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San Juan Islands in late March

Seattle, Washington
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San Juan Islands in late March

I have searched earlier threads but could not find any trip reports for San Juan Islands in March, We plan to be there around March 20-25. I see many of the whale watching sites start their season only in April, but some do operate in March. Is it worth taking a chance and go for whale watching? Any recommended ones?

We are in Seattle, so could go later but have a few guests who like the whale watching plan.

Are there any other closures in March or needing tire chains,etc.. We are planning just a weekend trip (overnight stay on Saturday) and only one island (San Juan is what I have decided based on earlier posts).

Poulsbo, Washington
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for Olympic National Park
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1. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

I would not go all the way to the San Juans in March if your primary goal is whale watching. It is very early for whale watching and as you probably know it is generally a bad month weatherwise. The San Juans do tend to get drier weather, but it can still be cool and grey. It will be pretty cool on the water.

Not sure what you meant about chains if you are only talking about the Islands.

If you luck out with the weather, I would not rule out Rainier. That would need to be a last minute decision as chances are the Mountain will be clouded over. In March, however, you will have no problem finding a place to stay at the last minute.

Have you considered Olympic as an alternative? March tends to by a crummy month there, but you could still show them some beautiful things if rain does not discourage you. Given our dry conditions this year dry is certainly posssible even in March. Most people around here equate grey with rain. Think of the last time it rained in Seattle and it is the middle of Winter.

Seattle, Washington
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2. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

glaciermeadows, thanks. Actually Olympic National Park was my first choice - was thinking of staying in Port Angeles and then doing Lake Crescent, Hurricane Ridge and Marymere falls (reason for staying in PA was because we will be traveling with a toddler). But I read about the roads needing chains till Apr 1st.

Whale watching is not the primary goal though, just need a weekend trip at that time and we have already done Portland, Rainier, Whidbey island and Leavenworth which were the other options I had in mind. So mostly right now it is between ONP and SJI and it looks like ONP should be better at that time - is that right?

Friday Harbor...
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3. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

This year has been an unusual one for whale watching I have read as Orcas have been seen in our waters throughout the winter this year....so much so that they did an article about it a few weeks ago here locally, see sanjuanislander.com/island-newshome/more/res… which also lists the boats that go out year-round this year. Come March the situation may have changed but so far its a stellar year for seeing whales and orcas out of their normal seasonal patterns.

The weather has also been unusually warm and mild here this year. We've had many days of sun and temperatures in the low 50s with not much wind or rain, so much milder January than the norm. We've been out enjoying the trails and nature here every day this winter 2014 so far. Good news probably too for those that visit here in the late Spring.

Port Angeles, WA
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4. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

Arvind, the park rule is that cars going up Hurricane Ridge must carry chains somewhere in the car. No one will check the trunk or the backseat, or anything at all, and my informed guess is that virtually no out-of-towners actually do carry chains. The park service plows and sands the road carefully, so chains are not needed. I still think that everyone who travels to ONP in the winter should have a set of chains and know how to apply them if they plan to drive all around the region, but most people don't.

Poulsbo, Washington
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5. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

In late March the only place you may need chains in the Park. If you choose Olympic and give us your exact plans (days of week and how many nights) we can help you plan. I saw whales off of Bainbridge in December. It is certainly possible in March, but if you want to go with the odds, you may be dissapointed with going to the San Juans that early. As I said the San Juans are drier than the Olympics and March can be cool and damp. I just want you to be prepared for temps in the 50's and a pretty good chance of rain.

If whale watching is not the main reason for visiting the San Juans, then I would seriously consider a visit. Who knows you may even see whales. Consider staying in Friday harbor. Nice small town with nice places to stay and good restaurants. The Ferry ride is a lot of fun and IMO much more unique than Whidbey. You can always visit lovely Lime Kilm Park and there is always a slim chance you may see whales from there. We saw about 50 whales from the County Park North of there last July. Again it was July. The advantage of Olympic is that it is easier to get to and of course it is a National Park for a reason.

Seattle, Washington
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6. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

glaciermeadows, kaleberg thanks for the details on ONP.

My plan is this, start on Saturday morning (22nd Mar - can take the first ferry) , 1 night stay and return on Sunday evening.

There is no specific things we have in mind to do, just enjoy some views and time pass. We will be travelling with my son who will be 15 months old, so can only do simple hikes. I think that would just be lake crescent , hurricane ridge and marymere falls if we do ONP, especially with only 2 days available.

Seattle, Wa
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7. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

"No one will check the trunk or the backseat, or anything at all, and my informed guess is that virtually no out-of-towners actually do carry chains. The park service plows and sands the road carefully, so chains are not needed."

Kaleberg, there's no chain patrol at ONP? I'm surprised because there is at Rainier. But Rainier gets more snow and more visitors in the winter than Hurricane Ridge, so maybe that's the difference.

Port Angeles, WA
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8. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

Absolutely no chain patrol. Mt. Rainier is a whole different animal, of course. For one thing, the mountain is the whole park, while ONP consists of mountains, rain forests, and coastal stretches. ONP is so enormous that its rangers are spread thin. They don't even staff all the entry stations. For another thing, there is only one, very well kept road up Hurricane Ridge, and it is open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the winter and early spring. They shut it down on weekends, too, if the snow is falling.

Seattle, Wa
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9. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

Right, I meant on the HR Road. There's only one road open at Rainier in winter, and it dead ends at Paradise. Ahhh, but if they shut the HR road down when it's snowing, then that's the difference. Although they do close that at Rainier, too, if conditions are bad, since they can't use chemical de-icer or salt on the roads in the park.

Seattle, Washington
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10. Re: San Juan Islands in late March

glaciermeadows - you mentioned ONP is easier to get to - is it just the ferry ride that makes the islands difficult to get to? If so, that would not be an issue for us.

At this point it looks like we should do the islands this time and then do the olympic national park later with more days in summer as there are a lot more places to see. For a 2 day trip it looks like San Juan Island would be better.

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