San Juan Islands Kayak Tours
Half-Day San Juan Island Kayak Tours: Kayaking in Killer Whale Waters
Why Choose Sea Quest for your Half-Day Kayaking Trip on San Juan Island?
- Best price for kayak tours on San Juan Island, located north of Seattle, Washington.
- West and south side routes are the best places in the US for kayaking with killer whales!
- All routes visit either a National Wildlife Refuge, National Historical Park or State Park.
- Two kayak tour times to choose from: both morning and sunset departures are available.
- Longest history of operating kayak day tours on San Juan Island – since 1989 – and a perfect safety record thanks to expert guides with extensive safety training & expedition-quality kayaks.
- Unlike others, we provide high-performance kayaks on our day tours. We have the newest, best-maintained fleet of modern, easy to paddle kayaks in the San Juans!
Sunset & Morning Half-Day (3 hour) San Juan Island Kayak Tours
Half-day morning and sunset kayak tours are the perfect choice for those who have very limited time but really want to experience sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands. Half day kayak trips also work well for people who aren’t sure if they will enjoy sea kayaking and want to get a brief first taste of the sport.
We have three different half-day tour routes from San Juan Island. You may explore either the east, south, or west side of the island. This allows us flexibility to choose the best route based on recent whale reports and weather forecasts for the day of your kayak tour. All are very scenic and visit parks and refuges home to a variety of marine life.
Both the west and south side routes take you to the best salmon orca whale watching waters in the United States. Our local salmon orcas frequently follow a pattern that loops back and forth between the two sites. The east side route is a good location for Bigg’s killer whales. Take a look at the chart below and the green and orange shaded area where killer whales are most often seen.
If your main goal is to see orca whales, we recommend the afternoon kayaking tour or multi-day trips. Time of day is not important to killer whales, but the total time you spend in orca whale habitat is. Our statistics show that your chances of a killer whale watching experience are twice as good on the longer afternoon (6-hr) kayak trip. If you only have time for a 3-hr half-day kayak tour you should have realistic expectations. From 2005 to 2018 we found orca whales on close to 20% of the 3-hour kayak tours during the peak months of June through September. The entire whale watching season runs from April through October and our sightings were about half that rate in the shoulder months.
There are two species of killer whales in the San Juan Islands. Bigg’s killer whales hunt marine mammals, are thriving and number over 400 in our area. Salmon orcas were listed as endangered in 2005 and are struggling to find enough salmon prey. Most of our encounters on kayak tours have been with the friendlier salmon orcas. Bigg’s killer whales travel in small, quiet stealthy pods and are difficult to locate. Due to the mismanagement of our salmon spawning rivers, we can no longer count on salmon orcas to be as frequent as they once were. Nevertheless, our experience as local biologists and superb location still afford you the best chance of seeing orcas whales in the US. Please read our Whale Watching Info page for important details.
Please note: Regardless of which kayak tour you choose, orca whales may be absent during your kayak trip. Killer whales may move quickly out of range, or alter their normal patterns. Weather and waves may interfere with whale watching success and may force us to alter our normal routes to prioritize safety.
Trip Details for the Half-Day Kayak Tour from San Juan Island
- Schedule: Morning Kayak Tours offered daily; Sunset Kayak Tours only available from spring to fall equinox.
- Trip Fee: $89 per person plus 8.3% state tax & $10 government launch fee.
- 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: Half-day San Juan Island kayak trips begin early morning and around dinner time. Exact times depend on our shuttle schedule for that particular day. Our online reservation system will indicate this if you enter a specific date. If the times don’t work for you, we may be able to alter them to meet your needs so feel free to ask!
- Itinerary: Our shuttle van takes you to the launch beach. Depending on the location of your kayak tour, this takes between 5 to 25 minutes. Once at the beach, we provide a kayak lesson that requires up to one hour to familiarize everyone with the basic skills before we launch the sea kayaks. We then explore for about 1½ hours, covering 2 to 4 miles during the kayak adventure. Floating rest breaks in scenic locations keep you energized as do frequent stops to take pictures and enjoy wildlife.
- Finish Time & Place: Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal. Late morning to noon for the morning tour; before dark for the sunset tour.
- Total Time: Approximately 3½ hours from meeting your guides to finish. 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 kayak and all related sea kayaking tour gear, lesson and expert guides.
You Will Provide:
Suitable clothing and footwear for the beach, water bottle, hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Bring a warm sweater and rain jacket if windy or rainy. Click prepare for a San Juan Islands kayak tour for some tips.
Half-Day Morning & Sunset San Juan Island Kayak Tour Map:
- The shaded zones are the primary orca whale watching area with different colors representing the two species.
- The west side route is the one we use if salmon orca pods are confirmed in Haro Strait. It features some of the best whale watching waters in the United States! When whales aren’t present we typically see a few seals, some marine birds, an active bald eagle nest, and often porpoises.
- The east side route features a huge seal population, making it the best for Bigg’s killer whales. It’s also the best for finding otters, and the greatest variety of sea birds. Other whale species and porpoises both occur here. It is the most protected route during the uncommon days when winds make the other routes unsafe for sea kayaking. Families or groups of friends that have very limited time often request private kayak trips on the east side route as the beach is just a few minutes from Friday Harbor and greatly reduces shuttle time.
- The south side route launches from the San Juan Islands National Historical Park directly into some of the best whale-watching waters in the US. Minke whales and both types of orcas hunt over the Salmon Bank where prey concentrates. Like the east side, it is excellent for seals and a great variety of marine birds. And the vista is spectacular! The south side is very exposed to wind and waves and is often unsuitable for beginners. If we believe whales are there at the time of your tour, and the weather is cooperative, we may paddle the south side route. Groups and families often request private trips at this location.
- Please note: The San Juan Islands can experience extreme winds or currents even in summer. This can occasionally cause us to alter these routes if safety demands it. Nevertheless, we will always be able to view the orca whale-watching waters, from the kayaks, shore, or both.
Click on this map to open a full-size map in PDF format that you can save, zoom, or print!