If orca spotting is on your bucket list, now is your chance! Although orcas, gray, and humpback whales can be spotted in the Pacific Northwest year-round, May through October is the best time to look out for southern resident orcas. The San Juan Islands are the best place to look out for these orcas as they travel through the area. Mid-May is when the largest number of orca whales pass through the islands. You can take a boat, kayak, or seaplane tour if you have your heart set on seeing whales and orcas up-close.
However, many Seattle residents have gotten lucky and spotted these majestic creatures from some of our very own parks and beaches. It’s definitely a choose-your-own-adventure type of situation! There is a lot to know about whale watching around Seattle so we put together this compact guide.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about preparing for the start of Seattle whale-watching season this May!
If you want to ensure that you see a whale, your best bet is to book a boat tour. Most of the whale-watching boat tours in the Pacific Northwest offer a guarantee that you’ll see a whale. If your first trip isn’t a success, they give you a coupon for a second boat tour!
One excellent whale boat tour is the San Juan Clipper. It offers a half-day tour leaving directly from Seattle. This four-to-six hour trip guarantees whale sightings and has an onboard expert naturalist. San Juan Clipper whale tours start May 17.
If you don’t mind venturing further out from Seattle, the Puget Sound Express offers whale-watching tours that depart from several locations. Their Edmonds tour is a short drive from Seattle and they also have tours departing from Port Townsend and Port Angeles. This family-run operation also guarantees whale sightings.
If you’re up for an adventure you could also take a boat tour from the San Juan Islands. San Juan Excursions takes you out on a spacious yacht that departs from Roche Harbor and guarantees whale sightings.
You can also take a 90-mile drive to Anacortes and enjoy a half-day tour around the San Juan Islands with Island Adventures. They boast a whale-spotting success rate of over 97% since 1996.
Additionally, San Juan Safaris operates out of Friday Harbor and offers flight packages! So if you’re feeling daring you can get there by taking a Kenmore Air seaplane from Lake Union or Lake Washington. After your whale tour, the plane will take you back to Seattle.
Did you know you can embark on a whale-watching tour in a kayak? No prior kayaking experience necessary! San Juan Outfitters is one option that launches from Roche Harbor on the San Juan Islands with a professional guide. They offer a variety of tours, including family and private tours.
Sea Quest Expeditions is another San Juan Islands kayaking tour. They depart from Friday Harbor and offer a variety of tours, including women’s kayak adventures led by women guides.
Crystal Seas Kayak is another option for kayak tours in the San Juan Islands. You can choose from three-hour tours, day tours, or even multi-day trips. They’re family-friendly as well.
Whether you take a boat or kayak tour, you can’t leave the San Juan Islands without visiting the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. This museum is an excellent bookend for your trip. You’ll get a chance to learn all about southern resident orcas and the Salish Sea.
Self-Guided Whale Spotting
If you’re not a fan of being out on the water, you can find plenty of whale-sighting spots on land. You don’t even have to leave Seattle to potentially spot a whale. Several of Seattle’s parks and beaches offer ideal vantage points for viewing orcas and whales as they pass by. Golden Gardens, Discovery Park, and West Seattle’s Alki Beach are all local spots with excellent potential for whale sightings.
Beyond Seattle, you can also take the ferry to Vashon Island to see whales. Point Robinson is a great spot to look for whales on Vashon. In the San Juan Islands, Lime Kiln Point State Park is known to be one of the best whale-watching spots in the world. Alternatively, you can drive to Tacoma and look for whales at Point Defiance. Check out this map called the Whale Trail for even more designated whale-watching locations.
To ensure the best times to spot a whale before you set out, you can follow the Orca Network online. They have a handy whale sighting page that is updated in real time.
Hopefully you now feel confident about your chances of spotting whales and orcas this year. Get out there and don’t forget your binoculars!