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

Washington Friday Harbor

Added by

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)
Read More

How to Get There

over 1 year ago

Lucky

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!

over 1 year ago

Activities:

Photography, Kayaking

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Summer

Trail Type:

Loop

Rating:

Features:

Romantic
Scenic
Wildlife

Are we missing something?

Suggest an edit

More Adventures Nearby

Hike Mailbox Peak New Trail

Washington / Mailbox Trailhead

*Disclaimer this article is in regards to the newly built trail.* For the old trail, head to Hike Mailbox Peak.  Just off of exit 34, Mailbox Peak offers a birds-eye view of the surrounding area.

Austin Johnson
62 Saves

Hike to Grand Valley via Grand Pass

Washington / Grand Pass Trail

Camping is available around Grand Lake, Moose Lake, and Gladys Lake. Camping / backpacking requires permits from May 1 - September 30th.  Photos: Sean Munson, Sankara Subramanian, Wild Trees

Hike the Little Quilcene Trail

Washington / Little Quilcene Trailhead

Little Quilcene Trail is a 16.1 mile out and back trail close to Sequim, Washington. The trail is an alternate route to the Mt. Townsend summit.