Water Activities in Washington State

Washington offers an endless aquatic playground for fishing, rafting, diving, surfing, kayaking and more.

Piratical explorer Sir Francis Drake once described the Northwest as a land of “congealed rain.” And for outdoor types exploring Washington, all that moisture’s a fine thing. Miles of pristine coastline, powerful rivers, clear lakes, and tranquil bays all converge here, providing boundless opportunities to immerse yourself in an Evergreen State adventure.

Fishers lure rainbow and brook trout from turquoise lakes across the northern part of the state, from Baker and Diablo in the west to Chelan and Moses in the middle to Roosevelt in the east. Waterways across the southern part of the state bustle with salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon in a region dominated by rivers: the Snake, the Columbia (the continent’s fourth-largest river), and their many tributaries.

Offshore lurk larger catches, such as halibut, lingcod, and albacore tuna, which range from 12 to 30 pounds. Head out to deep water on a charter from commercial fishing towns such as Westport and Ilwaco, or watch from shore as the Makah tribe set out from Neah Bay with traditional craft and tools.

Jacques Cousteau declared Northwest dive sites the world’s finest in cold water. Indeed, under Washington’s waves frisk giant Pacific octopuses and cartoon-like wolf eels alongside barrel-rolling Steller sea lions. In the south end of Puget Sound, Bandito Charters helps scuba fans shoot the Tacoma Narrows, a two-to three-knot drift past “Galloping Gertie,” the world’s third-largest suspension bridge when it collapsed in 1940. On the Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Adventure specializes in exploring Hood Canal’s trove of dive sights, including the Pinnacle, a rocky ridge rising some 100 feet from the sea floor.

Class III adrenaline flows on the Yakima Basin’s Tieton River each September. Operation Flip-Flop releases dam waters, creating the state’s warmest and fastest currents. Head downstream with Leavenworth’s Osprey Rafting, which also runs mellow family drifts and bird-watching expeditions. In the fall, several outfitters host eaglewatching trips on the Skagit. And you can even take to the water after dark—Rill Adventures runs float trips during summertime full moons.

For whitecaps of a brinier sort, go coastal at Long Beach on Washington’s southern coast, where Skookum Surf provides surfing lessons and board rentals to help hodads enjoy the beginner-friendly beach break. Or head to Westport, where Steepwater Surf Shop provides newbies with instruction amid one of Washington’s most popular tidal-riding hotspots.

In Seattle, venture out with a rental from Agua Verde Café and Paddle Club or Alki Kayak Tours, which holds free Tuesday-night workshops on water-sports enthusiasts’ latest craze: stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). The company also runs overnight kayak-camping excursions to Blake Island State Park, eight miles from Seattle’s waterfront. The island is also home to Tillicum Village, an immersive native American experience offered via tours from Argosy Cruises. Or if you’d prefer to tour the city’s waterways in style, stand aboard the deck of one of Argosy’s ships for the popular Harbor Cruise, a one-hour tour that circles Elliott Bay providing panoramic skyline vistas and details about the history of Seattle’s shipping terminal, one of the world’s busiest.

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-Amanda Castleman