YMCA Camp Orkila was the first and one-of-a-kind all-inclusive retreat we tried in the US. (Accommodation, activities, and food were included in $475, 2 nights stay). For us, adults, it also was interesting to compare our childhood sleep-away camps (in post-USSR) to American ones. 🙂
Overall, we liked Orkila a lot and will share what it is like in this post.
YMCA Camp Orkila: Family Camp Experience
1. Reaching the Camp: Ferries to Orcas Island
While we could book camp Orkila at the last minute (due to off-season and Covid), ferries to the San Juan archipelago are better to reserve in advance. (While you can come without a reservation, there is no guarantee you’ll get a spot.)
In total, we spent half a day to get to the camp: 2 hours driving to the ferry (+ you have to show up 1 hour before its departure) + 1.5 hours ferry ride:
2. Arriving at the camp and reaching the cabins
Camp Orkila has been in operation since 1906. The area is huge (280 acres) and picturesque: wrapped in the evergreen forest and nestled at the shore of the Salish Sea.
During check-in (4.30 pm) YMCA staff welcomed us at the camp parking lot, took the temperatures, and asked Covid-related questions. After that we took the wheelbarrow and brought our camping gear to the cabin:
3. YMCA Camp Orkila Cabins
While we stayed at the rustic cabin (no heat, electricity, or water), we saw some cabins with electricity, and 5 cabins were attached to each other for the big group. Our cabin was the most typical one: with 7 bunk beds, but intended just for us, (one family):
During the last week of September, nights were still warm: approximately 53F outside and 60F inside the cabin. Restrooms with free showers were few minutes walk from the cabin, and views from our picnic table were amazing (last picture above)
We arrived on Friday evening, at 4.30 pm, and lunch started at 6 pm. Despite the spacious and nice cafeteria everybody was eating outside, because of Covid. (except for the last day, when it was pouring rain.) Vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options were also available.
The food was hot, fresh, and healthy. Besides 3 hot meals a day, coffee, tea, and snacks were available basically all day long.
5. Activities at Orkila
Once we knew what kind of activities would be at the camp, we were really looking forward to it. 😀 We made reservations before arrival for boating, Giant Swing, and Zip-line. The Zip-line was mentioned as the longest in Washington:
We also visited and liked as well:
- Climbing tower and bouldering walls
- Cider pressing
- Tide pooling
(In addition, a decent pump track was spotted near Zip-line).
Almost all activities were on Saturday, basically, one after another (but you can choose as many as you want).
6. What we loved and disliked about the YMCA Camp Orkila
What we loved and what for would like to come back:
- Freedom and independence for older kids – 4, 6, 7, and 12 y.o. were able to roam around, pick up their meals, etc. No cars or busy roads around.
- Being surrounded by stunning wild nature and apple/pear orchard (pictures #2 and #3 below); listen to the waves and birds.
- Great activities for the entire family, caring staff, healthy meals, packed picnic lunch on Sunday, (despite 11 am check-out time):
We were also lucky to have a campfire right at the beach (firewood was provided): the fire ban was canceled right before our arrival.
What we didn’t like:
- Because of safety protocols (or our bad luck/poor organisation/lack of experience?) waiting time at almost all activities was long.
Not to mention there were hardly any people in front of us and we always showed up on time.The longest possible was at the Giant Swing.
YMCA camp essentials
- Book early! Especially during the summer.
- If you’re willing to stay at a specific cabin (who doesen’t want to stay next to the beach? :D) ask about it during booking.
- Don’t forget rain gear, proper shoes for zip-lining and climbing, change of clothes/shoes, sunscreen, swimsuit, towel, etc.
- As well as sleeping bags, flashlights, toiletries, and first aid kit.
- We also brought binoculars and didn’t regret: there were plenty of birds. 🙂 Just take a look at the pileated woodpecker munching on a pear, picture #4 above. 🙂
- We visited Orkila with kids 2, 4, 6, 7, and 12 y.o.
- During our stay there was no difference whether or not you are a member of the YMCA. (We came with friends who aren’t members)
- Grab a Discovery Pass to visit parks at Orcas Island. We liked Moran a lot.
Thanks for reading, guys!
Washington water activities: SUP, kayaking, swimming, camping