Field guide: what to expect when staying in a yurt or dome at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island, Washington
Notes from the field
Staying in a yurt or a dome is quickly becoming a hot trend among camping lovers who want to upgrade their camping experience from time to time. Yurts and domes come in every style, from basic shelters in remote locations to luxury suites in high-end resorts.
We’ve stayed in a couple of yurts before, and have always enjoyed the experience, so when Charles and I got the notion to take a last-minute trip to Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington state this October, we figured staying in a yurt or a dome would be a great way to go.
I hit the internet searching for upgraded camping facilities on the island and quickly discovered the charming and rustic Doe Bay Resort.
Doe Bay Resort is located on Doe Bay (as you could probably guess!) on the quiet southeast point of Orcas Island. It is a gorgeous location, right on the water. The resort itself wraps all the way around a peaceful little cove and comes to a point overlooking a stunning bluff.
They offer a variety of lodging types, from campsites to yurts and domes, to fully-equipped cabins. We ended up staying in a yurt just a few steps above the beach at the head of the cove. The location was amazing! We brought along a little table and some camp chairs and enjoyed sitting on the beach, sipping our wine and nibbling cheese and crackers while watching the local heron catch fish, seals bob in the cove, and a variety of birds and squirrels gather seeds and berries.
The resort also turned out to be a great home base for our explorations of Moran State Park. Look for an article about those adventures soon!
If you are thinking about visiting Orcas Island and would like a unique lodging experience, read on to learn all about staying in a yurt or dome at Doe Bay Resort.
Your guide to staying in a yurt or dome at Doe Bay Resort
About the yurts and domes at Doe Bay Resort
The yurts and domes at Doe Bay Resort are quite similar. They’re both semi-permanent structures that provide more shelter than a tent but still give that outdoorsy sleeping experience. The main difference between a yurt and a dome is that the domes have a curved roof with a very large wrap-around window and skylight. This makes the space in a dome feel brighter and offers much larger views than in a yurt.
You can book off-grid yurts and domes and on-grid yurts at Doe Bay Resort. The on-grid yurts have electricity, a small heater, and have bedding provided year-round. The off-grid yurts and domes have no electricity or heat, and the bed and bedding are removed from November through April.
The yurts and domes at the resort are what I would call an upgraded camping experience. Each has a basic bed (seasonally in the off-grid locations), a place to hang a few clothing items, and a small table and two chairs. They aren’t luxurious enough to be called “glamping”, but they are clean and dry and provide a comfortable place in an amazing location to sleep for the night.
The facilities at the resort
Doe Bay Resort has a lot to offer. One of the highlights for many guests is their spa facility, which includes several soaking pools and a sauna. The soaking pools have a beautiful view overlooking the water. It should be noted that the spa is clothing optional. And while the no-clothes option is supposed to be limited to the spa, don’t be surprised to see a streak or two of nakedness plunging into the cove from time to time (unsanctioned by the resort, of course)!
The Doe Bay Cafe features fresh, local, seed-to-table dining. We shared an amazing meal of smoked halibut over braised greens and pureed corn. It was fresh, healthy, and really yummy! The hours and menu vary depending on the season, so be sure to check with the resort before making dinner plans. Every Thursday evening is a popular open-mic night at the cafe. So if you have a hankering to rub elbows with the locals and try your hand at singing a tune, Thursday is the night for you.
Within the resort, you can also find a gift shop, a yoga studio offering frequent yoga classes, massage services, an indoor kitchen, and indoor shower and bathroom facilities.
Getting to the Doe Bay Resort
Doe Bay Resort is located on the southeast point of Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. You will need to take a ferry, boat, or plane to get there. Most folks opt for a ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington. The scenic ferry ride takes just over an hour. I recommend bringing a warm hat, coat, and gloves so you can enjoy the views from the outside deck. If you will be taking your car to Orcas Island reservations are highly recommended. Reservations are made through the Washington state ferry service at wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
The ferry terminal is on the southwest point of Orcas Island. Because of the unique horseshoe shape of the island, you will need to drive nearly the entire length to reach Doe Bay. It is about a 20-mile drive and will take 40ish minutes if you drive straight there. Expect windy, narrow roads, deer around every corner, and lots of bicycle and auto traffic. There are plenty of signs to point you in the correct direction, wherever you happen to be heading on the island.
After you exit the ferry, head north on Orcas Road toward Eastsound. Turn right onto Main Street to head through the cute tourist area. After you head out of Eastsound, you'll hang a right on Olga Road south toward Moran State Park and Olga. You will drive through Moran State Park. When you reach the outskirts of Olga, you'll turn left onto Point Lawrence Road toward Doe Bay. Wind through the hills for a few miles, and the resort, which is very well marked, will be on the right at a bend in the road. As you enter the resort there is a parking area, or you can head straight down the driveway to park next to the office for check-in.
Getting around the resort
Doe Bay is a rustic resort featuring the natural beauty of the area. The pathways can be uneven, sometimes steep, and often muddy. Depending on which yurt or dome you choose, you may need to walk for several minutes to get to your car or the resort facilities, so bring good shoes for walking. Many of the paths are lit, but it is advisable to bring a headlamp to navigate the paths after dark.
As you might expect in the San Juans, the weather is unpredictable. During our stay, we went from sunny and warm to cold, windy and rainy, and then back again, within an hour. Plan to dress in layers and always be prepared for wet, rainy conditions. Nights can be cold at any time of year, so be sure to bring lots of extra blankets for your bed and snuggly clothes.
Things to do
Around the resort
Catch a magical display of bioluminescence
If you are lucky, you may see a bioluminescence display in the cove! We were lucky enough to learn about the phenomenon from some other guests during our visit. It happened to be gently raining that evening, so as we stood on the edge of the shore, every raindrop hitting the water created a tiny green flash. Magical!
Watch the deer
There are deer around every corner on Orcas Island, and Doe Bay is no exception. There are several nearly domestic deer that hang out around the grounds, arguing with crows over apples that have fallen from the apple trees in the main resort area. If you sit still, they may even approach you, hoping for a snack.
Elsewhere on Orcas Island
The Rosario Resort is home to the Moran mansion and museum. The resort restaurant and lounge, inside the mansion, has a beautiful view of the water. Stop in for appetizers and a drink before strolling through the museum.
Moran State Park
Moran State Park is an exceptionally well-maintained and beautiful wooded area about 8 miles from Doe Bay. The park contains several pretty lakes, but the real attraction is Mount Constitution. Drive, or, if you are feeling ambitious, run, hike, or bike, to the top to catch absolutely breathtaking views of the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, and on a really clear day, Mount Rainier.
Eastsound is the main tourist area on Orcas Island. The little town is dotted with quaint shops and tasty eateries. I recommend visiting the amazing Brown Bear Bakery for lunch and a few pastries. Don’t miss the morning buns at Brown Bear - they are practically worth the trip to Orcas Island on their own. The quiche was spectacular, too!
While you are in town, be sure to take a stroll through Darvill’s Bookstore and grab an espresso in their coffee shop.
Before you leave the Eastsound area, drive up to North Beach. It is a tiny little beach, but the expansive views to the north of Orcas Island are worth the short drive.
Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Take a drive of the west side of the island and stop for a hike at the Turtleback Mountain Preserve for more of those stunning Orcas Island views.
Is staying in a yurt or dome at Doe Bay Resort for you?
If you are looking for an upgraded camping experience in the San Juan Islands for a reasonable price, and you love that rustic, outdoorsy resort feel, then yep, Doe Bay Resort is perfect for you. It’s also a huge draw for folks who enjoy outdoor soaking pools with stunning views.
Who the yurt and dome experience at Doe Bay is NOT for
People looking for a luxury “glamping” experience with an ensuite bathroom and kitchen, plus high-end bedding and upgraded sitting areas won’t enjoy the yurts or domes at Doe Bay Resort. It should also be noted that if you are looking for pristine facilities, then this resort isn’t for you. As is typically the case with many coastal resorts, the steady stream of visitors and the harsh elements take a hard toll, making maintenance a challenge. While the staff works hard to keep the facilities clean and in good repair, many areas feel a bit run down and the outside of the windows and skylights (at least during our stay) were very dirty.
Recommendations and where to book
Which yurt or dome should you choose?
If you are planning to stay in a yurt or dome at Doe Bay Resort, my recommendation is to go for location! The on-grid yurts have electricity and heat, however, most of them aren’t in great locations. The amazing locations go to the off-grid yurts and domes.
In my opinion, the best ones are the off-grid domes (there are only two and they are both at amazing locations) and the Orcas yurt, which is located right on the bluff overlooking the water. You will have to walk to get to your lodging, but the views are worth the effort!
The on-grid Sweet Spot yurt looks like a wonderful option, as well, however, it is tucked back into the bushes, so the view isn’t quite as expansive.
The off-grid Beach, Neptune, and Sea yurts are also lovely, as they are right above the beach. Of the three, the Beach yurt is my first recommendation, as it literally sits right on the beach. The other two are tucked into the bushes a short distance above the water.
You can learn more about Doe Bay Resort and book your accommodations at DoeBay.com. Be sure to check out the specials page under the accommodations menu before booking, as some specials require you to call in order to take advantage.
At the time of this writing (2019) prices for yurts and domes at Doe Bay Resort range from about $65 per night for an off-grid yurt in the offseason to about $116 per night for an on-grid yurt in the peak season. The resort also offers a selection of campsites and cabins at a variety of prices.