About the Islands
While Western Washington may have a reputation as an exceptionally rainy part of the world, first-time visitors are always surprised to find that San Juan Island summers tend to be sunny and mild. Temperatures are frequently in the 70s and the average rainfall is a fraction of Seattle’s. With a rural environment surrounded by fresh ocean breezes, the air quality in the San Juan Islands is the best in the state, perfect for enjoying outdoor activities such as biking and kayaking.
The exact number of islands in the San Juan Island archipelago varies depending on how “island” is defined, but we know there are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County. Only the four largest, Lopez, Shaw, Lopez, and San Juan, are served by the Washington State Ferry system. The ferry landing for San Juan Island drops visitors off in the islands’ main town, Friday Harbor. Occupying just one square mile, visitors to Friday Harbor can easily walk around to find restaurants, groceries, shops, lodging, and reserve kayak tours!
Kayaking San Juan Islands
Sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands is an immensely popular activity for visitors to the Pacific Northwest. With beautiful meandering shorelines, abundant wildlife, and stunning scenery, including views of both the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, these islands are truly a mecca for novice and advanced sea kayakers alike.
Especially for novice and recreational paddlers, guided kayak tours are a great way to get the most out of exploring the area. Guides ensure the safety of their guests, and provide an indispensable source of knowledge about the history and wildlife of the area. Guides can also create itineraries and meals for multi-day camping tours. There are several wonderful camping areas in the San Juan Islands that are accessible only by human-powered craft.
The San Juan Islands are a maze of channels, bays, and inlets. With large tide cycles, water can sweep between the islands and create very strong currents. For paddlers new to the area, these currents can be an unwelcome surprise and can lead to dangerous situations. Embarking on a guided sea kayaking adventure is the best way to safely navigate the San Juan Islands’ waters.
Exploration by kayak is a unique way to experience the San Juan Islands.
The same strong currents that can make navigation tricky are also partially responsible for the area’s flourishing ecosystem. Incoming tides bring a fresh supply of food and nutrients to support everything that lives in the San Juans, from the tiniest algae to the largest orca whale.
The marine life thriving in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands is rich and diverse. Skimming these shorelines, kayakers will be delighted by encounters with all kinds of wildlife, from sea stars and urchins to sea lions, bald eagles, and orca whales.
In the summer months, pods of orca whales converge on the west coast of San Juan Island to feed on the Chinook salmon returning from the open ocean to their spawning grounds in inland rivers. These whales can be seen from the shoreline at places such as Lime Kiln State Park, or from the water, which can turn a kayak trip into an experience of a lifetime.
Another highlight for visitors kayaking in the San Juan Islands is the frequent encounters with bald eagles. San Juan Island has one of the highest densities of breeding bald eagle pairs in the lower 48. It is common to see these large, majestic birds soaring overhead scanning for fish, or perched regally atop shoreline trees.