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A pod of orcas surface at golden hour on a San Juan Islands whale watching tour.

San Juan Islands Whale Watching: Dive into Adventure

As a lover of the sea and its majestic creatures, I’ve embarked on numerous adventures, but none quite captured my heart like a San Juan Islands whale watching tour.

Nestled between the coasts of BC and Washington State, this enchanting archipelago offers an intimate rendezvous with orcas, humpbacks, and a rich tapestry of marine life.

Whether you’re a local or travelling from afar, the whisper of the ocean here promises an unforgettable spectacle.

San Juan Islands Whale Watching Tours

Renowned for their untouched beauty, the San Juan Islands offer a unique blend of adventure and tranquillity a short haul from the bustling cities of Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle.

Accessible via the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, the journey itself is part of the magic, setting the stage for encounters with majestic orcas and humpbacks amidst the islands’ captivating landscapes.

The tours are offered from Orcas Island and Friday Harbour, where your ferry will land. They focus on the waters on the island’s west coast which are teeming with salmon (and orcas hot on their tails) between April and October.

Looking to save yourself a ferry ride? These same waters are also accessible from Anacortes or even via a Victoria whale watching tour.

Let’s take a look at a few of my favourite options for San Juan Island whale watching.

Related: The 4 Best Vancouver Whale Watching Tours

A pod of orcas surfaces on a Orcas Island whale watching tour with Mt. Baker in the background.

Orcas Island Whale Watching Tour

Duration: 3.5 hours | Season: Apr-Sep | Cost: From USD $119.00 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 360+ reviews

I recently had the incredible opportunity to embark on a journey that took me up close to the majestic killer whales off Orcas Island, the gem of the San Juan Islands. This 3.5-hour whale-watching cruise set sail from Eastsound, a small village on the island, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

With expert naturalist guides and skilled captains at the helm of a sleek Blackfish fleet vessel, we ventured through some of the most breathtaking scenery the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

As we sailed through the serene waters, every moment was a chance to witness the rich tapestry of ocean wildlife in their natural habitat. We lucked upon 2 pods of resident orcas before viewing a pair of awe-inspiring humpbacks. Trust me, each sighting was a heart-stopping moment of pure wonder.

I returned to the mainland not just with photos and memories but with a renewed sense of wonder for the world beneath the waves.

Each Orcas Island whale watching tour includes:

  • A 3-4 hour whale watching adventure aboard a high-speed, semi-enclosed vessel
  • The chance to spot orcas, humpbacks, minkes, and grays in their natural habitat
  • Fully certified naturalist/skipper
  • Whale sighting guarantee (or your next tour is free)

A humpback whale breaches on a San Juan Islands whale watching tour.

Friday Harbor Whale Watching Tours

Duration: 4 hours | Season: Apr-Oct | Cost: From USD $135.00 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 690+ reviews

San Juan Island isn’t just a place; it’s a gateway to an unparalleled adventure where the orca whales, with their majestic presence, roam free. The islands’ hub is picturesque Friday Harbor, the largest town on the entire archipelago.

From here, you’ll depart for the nutrient-rich waters on the west coast of the island. This area is the perfect spot for whale watching due to the prevalence of salmon that comprise the bulk of the Southern-resident killer whale diet.

Here, the thrill of seeing orcas in their natural habitat is almost a certainty, with sightings on well over 90% of the trips. You’ll also have the chance to spot minke, humpback, dolphins, and gray whales along the way. Come up empty-handed? Not to worry, you’re next trip will be free!

The MV Sea Lion is a 55-foot vessel designed for the ultimate whale-watching experience. With a windowed, heated cabin, a large viewing deck, and seating for up to 24 guests, it’ll make the journey as comfortable as it is exhilarating.

Each Friday Harbor whale watching tour includes:

  • A 4-hour San Juan Island whale watching adventure
  • 90+% whale sighting rate (Orcas, Minkes, Humpbacks, & Grays)
  • Trip aboard a 55-foot semi-enclosed, heated vessel with a restroom
  • Certified naturalists to educate about the whales and the surrounding environment

A humpback whale leaps out of the water on a whale watching tour of the San Juan Islands.

Anacortes Whale Watching Tours

Duration: 3-4 hours | Season: Apr-Oct | Cost: From USD $119.00 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 560+ reviews

Are you looking to embark on a San Juan Islands whale watching tour without leaving the mainland? Well, luckily you can book a departure from scenic Anacortes, just 80 miles North of Seattle or 100 miles from Vancouver.

The ease of setting off from Anacortes, without the need to travel further to the islands, makes the experience all the more accessible and inviting. Not to mention, it’ll allow you more time on the water and less time commuting.

You’ll set sail on the pristine waters aboard a sleek Blackfish fleet vessel, guided by knowledgeable naturalist guides in search of orca, humpback, and gray whales, set against some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever witness.

The waters around Anacortes also teem with life, offering glimpses of seals, porpoises, sea lions, and otters frolicking in their natural habitat. The promise of whale sightings from April through early September is a thrilling prospect, so you’ve got nothing to lose!

Each Anacortes whale watching tour includes:

  • A 3-4 hour San Juan Islands whale watching adventure departing from the mainland
  • Whale sighting guarantee (or your next tour is free)
  • Trip aboard a high-speed Blackfish aluminum catamaran
  • Professional guided/naturalist

San Juan Whale Watching Reviews

Going whale watching in a quaint locale like the San Juan Islands rather than bustling cities such as Vancouver, Victoria, or Seattle offers a treasure trove of benefits. Here, you’re not just another face in the crowd; smaller tour groups ensure a more intimate connection with nature, allowing for serene encounters on less congested waters.

Skeptical? Let the testimonials speak for themselves. Two out of the three San Juan Island orca tours on our list have garnered unanimous 5-star ratings, with the 3rd not far behind. This is a testament to their unparalleled quality.

Here is a review from Eileen on the Friday Harbor whale tour:

Here, we have another satisfied customer from the Anacortes tour:

And how about an Orcas Island review for good measure:

Related: Visiting Seattle from Vancouver

How to Book Your Tour

Embarking on a whale watching journey in the San Juan Islands is as straightforward as making a purchase on Amazon—perhaps even more so.

Consider our crowd-favourite: the Covered Boat Whale Watching Tour.

Fancy the Zodiac tour instead? Rest assured, the booking steps remain the same!

Choose Your San Juan Islands Whale Watching Adventure

  1. Navigate to Viator’s San Juan Islands Whale Tour portal.
  2. You’ll be booking through Viator, a member of the Tripadvisor family with a market valuation of $3 billion.
  3. Viator offers a “book now, pay later” option, perfect for those on a budget.
  4. You’re also assured the best deal with the site’s lowest price guarantee.

Pick Your Departure Time

  1. Hit the ‘Check Availability’ button on the tour page.
  2. Select a date from the calendar (available from Apr to Oct), keeping in mind that most San Juan orca tours are only available seasonally.
  3. Choose the number of participants and hit ‘Apply.’
  4. Decide on your time slot and proceed with ‘Reserve Now & Pay Later’ or ‘Book Now.’
  5. Opting for ‘Reserve Now & Pay Later’? You have the option to pay any time up to 48 hours before departure.

Worried about unforeseen changes? Worry not, as cancellations are free up to 24 hours before departure. So, what’s holding you back?

Click the banner below to secure your spot on a San Juan Islands whale watching tour:

A banner for San Juan Islands whale watching tours.

All set for your San Juan Islands whale watching tour?

With hearts full and spirits lifted, we bid farewell to the San Juan Islands, carrying with us memories of orcas gliding through the water and humpbacks leaping into the air.

This adventure, a stone’s throw from Vancouver and Seattle, is more than a journey; it’s a testament to the beauty and resilience of nature.

I urge you, wherever you are, to come and witness the spectacle of San Juan Islands whale watching for yourself.

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