Best time to visit Olympic National Park, WA

Whale Watching near Olympic National Park 2024

Few experiences compare to catching a glimpse of some of the largest mammals on earth

Best time: April–May | October–November

Whale Watching near Olympic National Park
Whale Watching near Olympic National Park
A pod of Orca whales close to Port Crescent, Washington
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To be near an animal that can grow to 30 or 40 tons brings a rare perspective on life and is truly unforgettable. Few places in the US are more conducive to whale watching than the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula and the Salish Sea. This area offers unbeatable land-viewing and boating opportunities to get close to these marine giants.

Best places for whale watching

Although whales can be spotted nearly anywhere along the Olympic coast, there are several areas that are perfect for catching a glimpse of these giant marine mammals. May is designated whale watching month at Kalaloch Lodge, which is part of the Whale Trail, a collection of over 100 viewing locations that extends from British Columbia southbound to California. For the best land viewing opportunities, explore the shores of Second Beach, Rialto, Shi Shi, or Neah Bay, but be sure to plan before you go, as some places are currently closed to visitors. Other locations that offer a great viewing platform for whales either in the Salish Sea or the Pacific Ocean are the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary (also known as Salt Creek Recreation Area), Ruby Beach, or Haynisisoos Park. So bring a chair and binoculars and find your spot anywhere along the Olympic Peninsula's 73 mi (117.5 km) of public coastline.

Whale-watching tours

There are almost countless options for whale watching tours ranging from large outfitters to smaller boats for a quieter experience. We have picked a few of the best options to get you started.

If you are departing from Seattle/Edmonds or Port Townsend, the Puget Sound Express is one of your best options for a tour by boat. Their tours vary in length depending on which tour you take. Their fleet of four boats will accommodate your needs and allow you to fully enjoy your experience on the water. Several of their vessels are even equipped with a hydrophone, allowing passengers to hear the whales talking underwater. Expect to spend anywhere from 2-5 hours aboard. These tours will cost you between $85-$135 per adult or $65-$95 for children (2-10). Anyone younger than 2 gets a free ride! A major draw to taking a tour with the Puget Sound Express is their guarantee to see a whale or they will give you a voucher for a free ride. For those without their sea legs, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center offers educational events and exhibits for land lovers.

Another boat tour outfitter that offers guaranteed whale sightings is Island Adventures Whale Watching Company. Tours depart from Anacortes between March and October and Everett between February and May. Each boat offers indoor heated cabins, viewing decks, onboard naturalists, concessions, and restrooms to make your experience a memorable one. Depending on the tour you select, plan on being on the water for 3-5 hours. Although discounts may be available, be sure to budget $109 for adults and $69 for children ages 3 to 17.

Whale-watching season

Whale-watching tours in the Salish Sea typically follow the migration patterns of several whale species as they switch from their rich northern waters used for feeding to their warmer, shallower, and safer calving grounds such as the Sea of Cortez in Mexico's Baja peninsula. Find these massive creatures on their biannual journey past the Pacific Northwest either between April and May or October and November. You might also see some of the incredible flora and fauna of the area such as eagles or other sea mammals like seals, otters, or porpoises.

Bigg's killer whales (all-year)

One of the whale species you are likely to spot is the Bigg's killer whale (Orcinus orca, also known as an orca whale. They use these waters to hunt and feed together. These whales travel in family groups of 4 to 7 and it is estimated that there are over 400 individuals that feed year-round in the Salish Sea. Unlike some of the other whale species you might glimpse here, these whales do not migrate seasonally.

Gray whale (spring, fall)

Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) are known to have the longest migration route of any mammal. They tirelessly cover 10,000 to 14,000 mi (16,093 to 22,531 km) every year, traveling from Alaska to Mexico and back again. These noble underwater beasts make a stop to feed and refuel in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula.

Humpback whale (spring, fall)

One of the most recognized whale species that is found all around the world is the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Known as one of the largest mammals on earth, this animal was nearly hunted to extinction. Through legal protection and conservation efforts throughout the globe, this species has come back from the brink to be viewed and appreciated from a distance. How lucky are we to have been able to preserve this majestic creature.

Minke whale

Of all the whales that frequent this area, the Minke (pronounced mink-ee) whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the toughest to view. Because of their feeding habits and shy nature, these cetaceans aren't frequently seen nor is much known about their migration habits. Try your luck on a cruise to witness a whale that few humans get a chance to spot.

Whale-watching tips

Spending time on a beach or in a boat can expose you to unpredictable weather. In the rainy and sometimes foggy Pacific Northwest, prepare for a windy and wet time.

What to wear

Be sure to dress for the occasion with several layers to keep warm and insulate yourself against the possibility of wind and rain. Although most tours offer sheltered viewing locations, having a rain jacket is not a bad idea. On sunny days, be sure to use sunscreen, as water can reflect the sun's rays, increasing the chances of a sunburn.

What to bring

Come prepared with snacks and drinks to keep you energized for several hours cruising on a boat. To get a better view of the wildlife you may encounter, binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens are a great idea.

Where to stay

The Olympic peninsula is a popular tourist destination and, as such, hosts a great selection of hotels, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb's. For a cozy stay out on the coast of the Pacific, check out Kalaloch Lodge. For something a bit more rustic, check out one of the many campgrounds located within the park.

Practical info

When is the best time to go whale watching in Olympic National Park, WA?

The migration season, April-May or October-November, is the ideal time for whale watching in Olympic National Park, WA. You're likely to see whales heading towards calving grounds. Whale watching schedules must be checked since most boats and land areas are seasonal. Arrival during the migration season would assure the most promising opportunity to watch whales in large numbers. Show more

Where should I go for land-based whale watching in Olympic National Park, WA?

For experiencing the best land-based whale watching in Olympic National Park, WA, visit the shores of Second Beach, Rialto, Shi Shi, or Neah Bay. Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Tongue Point Marine Life Sanctuary, Ruby Beach, and Haynisisoos Park offer great platforms for watching whales either in the Salish Sea or the Pacific Ocean. Enough planning should be in place as some areas remain closed to visitors. Show more

What type of whales are typically seen during whale watching tours in Olympic National Park, WA?

Whale watching tours in Olympic National Park, WA offer a chance to watch an assortment of whale species, with Bigg's killer whales, Gray whales, and Humpback whales commonly sighted. Minke whales are the most challenging to spot because of their feeding style and timid nature. Killer whales feed all year round in the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea and the Olympic Peninsula lies on Gray whales' migration route biannually from Alaska to Mexico and back. Show more

What should I wear and bring for a whale watching tour in Olympic National Park, WA?

It is recommended to dress in layers to keep warm since weather patterns are unpredictable. A rain jacket should be carried for sheltered viewing locations even if the tour ensures one. It is advisable to bring snacks and drinks while cruising on a boat for several hours. A camera that boasts of a zoom lens is necessary, helping you capture the wildlife. Binoculars can also assist in getting a broader view of the marine life you may encounter. Show more

Where can I stay in Olympic National Park, WA for whale watching?

Olympic National Park, WA offers various accommodations for visitors. Kalaloch Lodge is recommended for a cozy stay at the coast of the Pacific. There are numerous campgrounds located within the park for those looking for something more rustic. The area also has several hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and Airbnb's available to choose from. It is advisable to book in advance, particularly during peak whale watching season to guarantee booking. Show more

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