About Kayaking San Juan Islands
Sea kayaking the San Juan Islands is an immensely popular activity among visitors to the Pacific Northwest. San Juan Island is situated among numerous other islands, both big and small, with beautiful meandering shorelines all in a location widely known for its stunning scenery. With frequent views of both the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, these islands are truly a mecca for novice and advanced sea kayakers alike.
While many people avoid vacationing in what is generally believed to be an exceptionally rainy and cloudy 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 average rainfall is a fraction of that of Seattle. In a predominantly rural environment surrounded by fresh ocean breezes, San Juan Island air quality is very high, perfect for enjoying outdoor activities such as biking and kayaking.
The exact number of islands in the San Juan Island archipelago varies depending on what criteria is being used. Including uninhabited reefs, there are 172 named islands in San Juan County. Only the four largest are serviced by the Washington State Ferry system. Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, and Shaw, are all accessible via the ferries. Of these four, only the San Juan Island ferry dock drops visitors off in the island’s main town, Friday Harbor. Occupying just one square mile, Friday Harbor is where visitors can easily walk around to find restaurants, groceries, shops, lodging, and reserve kayak tours!
Kayaking San Juan Islands
San Juan Island kayak tours are a great way to get the most out of exploring the San Juan Islands. Besides ensuring the safety of their guests, guides provide an indispensable source of knowledge about the history and wildlife of the area. Guides also aid in creating customized float plans and meals for multi-day camping tours. There are several wonderful camping areas in the San Juan Islands that are accessible by human-powered craft only.
The San Juan Islands are a maze of constricted channels, bays, and inlets. On large tide cycles, water moving in and out of the area sweeps between the islands and creates very strong currents. For first-time paddlers in 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 understand wind and water conditions and safely navigate the San Juan Islands waters. These strong currents are 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 Juan’s, from the tiniest algae to the largest orca whale and bald eagle.
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. Sea stars, urchins, various species of kelp, harbor seals, sea lions, porpoises, bald eagles, orca whales, and many other types of wildlife are frequently seen in the San Juans.
San Juan Island is known as the best place to see orca whales in their natural habitat. A short distance from downtown Friday Harbor, Lime Kiln State Park is widely considered one of the best places in the world to see killer whales from the shoreline. Kayaking on the west side of San Juan Island in the Haro Strait can be an experience of a lifetime when the southern resident orca pods are around. The southern resident killer whale population is made up of three pods: J, K, and L. In the summer months, these pods converge to feed on the chinook salmon running in from the open ocean to their spawning grounds in inland rivers. As part of a larger plan to protect this endangered subspecies of killer whale, federal laws have been put in place regarding the proximity of boaters and kayakers to these animals. It is important to understand the protocols and rules for kayaking in an area where killer whales and other marine mammals are present.
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.