Kayaking San Juan Islands
Sea kayaking the San Juan Islands of Northwest Washington state. If you’re looking for the best place on the West Coast to see orca whales from a sea kayak, the San Juan Islands should be on the top of your list.
If you’ve never seen the pristine San Juans from the cockpit of a kayak, you’re in for the paddling adventure of a lifetime. Flanked by the snowcapped Mt. Baker to the East, and the majestic Olympic mountain range to the south, the San Juan Islands are a paddler’s paradise.
Only a few hours from Seattle, this area of the Pacific Northwest is home to a wide variety of marine mammals, and other sea life. It’s also a bird watcher’s utopia. Kayaking the San Juan Islands offers the adventure vacationer a chance to see a part of the US that’s untouched by urban development, as many of the islands are only accessible by boat.
If you’re not familiar with them, the San Juans are composed of over 300 islands and rock formations surrounded by the jeweled waters of Puget Sound. The vegetation on the islands range from striking deciduous trees to evergreens. The shoreline on the islands is a mixture of gravel and sand beaches, to rugged basaltic rock formations. There are even scenic lighthouses dotting the shorelines of many of the islands.
And you don’t even need to be an experienced sea kayaker to enjoy tours in this area. Most of the guides and outfitters offer tandem kayaks that allow even beginners to get out on the water and paddle this spectacular chain of islands. In fact, this can be a great way to learn how to sea kayak and have a great vacation at the same time!
In fact, the San Juan Islands have been rated as one of the premier travel destinations for 2011, according to a recent article in the New York Times, so you’d better make your reservations now before tours become booked solid for the year.
Kayaking the San Juans offers the new or experienced paddler a spectacular environment for viewing a wide variety of wildlife. As mentioned earlier, Orcas inhabit this area of the Pacific Northwest, along with sea lions, bald eagles and other majestic birds. There are even colorful starfish glowing in the crystal clear waters.
Once you climb out of your boat and start exploring the islands themselves, you’ll find a host of exciting hiking and camping possibilities as well. The San Juans are sunny much of the time (they only get about half the rain of nearby Seattle), and there’s a variety of lush vegetation including dense forests.
Best time of year to visit
Just about any time of year is ideal for kayaking the San Juan Islands. If you’re looking to see Orcas, then late spring and early summer tend to be the best months to visit. Orcas feed on salmon, which pass through in large numbers as they look to spawn in the rivers of Puget Sound. There tend to be fewer visitors at this time of year, but also be aware that you’re likely to run into a range of weather as well.
Mid to late summer provides the best weather, as far as the lowest precipitation, although you can expect to bump into more fellow vacationers as well. This can make it a little tricker to get the outfitter or campsite that’s on the top of your list. Some travelers prefer to visit in the early fall, after the summer rush is over and the weather is still good.