Your Guide To Visiting and Kayaking the San Juan Islands

By Jeff Bogle

Feb 16, 2022

Discover San Juan Island kayaking and how this Pacific Northwest destination offers wildlife and charming small towns for idyllic outdoor vacations.

Orca whales and old growth forests dominate the sea and landscape in this idyllic Pacific Northwest vacation destination. The Washington State archipelago has become a haven for outdoor adventure, thanks to San Juan Island kayaking and fishing. With a lively harbor town and beautiful state parks, there is no limit to the all nature fun you can have before, dur-ing, and after kayaking the San Juan Islands. Let’s take a look at where, when and why you should go Orcas Island kayaking and schedule your San Juan Island kayaking tours today! Just getting started with kayaking? Learn how to go kayaking here!

Getting to The San Juan Islands

Before you can begin San Juan Island kayaking, you need to first get there! Thankfully, doing so is a breeze. You can fly into Seattle, Bellingham or even Vancouver, British Columbia. From any of those airports, it’s a beautiful drive all year long to Anacortes, where you and your fellow kayakers will board a Washington State Ferry to the San Juan Islands. Dur-ing the warmer months from spring to early fall, embarking on San Juan kayak expeditions is even easier because you can cruise on the San Juan Clipper direct from Seattle to Friday Harbor. If you’d like to add a splash of pizazz to your San Juan Island kayaking experience, hire a seaplane or private boat to reach this heavenly recreation destination in com-fort and style.

Weather in The San Juan Islands

On average, there are nearly 250 days of sunshine in the San Juan Islands. In additional to the warm sun, there is about half amount of the rainfall compared to nearby Seattle. Summertime (June through September) is primetime for San Juan Island kayaking thanks to temperatures generally in the late 60s and early 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Starting in Friday Harbor

You can and should kayak Friday Harbor but this charming historic seaport town is more likely the spot where your grander San Juan kayak expeditions begin. In this cute seaside escape, you’ll eat fine food, find exquisite accommoda-tions, shop local independent boutiques and stores, visit museums, take whale watching tours, and if the timing works out, enjoy the Friday Harbor Film Festival. What’s better, you don’t even need a car to have the perfect Friday Harbor stay! The walkable town is best enjoyed on foot from the ferry landing (where you can also get to Lopez, Shaw and Or-cas Islands), plus there are trolleys, buses and moped or bikes for rent.

Booking San Juan Island Kayaking Tours

While you can transport and then paddle your own vessel to kayak Friday Harbor, go fishing from your kayak, and kayak around Orcas, San Juan and Lopez Island, or any of the other 169 smaller islands that make up this unique archipelago, you may not want to go it alone. This is because the currents found in these majestic water can change quickly, the winds are strong, and in some places, kayaking here is known to be rather treacherous. It helps to have an experienced, knowledge guide with you to not only see the most wildlife on offer but also to mitigate risks and stay as safe as possi-ble during your San Juan kayak expeditions. Luckily, there are many professional San Juan Island kayaking tours availa-ble to provide you with a memorable, magical, and safe trip.

The Wildlife You’ll See Kayaking the San Juan Islands

These islands are famous for the Orca whales who happily call the San Juan Islands home year round. They eat the other famous resident of these waters, Pacific salmon! In fact, there are three resident pods of Orca whales that eat five differ-ent types of Pacific salmon (King, Sockeye, Silver, Pink, and Chum), no doubt some of the same delicious fish you will be dining on after your San Juan Island kayaking tours are finished for the day. While on your San Juan kayak expedi-tions you will likely see visiting Orcas too, who are setting their sights on a bigger buffet, Harbor seals! During your San Juan Island kayaking adventure you will probably spot Minke whales, Stellar sea lions, River otters, and Dall’s porpoise in the waters and along the 300 miles of rugged shoreline. When you look up toward the heavens, you’ll see even more wildlife. This is because while kayaking the San Juan Islands, you have access to the greatest concentration of Bald Ea-gles in the continental United States. Additionally, bird lovers will want to keep their eyes peeled for Great Blue Herons, Black Oystercatchers and other shorebirds, as well as Trumpeter swans, Canada goose, Peregrine falcons, Northern har-riers, Barred owls and other birds of prey.

This area is one of the true gems in the U.S. thanks to great food, abundant wildlife, and the chance to take San Juan Island kayaking tours. It’s also one of the best spots in America to go boating. Check out the other boating hotspots to visit this year!

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle
Jeff is a dad of teen daughters, avid traveler, photographer, and freelance writer. He’s penned stories on family travel, outdoor recreation, the environment, parenting, and more for Fodor’s, Reader’s Digest, Parents Magazine, Good Housekeeping, PBS, and Esquire, among other publications. Find him on his blog, and on Instagram @OWTK. Jeff is also the publisher of the quarterly literary zine, Stanchion