San Juan Islands Kayak Tours
One-Day San Juan Island Kayaking Trips: Kayak in Orca Whale Waters
Why Choose Sea Quest for your One-Day Kayak Trip on San Juan Island?
- Best priced kayak tours to the prime killer whale zone where nearly all orca whale sightings occur.
- Kayak the spectacular shores of Lime Kiln “Whale Watch” Park & historic Lighthouse or San Juan Island National Historical Park.
- Best route for kayaking with orca whales in the US – over 470 killer whales from Apr-Oct.
- We spend the most time in kayaks searching for whales & enjoying natural beauty, less time on shore.
- Longest history of any company operating kayak tours in the prime orca whale zone as others copied our success!
- The best trained biologist/naturalist guides capable of providing an educational and safe experience.
- We provide the best and newest kayaks & paddling gear. We only use high-performance fiberglass kayaks on day tours. We have the best-maintained fleet of modern, comfortable, swift kayaks in the San Juan Islands!
Afternoon / 1 Day (6 hour) San Juan Islands Sea Kayaking Tours
Our afternoon / one-day sea kayak tours offer an opportunity for kayaking with orca whales. The San Juan Islands whale-watching season runs from April through October. From 2005 through 2018 we encountered orca whales on 35% of our afternoon kayak trips in the peak months of June through September. In spring and fall our killer whale sightings were about half as frequent compared to summer. Surprisingly, salmon orcas have been listed as endangered throughout this span and in the years from 1989 to 2004 our results were even more exceptional! No one else has come close to matching Sea Quest’s whale-watching results since we began offering kayak tours in 1989. But we can no longer take for granted that killer whale encounters will be a common feature of our tours and our past successes cannot be relied upon to predict the future.
Our kayak tours take place in the best killer whale watching waters in the US. Even so, our friendliest pods of orcas are now struggling to survive due to a shortage of salmon and both were listed as endangered in 2005. In 2013, 2019 and 2020 very few salmon migrated through the San Juan Islands and salmon orca were very scarce. Meanwhile, a larger species known as Bigg’s killer whale has been thriving in Washington and escaped being listed as endangered like their smaller cousins. The Bigg’s killer whale success is due to their preference for hunting abundant marine mammals such as seals and sea lions. Their population has been growing rapidly and now numbers over 400 whales in our region. But their stealthy habits of traveling in very small pods and keeping very quiet makes them difficult to encounter on our kayak tours. Nevertheless, our experience as local biologists and ideal location still afford you the best chance of seeing orcas whales on a sea kayak tour. Please read our Whale Watching Info page for important details.
Since orca whales aren’t present on every kayak tour, we also focus on a diverse variety of wildlife that can be enjoyed. Possibilities include humpback whales, minke whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and otters. Three active bald eagle nests and a peregrine falcon nest on our west route rank high among the bird highlights. Other fascinating birds include great blue herons, black oystercatchers, rhinoceros auklets, and pigeon guillemots. Beautiful conifer forests on land and kelp forests in the sea and separated by colorful intertidal zones and tidepools.
We have three different 1-day sea kayaking trip routes from San Juan Island. You may paddle either the east, south, or west side of the island. Our decision on route choice is often made in the final hour before your kayak tour begins and will depend on both the latest killer whale reports and weather conditions. Safety will always take priority, and regardless of killer whale activity, we will only use a route if wind and wave conditions are suitable. All routes are very scenic and visit parks and refuges home to a variety of marine life.
Please note: Regardless of which kayak trip route we use, killer whales may not appear during your kayak tour. Orca whales can make sudden course changes or choose to hunt in a different location. They can virtually disappear and confound the best efforts of even the most experienced biologists and whale-watching professionals. You can be assured that Sea Quest will always give you the best chance to kayak with killer whales on your kayak trip!
Trip Details: Afternoon 6 hr Kayak Tour from San Juan Island
- Schedule: offered daily.
- Trip Fee: $99 per person plus 8.3% state tax & $10 government launch fee. On rare dates, the fee is $129 due to limited resources, and this will be noted in the online reservation system.
- Meeting Place: Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. Look for our van and kayak trailer in the traffic circle adjacent to the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal.
- Meeting Time: One-day San Juan Island kayak trips begin at 10:30am; except on Saturdays and Sunday from now through May 8 at 10:45am. On some dates there may also be a 1:00pm early afternoon tour, too. Our online reservation system will indicate this if you enter a specific date. Ask about earlier or later departures if the starting times shown don’t work for you!
- Itinerary: Our courtesy van takes you for a 5 to 25 minute drive to our chosen launch beach. The instructional period requires a full hour to ensure that everyone is fully prepared for our kayak adventure. After launching, we explore the shoreline for 3 to 4 hours, depending on currents and winds. To stay refreshed we go ashore for a ½ hour break at the mid-point and take numerous floating rests throughout the paddle at interesting locations or when wildlife appears. Guests are often surprised to learn that they’ve paddled 5 to 7 miles during the kayak trip. After returning to the launch beach we rack the kayaks and board the van for the return trip.
- Finish Time & Place: 4:30pm at the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal.
- Total Time: Approximately 6 hours from pick up to drop off. Be aware that whales, winds or currents can occasionally delay us! But there will always be plenty of time to catch one of several departing ferries if you are planning to leave the island.
Sea Quest Kayak Expeditions Provides:
Sea kayaks, all related sea kayaking trip gear, safety equipment, tents, cooking gear, breakfast & dinner, transportation to and from Friday Harbor and the launch beach, instruction and knowledgeable guiding.
You Will Provide:
Beach clothing, beach foot wear, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lunch. Bring a warm sweater and rain jacket if windy or rainy. Click prepare for a San Juan Islands kayak tour for more tips.
One-Day San Juan Islands Kayaking Tours Map:
- The shaded areas represent the best places to see killer whales. Green indicates the main salmon orca (also known as “resident orca”) feeding and traveling route where about 90% of their sightings occur. Orange indicates the best locations for finding the marine mammal-eating Bigg’s killer whales (formerly called “transients”). Orcas can randomly be found in other areas of the San Juan Islands but these are best zones for kayak whale watching success.
- The west side route explores the rugged west side of San Juan Island. Migrating salmon prefer this shore making it the best route for finding pods of salmon orca. The route passes by Lime Kiln Lighthouse and Marine State Park, acknowledged as the best park in the world for orca whale-watching! When whales aren’t present we usually see porpoises, seals, marine birds, and several active bald eagle nests. Weather and currents must be cooperative as the west side route is the least protected from inclement weather. If winds there are too strong for safe kayaking, we will use an alternate route.
- The south side route visits the incredibly scenic San Juan Island National Historical Park at the south end of San Juan Island. Killer whale watching for both types is excellent here. Especially on the Salmon Bank that extends from the picturesque Cattle Point Lighthouse. The largest concentrations of baitfish and salmon occur here and attract orcas, minke whales, porpoises, seals and sea lions. We may decide to operate your tour on this route if we feel it gives us the best chance of whale watching success. Like the west side, it is very exposed to strong winds on certain days and would be avoided under those conditions. Private trips often request this route.
- The east side route is the most sheltered area for safe kayaking. It features a huge seal population making it the best route for enjoying them and finding their only predator, Bigg’s killer whales. It also offer the best chance of seeing otters and the greatest variety of sea birds. Porpoises and baleen whales both occur here but not as often compared to the west or south sides. The one day kayak tour uses this route when windy weather makes the other areas unsafe. Families and groups of friends that prefer kayaking where the currents and winds are most mild frequently request the east side route. As the beach is just a few minutes from Friday Harbor it greatly reduces shuttle time, too.
- Please note: The San Juan Islands can experience extreme winds or currents even in summer. This can occasionally cause us to reduce our intended time within, or avoid entirely, the primary orca watching zone as safety is the top priority. In these situations we always have opportunities to watch for whales from trails or beaches that overlook the the best areas.
Click the map below to open a full-size chart in PDF format that you can save, zoom, or print!