Whale Watching in Washington State

Whales gather in the cool waters of Washington from roughly April to September. And the 170-odd islands of the San Juans offer prime spotting territory for whale watching orcas, grays, minkes and humpbacks.

Three distinct orca social groups—the J, K, and L pods—dwell near the San Juan Islands in Washington. San Juan Excursions makes tracking their movements a snap. Climb aboard the 65-foot twin-engine Odyssey for daily tours, or get dorsal fin–level with a guided sea kayak excursion. Either way, the odds are very good you’ll see orcas.

In fact, Island Adventures in Anacortes guarantees sightings. Otherwise, visitors receive a “fluke pass”: a voucher to return free, for life, until they hit pay dirt.

To add tours of lighthouses to your whale-watching, charter a cruise with Orcas Island Eclipse Charters. And on Friday Harbor’s docks, link up with San Juan Outfitters for either leisurely motor vessel tours or self-propelled kayak tours.

Land lovers can also learn plenty about the islands’ rich ecosystem, including sea lions and porpoises, thanks to the Whale Museum, or head to Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island’s west side. Many consider this state park the best land-based whale-watching vista in the Lower 48, if not the world.

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—Amanda Castleman

Photo: Jim Maya