Best Place for Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands Washington

One of the many really cool things about living here in the San Juan Islands is our Orca Whale population. We have both resident whales and transient whales and if you know where to go and when, the chances of seeing them are very good. Even if you don’t have your own boat many whale watching tours are available.

Sailing among the whales

Whales and Sails

Ken and I were fortunate enough to come across three separate pods a single day while transiting and fishing along the West side of San Juan Island, near Lime Kiln State Park. We had just finished fishing and were heading North toward Roche Harbor, when I noticed that whales were spouting all around us! We immediately shut down the motor and attempted to navigate out of their way, but were enthralled with all the whales about the boat. We were under sail and the whales were travelling right along with us. Try as we might to move away from the whales, some of them seemed very interested in us and kept close.

Our boat is thirty-two feet long and I always felt that was a pretty good size, but when one of the Orcas surfaced about 15 feet from our boat, I felt pretty small. This was my first time actually seeing whales (does Shamu count?) and I was just awe-inspired. There was not much breaching, but there were so many of them all around, it was incredible. Our trip with the whales lasted about an hour and as quickly as they arrived, they were gone.

Whale watching in Washington

There are many opportunities to spot whales throughout the San Juan Islands. Most of our trips along the West side of San Juan Island have resulted in whale sightings, but your best and most assured way would be to go on a whale watching tour boat, of which there are many. Most of these tours guarantee sightings so your chances of seeing the whales are much better than if you are out in your own boat. We’ve been very lucky and have seen whales as near as Guemes channel as well as out in the Straights of Juan de Fucha. Sometimes though, you just have to be there at the right place and at the right time.

There are specific whale watching regulations, so please make sure that you know these and observe them carefully. Following these regulations is imperative to ensure the health and well-being of these incredible animals.

Best places to see whales

Lime Kiln state park on San Juan Island is probably the best place to see both our resident whales, those in J, K, & L pod as well as transient whales. Visitors to this park have the opportunity to view whales within twenty feet of the shore. There have been sightings off of Washington Park in Anacortes, where whales can be seen both from boats and on the shore. Sucia Island is also another good spot for whales, you can see them from many of the hiking trails, and the transient whales have been spotted feeding on seals there. Whales also travel around Cypress Island and we spotted some whale watching tour boats following a pod of whales on one of our sailing trips.

The opportunity for whale watching is available most anywhere in the San Juan Islands and if you have your own boat, or are very lucky you will see them sooner or later. If you want to see them sooner, then the best bet is to book a tour and have fun!

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2 Responses to “Best Place for Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands Washington”
  1. There’s nothing we like more than seeing the whales, whether they are Orcas, Grey Whales, or whatever. A little while back Mike was sailing in Commencement bay and was suddenly surrounded by them. This is such an unusual event that far south, and he was the only boat out there. One has to believe they came up around him deliberately, as they had the entire bay to themselves and, again, he was the only boat. He was under sail at about knots or so. The post he wrote is buried pretty deep in our website so here’s a link to it:
    If you get surrounded by whales, consider yourself lucky!

    • sherrie says:

      We considered ourselves very lucky! I was so excited that most of the video I shot was pretty worthless, but at least Ken was able to get a few shots. Living up here is incredible, and daily we are reminded of that. I really hope we get a chance to cruise together some time, it would be a blast!

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