There are places we return to because they feel like reuniting with old friends, picking up right where you left off. For me, that place is Doe Bay Resort.
In the ’90s, I came to Doe Bay as a newly licensed massage therapist, to enroll in continuing education workshops held in the spacious retreat center. In the evenings, I soaked or steamed my cares away, immersed in the healing salt waters of Doe Bay’s clothing-optional hot tubs.
Over 30 years later, I return for solo retreats and family weekends, or sail into the bay with my partner on our 36-foot sailboat to anchor for the night in these serene waters. Time and time again, Doe Bay welcomes me back, comforting me in the knowledge that there are magical places in the world where we can step out of time and sink into a slower pace of beauty.
What Makes Doe Bay So Special?
Don’t be misled by the word “resort” in the title. Doe Bay has mesmerized visitors since it began as a healing center in the 1960s, known as a “hippie haven” for its nature-infused culture and clothing-optional bathing. After cycling through a handful of incarnations, the feel remains laidback and tolerant, and checks all the boxes for quiet, off-the-path rejuvenation in tune with nature and togetherness.
The eclectic collection of cabins, yurts, and campsites look out on the archipelago of 176 San Juan Islands and their raw, rugged beauty. There’s nothing like a sunset here framed by rocky cliffs and madrone trees, reminding you of the reason Doe Bay remains a beloved getaway for those seeking communion with nature, fresh briny sea air, and a cornucopia of foodie delights.
In 2003, badly in need of upgrades, Joe and Maureen Brotherton appeared as buyers, and currently own and operate the resort sustainably. After reading a book about deforestation in Bolivia, Joe decided Doe Bay should be part of the solution to climate change, planting the first round of trees himself, which has now grown to over 1,000. According to River Augenstein, general manager, more than 130 species of trees and shrubs have been planted including 30 Japanese black pines, 30 shore pines, fig trees, and 35 rhododendrons, with 100 more coming this year.
Guests are encouraged to wander the more than an acre of vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit trees, bees, and chickens. By growing their own food, for use in the farm-to-table cuisine of Doe Bay Cafe, and returning the compost waste to soil, Doe Bay walks the talk when it comes to sustainable practices.
Top 5 Activities to Do at Doe Bay
The Spa at Doe Bay
Greet the morning by making your way to the waterfront yoga studio for a gentle yin yoga class, stretching your muscles as well as your mind to the possibilities of the day. As the daylight dims, retreat to the massage room perched among the trees overlooking the Zen garden and relax while a skilled therapist soothes your tired muscles. Then it’s time to toss off to bed.
The Hot Springs and Sauna
The main attraction and arguably the most captivating feature of Doe Bay Resort is its natural soaking tubs and sauna. Nestled in the trees overlooking the gentle tides of Otter Cove below, these soothing mineral-rich pools provide the perfect oasis for relaxation.
Currently, guests of the resort can reserve either a private or communal soak in these clothing-optional pools. Whichever way you choose, the hot springs offer a deeply serene and rejuvenating experience.
As a paradise for outdoor adventure enthusiasts, the resort provides ample opportunities to explore the island’s natural wonders. Close to home, guests can partake in a guided ecology hike with Augenstein about native plants and foraging.
Or forest bathe while hiking any of the trails around the resort’s expansive grounds up to breathtaking vistas overlooking the Salish Sea and hidden coves with beaches for exploring all the sea critters that live in these waters.
Active hikers can explore 38 miles of some of the San Juans’ best trails in Moran State Park only a short distance away (Discover Pass required).
Doe Bay’s prime beach access is the perfect spot to get out on the water. Enjoy guided kayak tours with Shearwater Kayak Tours, or paddleboarding or sailing adventures, immersing yourself in the serene coastal beauty of Orcas Island. Fair warning, however, that winds can change quickly in these coves, shifting calm waters into strong tides.
Doe Bay Cafe
After that long paddle or hike, reward yourself at the resort’s very own farm-to-table cafe. Specializing in local flavors, the cafe draws on produce homegrown in the resort’s garden. The carbon footprint is only a walk down the hill. The cafe is open for dinner with a brunch service on Sundays. Sip on a botanical cocktail and watch the sun slip down toward the waters of the Salish Sea.
Where to Stay?
Doe Bay Resort offers a variety of accommodations, from cozy cabins in the woods to charming yurts to glamping sites. Each accommodation is designed to provide a comfortable and immersive experience in nature.
Most of the accommodations mix modern amenities with a rustic ambiance, allowing guests to unwind and disconnect. Cabins range in size from tiny homes to three-bedroom options with kitchenettes for family vacations; some are dog friendly. There’s a three-night minimum stay, which comes with discounts at the Doe Bay Cafe and priority access to the soaking tubs.
More rugged nature lovers might prefer the yurts and domes, each one smartly situated with a view. Be forewarned that neither have running water, but a few have electricity.
If camping is your jam, this is one of the prime spots to pitch a tent on all of Orcas Island. Choose from a drive-in campsite perfect for small camper vans and cars, or a walk-in campsite for those who opt to pack-in and pack-out their belongings. Spend the night under the skies and experience the most incredible views this island has to offer.
Road (and Boat) Trip!
From Portland, the trip north is six hours, including the ride on Washington State Ferries (around $70 round-trip, book ahead) through the San Juan Islands. Doe Bay resides 19 miles from the Orcas Island Ferry Terminal, and you’ll need a car due to the few public transportation options.