Sea kayaking in Washington’s San Juan Islands

sea kayaking san juan islands

Sea kayaking San Juan Islands, the 172 named islands and reefs off the coast of Washington provide one of the best destinations in the U.S. for sea kayaking at all levels of experience from beginner to advanced.

The seven outfitters listed below provide day tours, multi-day tours, and on-your-own tours during a season that runs from April to October.

An extra added attraction of sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands is that they are one of the best locations anywhere for viewing orca whales. Three “pods” or families of orcas return to the islands every year where they travel up to 100 miles a day feeding on salmon. Add to that some transient orcas that come to the islands to take harbor seals and the chances of orca sightings between April and October are good. All of the outfitters included below are aware that an orca sighting would be the experience of a lifetime for their sea kayaking customers.

View each of the profiles below to see what kinds of tours each outfitter provides and their experience levels. Links go to the outfitters websites.

Anacortes Kayak Tours

Located in Anacortes, the location of the ferry to San Juan Island and other San Juan islands, Anacortes Kayak Tours provides half-day, full day trips and multi-day sea kayaking and whale watching in the San Juan Islands. Trips which depart from Anacortes do not require a ferry ride. Other trips depart from Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island. The outfitter also provides multi-day trips ranging from 2 to 5-days on which they furnish all gear and food. On all multi-day trips the outfitter maintains a ratio of not more than six guests per guide.

Crystal Seas Kayaking

Hosting kayakers, campers and bikers in the San Juan Islands since 1993, Crystal Seas Kayaking has a wide array of tours to fit any adventurer and their budget.  Open from mid-March through mid-October, they offer guided half-day, full day, sunset and multi-day kayaking, biking and camping trips.  Wildlife is abundant in the sea and on land with bald eagles, seals, Dall’s porpoises, orca whales, blue herons likely to be spotted and the fauna on the shoreline of the islands is spectacular.  Miles of beaches make it a great place to relax for a few hours or camp overnight.

Discovery Sea Kayaks

Located in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island Discovery Sea Kayaks provides half-day, full day and multi-day sea kayaking and whale watching tours in the San Juan Islands. Half-day tours depart from a small pocket beach on San Juan Island and follow a route known for orca sightings. The kayaks traverse deep kelp beds and rocky coastline outcrops past the iconic Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Full-day tours allow boaters to spend more time with guides learning about the area’s wildlife and history. Three and five-day day kayak expeditions travel among the San Juan Islands to scenic camping areas. All equipment and food is provided and outfitters do all the food preparation and clean-up. The Discovery Kayaks storefront is located at 260 Spring Street, the main street of Friday Harbor, an easy walk from the ferry.

Outdoor Odysseys

Friday Harbor-based Outdoor Odysseys has been guiding kayak expeditions through the San Juan Islands for almost 30 years. The outfitter offers half- to four-day kayaking tours that incorporate whale watching, hiking, wildlife viewing and camping as key components of the expedition. Outdoor Odysseys guides are trained naturalists who impart their knowledge about the region’s wildlife and natural history to their guests. The outfitter can customize expeditions for families and small groups and offers a 12-day natural history/marine biology kayaking course.

San Juan Kayak Expeditions

Founded in 1980, San Juan Kayak Expeditions was the first sea kayaking outfitter in the San Juan Islands and a highly respected company that provides half-day to 5-day excursions of the area.  Spotting Orca whales are usually the highlight of any tour but a number of other animals that can be seen include bald eagles, sea and river otters, sea lions, harbor seals and porpoises.  A wide variety of migratory birds such as scoters, loons, ducks and mergansers also call this home.  A new experience also available for the more skilled paddler is kayak sailing.

Sea Quest Expeditions

With locations in the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Prince William Sound, Sea Quest Expeditions leads guided kayaking tours of the waters and wildlife of coastal Washington and southern Alaska. Outings depart from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, Seattle in Puget Sound and Petersburg in Alaska. Highlights include opportunities to get up-close with migrating humpbacks and resident pods of orcas who call the waters home each year. Birding tours in the Cascade Mountains and on the San Juan Islands are also available.

Shearwater Adventures

Located in Eastsound, Washington, on Orcas Island, Shearwater Adventures has been providing kayak tours of the San Juan Islands for more than 30 years. The outfitter offers daily scheduled three-hour tours of Orcas Island, day kayaking trips to Sucia Island, and specialized trips such as Moonlight tours, sunset trips, and springtime island wildflower tours. During the tours naturalist guides describe the natural history and ecology of the islands, and detail animal biology and behavior. The outfitter also offers basic introductory instruction for novice kayakers.

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Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. BG selects guides and outfitters located in or in close proximity to the Natural Areas they provide activities in. These outfitters know the areas and care about protecting and preserving them in a way that outfitters based in other states never can. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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