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Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands • Ordinary Traveler

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Washington’s San Juan Islands are home to quaint towns, beautiful landscapes, and a multitude of outdoorsy activities. However, I’m not going to lie, the number one reason I planned a trip to the San Juan Islands is because I’m obsessed with whales.

That’s right, the San Juan Islands offer great whale watching opportunities, and what better way to see whales than on a multi-day kayaking trip?

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands


Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands


How To Get To The San Juan Islands

There are a few different ways of getting to the San Juan Islands, and each has its own benefits.

For a great way to see the islands from the water, either walk or drive aboard the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes. This ferry will take you straight into Friday Harbor after stopping at Lopez Island, Shaw Island, and Orcas Island. Additionally, there is a boat called the San Juan Clipper that will take you straight from downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor in just three and a half hours.

If you’re bringing a car to the island, we recommend making a reservation in advance — especially if you’re traveling between the months of May and September. Walk-ons don’t need a reservation.

For a unique opportunity to see the islands from above, there are several regional flight options into the San Juan Islands that fly out of Boeing Field in Seattle, Lake Union, or Lake Washington.

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands


What to Expect On A Multi-Day Kayaking Trip

On my trip with Discovery Sea Kayaks, we kayaked about six miles per day over two days, although the distance varies trip-to-trip depending on each group’s ability (you don’t have to be an expert kayaker by any means!). While taking the two-day trip was a great adventure, looking back I absolutely wish I had given myself more time. After all, the more days spent on the water, the greater chance there is of seeing whales!

Discovery Sea Kayaks provides all the camping gear you’ll need on your trip, but know that you will be responsible for the set up and take down of this equipment at camp. Additionally, all meals on your trip will be provided and I found them to be delicious, healthy, and locally sourced from organic gardens and local farms. If you have any dietary restrictions, let the team know ahead of time and they’ll be more than happy to accommodate your needs.

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands

Read more: Kayaking With Whales in Johnstone Strait


My Kayaking Trip Itinerary

Note that this is a rough guide as itineraries tend to change based on the needs of the group, weather, tides, and other unforeseen reasons.


Day 1

To begin our adventure, my group departed from Jackson Beach near Friday Harbor and we made our way out of Griffin Bay and into the San Juan Channel. From there, we kayaked until we reached Jones Island State Park near Orcas Island, where we camped for the night.

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands


Day 2

After leaving Jones Island State Park, we crossed San Juan Channel to Spieden Channel along the north shore of San Juan Island. From there, we took a break at the gorgeous Posey Island State Park before turning tail and heading back to Jackson Beach.

Although I was crunched for time, had I gone on to take the three-day tour I would have visited both Smallpox Bay and San Juan County Park on the west side of San Juan Island. Also, if you opt for a longer trip, your group can choose to spend a day of rest on one of the islands; hiking and taking short trips in your kayaks.

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands


The Best Time of Year to Visit the San Juan Islands

While the weather in the San Juan Islands tends to stay fairly mild year round, if you visit between June and September you’ll find the warmest weather, least amount of rain, and best opportunities for whale watching.

Additionally, the summer months are also the best time to find bioluminescence in the water. The bioluminescence is due to a microorganism in the water called Noctiluca that, when disturbed, emits a sparking green light. To witness this awesome natural spectacle, tours can be arranged through Discovery Sea Kayaks.

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands


How Long to Stay in the San Juan Islands

To fully grasp the island vibe and experience the best of what the San Juan Islands have to offer, I would recommend staying at least three, preferably four, days. Remember, the longer your trip, the better your chances of seeing whales.

Taking a Multi-Day Kayaking Trip in Washington's San Juan Islands

Read more: The Ultimate Packing Checklist for Campers


San Juan Islands Kayaking Trip Packing Essentials


Waterproof Gear: To keep yourself and your personal items dry, I recommend bringing along a 20L dry bag for clothing, a 10L dry bag for camera gear, a pair of waterproof pants, a rain jacket, a pair of water shoes, paddling gloves, and a LifeProof case for your phone.

Layers: Packing clothing for a variety of outdoor conditions is key, and layering (non-cotton) clothing plays a big role in this. Be sure to pack base layer top and bottoms, a pair of fleece-lined leggings, a quick-dry hoodie, moisture wicking underwear, a long-sleeved fleece, and moisture-wicking socks.

Toiletries: Being exposed to the elements, you’re going to want to bring along both bug spray and sunscreen.

Whale Watching Gear: To capture your whale experiences, be sure to bring along a pair of binoculars, a waterproof casing for your camera or a GoPro, and a telephoto lens for either your phone or camera.


Plan Your Trip to San Juan Islands

After traveling consistently for over 10 years, we’ve come to trust and rely on a few websites to help us find the best deals on flights and accommodation.

Flights: Skyscanner is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. It searches hundreds of sites for the best fare and includes both standard and budget airlines. The calendar (or “map”) feature shows the cheapest days to fly in your preferred month of travel.

Accommodation: offers savings on hotels, apartments, and villas in 80,000 destinations worldwide. You can browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.

Travel Insurance: We never travel without a travel insurance policy because it’s not worth the risk! We use and trust World Nomads, which we’ve used for the past 8 years.


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