Best time to travel to Washington

Whale Watching

The waters surrounding the Evergreen State are teeming with a variety of whale species

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Last updated: by Elliot Phillips
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Because of its location, Washington is a very convenient place to observe multiple varieties of whales. Returning from the cold waters of the north or the warm waters of the south, whales pass Washington so often, it is almost impossible to miss them. At different times of the year, you can catch a glimpse of gray, humpback, and orca whales.

Best places for whale watching

Even though many will choose a tour by boat to look for cetaceans, vast swaths of public coastline make for a cheap and easy place to whale-watch. Pack some snacks, a chair, as well as binoculars and spend some time scanning the waters for these majestic marine mammals. Even if you fail to get a glimpse of a whale—spending a relaxing day at the beach will be your consolation prize, so get out there! For a quick reference to accessible land to view whales, check out The Whale Trail for a list of over 100 whale viewing sites—50 of which are located in Washington!

Whale-watching tours

San Juan Island

San Juan Safaris offers traditional boat tours, but for someone who would like a bit more from their adventure, this company incorporates a two-way plane-ride, offering magnificent aerial views of the San Juan Islands as well as the Salish Sea, with a boat cruise to spot orca whales after. This package is pricy, but also the fanciest and closest to Seattle. Tours depart from Lake Union and arrive at Friday Harbor. Expect to pay between $425-$439 plus taxes and fees per person for a day that you will not soon forget. After shuttling into Friday Harbor and taking in aerial sightings of San Juan Island, gear up for a whale safari afterward! Orca whales are what this area is known for and proud of. Each year, mid-May and mid-October, thousands of orca whales pass near San Juan Island. At this time of the year, the waters are loaded with salmon, which attracts orca whales the most. San Juan Island is also reachable by a boat cruise. Other Seattle tours depart either from West Seattle or Elliot Bay.

Everett

Everett is located just 30 minutes from Seattle and is known for its gray whales. For a limited period, mid-February to mid-June, gray whales choose this location for feeding on their way to Alaska. Island Adventures Whale Watching Company offers 3-hour boat cruises from Everett between February and May. Expect to pay $69 per adult and $49 per child (ages 3-17) for admission.

Olympic Peninsula

Olympic Peninsula is a legendary place for whale admirers. The Strait of Juan de Fuca hosts gray and orca whales during the migration between April and May or October and November. Port Angeles and Port Townsend are great places to start your journey. Check out the Puget Sound Express for tours departing from Port Townsend. Tours vary from 2-5 hours in length and cost between $85-$135 per adult or $65-$95 for children (2-10). Anyone younger than 2 gets a free ride! A major advantage to taking a tour with the Puget Sound Express is their guarantee to view a whale or they will provide you with a voucher for a free ride next time you go.

Whale-watching season

Whale watching in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or the Puget Sound is most successful in the spring and fall, when certain cetaceans pass through this region on their way to or from their calving grounds. Find these massive creatures on their biannual journey past the Pacific Northwest either between April and May or October and November.

Bigg's killer whale (all-year)

The Bigg's killer whale (Orcinus orca) also known as the orca whale, is one of the most likely species you will encounter on your tour. They use these rich waters to hunt and feed together. Orca 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! With a healthy and expanding population size in the Pacific Northwest, it is no wonder that thousands of tourists flock here every year to get a chance to view these animals. Unlike some of the other whale species you might glimpse here, these whales do not migrate seasonally.

Gray whales (spring, fall)

Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) 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 creatures 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 well-known whale species found all around the world is the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). As one of the largest mammals on earth, humpback whales were nearly hunted to extinction. Through conservation efforts, this species has come back from the brink of extinction to be viewed and appreciated by so many. It is a good day on earth when these gentle giants swim through the seas.

Whale-watching tips

If you've never been on a whale cruise before, there are a few things you should know. Having a few simple items on hand will ensure that your experience is nothing short of magical.

What to wear

Weather on the coast of Washington is known to be unpredictable, so be sure to catch a weather report and dress accordingly. Having a rain jacket on-hand is never a bad idea here. While on your cruise, it will be windy, so be prepared with layers. Wearing sun screen is also advised as water can reflect the sunlight, increasing your chance of getting burnt.

What to bring

Although your tour may offer concessions, having a drink and few snacks with you is never a bad idea. To better see the wildlife you might encounter, bring a pair of binoculars if you can. They could be the difference in seeing a bald eagle or just a little spot on a tree from far away.

Where to stay

The Seattle area as well as the coastal towns on the peninsula have no shortage of places to stay. Whether you prefer to stay in a hotel or in a tent next to a beach, you will find what you're looking for. Check out our web map below for suggestions.

Practical info

Where can I see whales in Port Angeles?

Whales visit the Strait of Juan de Fuca near the Ediz Spit in March and April or October and Nobember.

When is the best time of day to see whales?

Morning is the best time of day, when winds are usually at their lowest.

What should I wear for whale watching?

Long pants are essential. Avoid shorts or skirts and wear layers to block the wind.

Where can I see orcas in Washington?

The San Juan Islands are one of the best places to view orca whales between March and October.

Can I ride a whale?

No. This is a very bad idea.

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