vancouver, Washington! She was cool – an attorney, and single mother of four daughters, who unwinds with obviously very long bike rides!

San Juan Vineyards – I stopped at San Juan Vineyards to buy some of the Cab Franc, only to find out that indeed, it’s all gone, available at only a few fine restaurants like Duck Soup Inn. However, I did the tasting and still packed off four bottles and a few other trinkets.

Now what would a camping or glamping trip be without at least one animal/insect encounter? So, I’m standing at the tasting bar in my rubber boots, and all of a sudden I’m in pain – something is attacking my leg! I whipped my boot off and pulled up my pant leg, and I’ll be damned if a yellow jacket didn’t fly up my pant leg and sting me – then he flew out! The winery owner ran and got me something to put on it to take some of the sting out. I was pretty scared because I’d never been bitten by one before and didn’t know if I’d have an allergic reaction, but thankfully I did not. I still hurts though. I hope the little bugger died after he bit me!

So, back on the ferry and back home to Seattle – about 48 hours after I left. It was too short, but at least I had been there and planned to go back.

Lakedale Resort Glamping - Cabin 355

Lakedale Resort Glamping – Cabin 355

Return to Lakedale Resort – The following May, 2011, I went back up to Lakedale, and requested canvas cabin #355 again. It was great, and a fun fact – the May 2011 issue of Sunset Magazine had what I now called “my” glampsite, on the cover!

This visit, I went on one of the many whale watching tours that depart from Friday Harbor. It took a while, and a long cruise out to the strait of Juan de Fuca to see some orcas, but we eventually did. What a thrill! I also returned to Duck Soup Inn for another lovely dinner, and then discovered probably the only real night time hot spot in Friday Harbor, the Rumor Mill, which has live music and a fun vibe.

Most recently, I went back to Lakedale for Memorial Day Weekend, 2012. The Monday before the weekend, Lakedale Resort called – the fellow on the phone sounded a little apprehensive. He said, “Hello Miss Ball, I see you’ve stayed with us before.”

Hmmmm. I said yes, twice, in canvas cabin #355.

Lakedale Resort Lodge – Turns out, they had overbooked, and of course being Memorial Day weekend they had a problem. He asked if I’d be willing to give up my glamp site for a deluxe room in the lodge, so I probed for the details. It’s a queen size suite, with a fireplace, deck overlooking the little lake, jetted tub, wet bar – normally $279 per night, and I could have it for $100 a night, which was equal to the deposit I had already made on the glamp site, so all I had to pay is $12.06 when I get there. As much as I would miss my glamp site, I said hell, yes!

Lakedale Resort Lodge Guestroom

Lakedale Resort Lodge Guestroom

Two nights of luxurious, quiet bliss – children under 16 are not allowed in the lodge! While thinking his proposition through, it occurred to me that Memorial Day weekend means tons of kids and families in the glamp and camp grounds, so this was truly wonderful. I so looked forward to reading, relaxing, eating nice meals, and a little pampering. And, I thought, that jetted tub will be nice after zip-lining!

Again, I had a wonderful time on San Juan Island, with perfect weather this time. Little blessings do happen sometimes, yes? Seriously, the lodge room they gave me did indeed have all the aforementioned amenities and a wonderful bed. And it was quiet! So, I was not glamping – I was in the lap of luxury! I could hear kids shrieking from the glamp and camp grounds, and I was so glad I wasn’t there!

The ferries were so full going over Saturday, I didn’t get into Friday Harbor until 6 p.m. I went to a new place for dinner since last year, called Cask and Schooner, and had a wonderful dinner of risotto with scallops, and a couple glasses of wine. I would say this place and Duck Soup are the best on the island.

As I thought about it, if I left Monday as planned, I’d have to be in the ferry holding area by just after 8 AM giving me only one full day on the island. So, I talked to the boys at the front desk, and yes, I could stay an extra night at the same price! I checked in with the Wiggle Room, where Miss Abbey (my dog) was having her own little doggie weekend, and they said no problem, so I stayed until Tuesday morning and avoided the crowds. I’m so glad I did.

Pelindaba Lavender – Sunday morning I went to town to Pelindaba Lavender, the store that sells all of the lavender products from the farm of the same name on the island. I love their stuff! I bought several gifts, and some lotion, tea, foot soak and what not for me! I hit it off with the very nice lady, Jacke, who was working there. We ended up having dinner together that night, and exchanged contact information. She grew up on the island, moved off for some time, and plans to stay now. Just a really neat person. We ate at The Downrigger with a great view of the harbor, but this time the food was just okay.

Zip San Juan

Linda Ball at Zip San Juan

Zip San Juan – Sunday afternoon was my great zip lining adventure, with Zip San Juan. At first I thought, oh Lord, what have I got myself into now, but I’m sold! I want to do it again – everywhere! It’s so much fun, and such an adrenaline rush. This company has a 40-acre playground, with several lines in a pattern that brings you back to where you started.

They start with a baby run so you get used to the gear and how to steer (sort of). I never felt unsafe. Then you hike a little ways to the first one, which was pretty high. I stood there for a few minutes, sucked in some air, then sat down in my harness and off I went. It was great! You go through several runs, and each one is a little different; the last one is the longest, about 630 feet, and you fly over a pretty pond. The only part I didn’t like was having to walk over one of those hanging bridges. You are still harnessed up, but it just freaked me out – I would have preferred just flying. So, I have another first under my belt.

Pig War – I spent Monday exploring the two former military camps on the island and learning about the Pig War, which is a war that never really happened. It all started in 1859 because both the British and the United States claimed the San Juan Islands due to a boundary dispute. An American settler shot a boar that belonged to a British gentleman because it was foraging in his garden. Well, tensions rose, and soon both countries had established camps on opposite sides of the island prepared for war. But they eventually chilled out, in fact the two camps were socializing with each other before it all wound down in 1872.

Both former camps are now national parks and it’s really a very interesting, weird piece of history, that largely was ignored because the Civil War was going on at the same time, so no one on the east coast even knew about it. A German arbitrator came in and as we know, the islands were granted to the U.S. Both camps were nice, but the English clearly had a more protected and scenic site. I ended up hiking quite a bit, so I was pooped.

Lake Neva

Lake Neva

Lake Neva – But I went back to Lakedale, rented a paddle boat for half an hour and paddled around the little lake (Lake Neva), before taking a relaxing bath then going to dinner at The Place, another culinary delight. This time I had a black bean ravioli with large shrimp with cilantro and salsa – it was splendid. There, I met a nice couple from Seattle, and had a nice conversation with them.

Lakedale Resort also has RV sites, log cabins and a beautiful Airstream set up that guests can stay in, too. I love San Juan Island and highly recommend Lakedale whether you decide to stay in the lodge, cabins, your own tent or a canvas cabin!

If you go:

San Juan Island.

Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes.

Duck Soup Inn.

San Juan Vineyards.

Roche Harbor.

Zip San Juan.

Pelindaba Lavender.

San Juan Ferries.

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