Kayak the San Juan Islands (Johns, Stuart, and Henry)

Washington Friday Harbor

Added by Susanne Fischer

  • Absolute must if you love wildlife and paddling
  • Bald eagles, porpoises, salmon, seals and best of all - orcas!

The San Juan Islands are one of the most stunning places you could go for a paddle. If you can go for a 3-5 day (or even longer) expedition you will get the most out of it.

Start off in Friday Harbour, and get dropped off at one of the launching beaches. Many expedition operators work in Friday Harbour and I highly recommend booking your first trip through one of them. The currents and tidal changes around the San Juans can be pretty severe and you need to time launching down to minutes! No dilly dallying around here.

The first stretch is from San Juan to Johns Island. When we went in August, the weather was beautiful, and it didn't take long until the first whale spouts were audible. After rafting up and just hanging out for a few minutes a huge male orca breached a few feet away from our kayaks! It was unbelievable to see these beautiful and smart animals around us. As we paddled on we came across many seals and bald eagles. We even witnessed a young eagle catching a gigantic salmon and struggling to fly off with it! Along the way, you can also catch a glimpse of the Olympics, North Cascades and the Coast Range.

The next of the leg of the trip is to Stuart Island. There are a few campsites and they are all fairly stretched out. After a good night sleep, hike up the small mountain on the island which gives you a fantastic look over to Sidney, Canada.

Carry on to paddle towards Henry Island - we were again lucky to come across a huge pod of orcas. We counted around 30 individuals, including calves, and experienced another very close encounter. Out of the blue (litterally) a huge black fine appeared right in front of our kayak. We froze instantly and let the orca do its thing - it surfaced and then went back down again to swim underneath our kayak to come up behind us. Incredible !

There are lots and lots of small islands that can be explored in the San Juans. It's a stunning area for kayakers and motor boaters alike, though some islands can only be accessed by manpowered boats, and it's well worth the paddle.

Pack List

  • Sea kayaks
  • Plenty of dry bags
  • Camping gear
  • Maps and books about the currents and tides !
  • Camera (if you have a goPro, mount it on your kayak and have it filming constantly, most of the time the whales just pop up without warning and you don't have time to get your camera out)
  • Sun screen and hat in the summer months (the sun was quite brutal when we were out)
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Kayaking, Photography

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How to Get There

8 months ago


Consider yourself very lucky to get such an encounter with whales. People paddle the islands for years without getting as lucky as you! Doing the loop is awesome as you get to paddle different shorelines and each island is distinctly different offering a different feel for each one. Excellent place to kayak and enjoy the views. One of my favorite places ever for sunsets!

8 months ago

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