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Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

South Orange, New...
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Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

I am traveling to San Juan Islands for 3 days in early August (arrive Tues-depart Friday) and definitely want to do a Whale watching tour. I know there are many companies and types of tours - what are the best ones (both for seeing whales, other scenery, and overall experience)?

Also, please share any other must sees while we are on San Juan Island (including restaurants, shopping, sightseeing, etc). We are staying at the Wildwood B&B and plan on renting a car on the island.

Any help would be great!

Friday Harbor...
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1. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

The only whale watch company I have been on locally in years is Captain Carli which is a small fast moving boat that leaves from Friday Harbor at the dock next to the ferry landing. He takes only about 6 passangers so you get a more intimate boat tour than most of the other tours which use larger boats. You can find out more about that company at http://www.carliwhalewatch.com/ From land orcas can sometimes be seen from a few parks on SJ island, Limekiln and American Camp, but then it’s really a matter of luck and timing. With a car or by shuttle van during their season you could go out to Lime Kiln Point State Park (also known as Whale Watch Park) and nearby the parking lot you could see the attractive lighthouse perhaps having a picnic at the nearby tables. This is a very scenic spot where orca whales can sometimes be seen along the coastline. There are also bald eagles, seals, porpoises, and the occasional minke or grey whale which can at times be seen as well from this park. However a motorized whale watch boat that can cover many dozens of miles in a short time span and has radio communication with all the other whale watch boats gives the best chance of one seeing orcas on a vacation visit. Information on Limekiln Park is at www.parks.wa.gov/parks/… and for whale watch boat tours see visitsanjuans.com/what-to-do/…A6 And for information on the most recently reported sightings in the San Juan islands see this web site: http://www.orcanetwork.org/sightings/map.html

The WSDOT ferry ride out to the San Juan’s is beautiful and you pass right by many rural, heavily wooded islands on the way. Here is a link to the summer ferry schedule: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/pdf/2013Summer.pdf Of course the wait time for the ferries as a walk-on passenger is much less than with a car....I have not ever heard of them filling up with walk-ons ever but they sure do with cars. The San Juan ferries have lots of room for walk-on passengers but the space for cars in limited to under 150 per vessel. Basically if you have a car you should always get to the ferry landing an hour in advance but in the summer, especially mid-day on the weekends, one should figure on a 90 minute to 2 hour wait to be assured of getting on the ferry you want with a vehicle. Here is information in detail about the Anacortes ferry terminal and how to get to the ferry landing in Anacortes if you have a car (then you can either take your car on the ferry or park it there and walk on the ferry) as well as webcams showing you the current car holding lot …wa.gov/ferries/…

You can find out a lot about the islands including all there is to do here at the many parks at the San Juan Visitor Bureau web site: http://www.visitsanjuans.com/ And here is a calendar of events for San Juan: http://www.sanjuancalendar.com/

The town of Friday Harbor has many small attractive gift & boutique shops, a wide variety of restaurants, a movie theater, 3 museums, 3 book stores, art galleries, a bowling alley, and neither fast food chains nor traffic lights. There is a nice marina that you can walk through right in town which is busy in the summer and holds many large yachts and sailing boats, and some commercial fishing boats...it's really pleasant walking around there for those who enjoy looking at the boats (and you may well see a heron or two at night). Often you can see a seal hanging around the floating fresh fish market on the docks. The museum most tourists visit in town is The Whale Museum. Info on that is at whalemuseum.org/museum/details/gallery.html This is a nice little museum for learning about whales and orcas in particular. The museum has full-size skeletons of a whale and a variety of other exhibits and interactive displays. You can find more suggestions for things to do in town at: visitsanjuans.com/the-islands/friday-harbor

With your car you could also take some drives on our scenic roads and look for wildlife such as deer, rabbits, eagles, foxes, trumpeter swans, and raccoons. Some of the local ranches raise more than 'regular' cattle and have llamas, Scottish Highland cattle (the type with the large horns), and alpacas. Something unique for the Northwest is the island camel who lives in a field on Roche Harbor Road and often hangs around the fence there near a big barn. If you want to slow down or stop and look though please be cautious as there is no turn-out on the road and this road is the busiest on the island outside of town.

You could see views of much of the island stopping for awhile at Roche Harbor which has a nice marina (with more large yachts in the summer than Friday Harbor marina gets) as well as a few restaurants. In the summer it additionally has a small outdoor grouping of artist booths selling locally made art. Very nearby Roche Harbor resort is the outdoor Sculpture Garden at Westcott Bay where one can leisurely stroll around and view the many sculptures or just sit and look at the birds on the pond there. For more info on that see wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/westcott-bay-nature-…

Green Valley...
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2. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

We just got back from San Juan Island. Though we go several times/year, each time is refreshing, with much beauty and things to see and to do, hence read DriftingClouds' comments and the following article. Glad you are giving yourselves adequate time there.

See the Bald Eagles being fed, around 4:30 PM, on the road to Roche Harbor; park at intersection of Roche Harbor Road and Westcott Drive, with camera at hand.

Observe Harbor Seals at rocky shores, reefs and islands. We observed a large number of baby seals, got a great shot of one with its red tongue out. Many gull and cormorant chicks as well. Many deer about, be careful driving.

If you are considering biking, the easiest is on Lopez Island (take the inter-island ferry).

San Juan Islands TA Article, includes the official guide to the Islands.

Specific information on what to see and to do on the major islands, with key websites. Base on one, visit others as day trips. tripadvisor.com/Travel-g58727-c102104/San-Ju…

Whale watching tours? I've not done any, we see them primarily at San Juan County Park (lovely), Lime Kiln Point State Park. Watch for the whale watch boats!

Jim Maya gets good reviews, small, fast, boat.

Edited: 24 July 2013, 05:58
Fortaleza, CE
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3. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

A week and a half ago we took a trip with San Juan Excursions out of Friday Harbor. Chose them mainly because they have one of the largest, if not the largest, boats and I was concerned about seasickness (turned out to be unwarranted, since the seas were very calm). We were out for about 4 hours. Saw 3 orcas-- one for some time-- but at a distance, plus one Minke whale. Enjoyed the trip. Guides seemed well-informed.

You will see brochures and posters showing the orcas jumping out of the water almost next to boats, but those photos are either Photoshopped or are showing illegal activity, since boats must, by law, remain something like 200 yards away.

Ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor was also scenic. We left our rental car in Anacortes. We did not have time to consider trips from other islands.

Edited: 24 July 2013, 18:18
Poulsbo, Washington
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4. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

Actually Sutter they could be photoshopped, but necessarily. Like Voyaging I was watching whales from the County Park . Whales sometimes swim towards the boats and breach. I have seen this happen many times. I have also soured on the idea of whale watching cruisies after a lone tour boat at dusk followed a few whales within 20 yards. Several of us gave the name of the boat to the Whale Museum. It was such a treat to see two pods very early in the morning from land with no boats at all. You could hear them blow without the sound of ten boats following them. Please go with someone reputable. Also a friend recommended the Cask and Schooner Ale house in Friday Harbor. The fish and chips were some of the best I have had in the NW. The interior's nautical theme reminded me of the seaside restaurants I grew up near in New England. Met some really nice locals on San Juan. My friends from Mass. could not believe how friendly everyone was.

Green Valley...
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5. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

A mild note of envy - GlacierMeadow got the best of us; he and his party early in one day saw several pods of Orcas go by. We, later in the day there, saw only distant dorsal fins and spouts. :)

Edited: 24 July 2013, 23:01
South Orange, New...
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6. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

Does anyone have experience with Legacy whale watching? They are sister company to Maya (who has no avail). They look really good too (6 ppl per boat). Question - is there a better time to go out whale watching. Morning or late afternoon? I can choose brown 10am & 4:30pm.

Other ideas?

South Orange, New...
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7. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

Also thanks so much for all ideas so far (I forgot to mention earlier :-). I appreciate the advise and help.

Friday Harbor...
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8. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

I myself don't know about Legacy Charters as they must be a newer company that wasn't around a few years ago. I see they get good reviews here on tripadvisor at tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60957-d32… though. For information on the most recently reported sightings in the San Juan islands see this web site: http://www.orcanetwork.org/sightings/map.html Insofar as whether a morning or afternoon trip is best for seeing orca whales no one can really say as the resident orcas just travel and hunt salmon so they go whereever and whenever the salmon go.

You also asked "other ideas?" but I'm not sure if you meant whale watching or other activities. If you mean other things to do some suggestions.....

Like walking on beaches? The longest beach by far is South Beach here on San Juan at American Camp Park. It's about 2 miles long from the parking lot. Here is a good image of it taken from above on a grassy hill: …blogspot.com/-HUcyaDQ1k-E/UYhmiR9ErgI/AAAAA… If you go at low tide there is more sand although there is sand to walk on even at high tide. No beach here is really what people think of as sandy though as even South beach has small rocks and lots of driftwood above the tide line. Mount Finlayson/Jakle's Lagoon trailhead is directly across the road from South Beach. There are two trails you can take from the Jakle's Lagoon parking lot, one shady one heading down through the trees and the other going up the hill above the road on a windswept ridge with fantastic views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains to the south and also viewing Vancouver Island to the west. At the nearby American Camp ranger station you can check out the small historic visitor center. Accessed from American Camp visitor center Grandma’s cove beach is a pleasant 15-minute walk along a meandering trail through mixed grasslands which slopes steeply down to the cove beach. No developments, no snack bars,or restrooms–just two rocky headlands protecting a crescent shaped beach with some little tide pools at low tide and piles of driftwood.

Here on San Juan Island you can also find more nice scenic trails if you go out to English Camp as there are several attractive trails there too. One is Bell Point Trail. That one is mostly level terrain and is close to the quiet bay. Another trail which is more of a steady but fairly short climb is Mt. Young....you get a really nice view though at the top. You can see Vancouver Island across the strait, the Olympic peninsula to the south and lots of saltwater and islands all around. You can also see Roche Harbor and Wescott Bay right below you.

9. Re: Best Whale Watching Tour on San Juan Island (& other tips)?

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