Island Experience

World-Class Kayaking in the San Juans

Secluded coves, kelp forests and gourmet overnights on uninhabited islands make island kayaking adventures second-to-none

Experience Washington's coastal wildlife and scenery from a spectacular sea-level perspective. As you paddle the rocky shorelines and coves, listen to the waves lapping and search for water-dwelling creatures—orca whales, sea lions, seals, porpoises, otters, starfish, anemones, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and even octopus (for orca whales, May through September is your best bet).

Make sure to follow the Kayak Education and Leadership Program ( K.E.L.P) guidelines for safe and sustainable kayaking.

Kayaks on Yellow Island, Photography by Monica Bennett
Lopez Island Kayaking, Photography by Tim Thompson

Paddle your own kayak or set out with one of the many knowledgeable kayaking outfitters on San Juan, Orcas, or Lopez Island for three-hour to three-day (or longer) tours. If you have never been kayaking before, never fear - your friendly kayak guide will give you a quick lesson in how to paddle and how to stay safe before you settle into your vessel. The outfitters also provide all the gear you need. Make sure to bring along sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, water and wear layered clothing.

Check out the list of kayak outfitters for each island below, and don't miss out on these Gourmet Kayaking Adventures.

Orcas and Mt. Baker, Courtesy of San Juan Outfitters
Kayaking, San Juan Islands, Washington


Lopez Island

To feel like a true island pioneer, go kayaking on Lopez Island. The south side of Lopez is dotted with national wildlife refuge islands, set aside for animals and protected—no people allowed. You can visit dozens of islands, such as Fortress Island, Skull Island and Crab Island. The silence of a kayak’s approach lets you view shoreline habitat and nesting birds without disturbing them.

You can also kayak by putting your vessel in right in Lopez Village in Fisherman Bay, or Otis Perkins County Day Park.

Expansive views are also very accessible from Lopez Island waters—off the southwest or southeast part of the island where Rosario Strait meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Find a kayak tour or guide on Lopez Island.

Kayaking, San Juan Islands, Photography by Monica Bennett
Kayaking through a kelp bed, San Juan Islands, Washington


Orcas Island

The more protected waters of Orcas Island offer smoother kayaking, a boon for the beginner. With more than 125 miles of shoreline, Orcas offers kayakers a wealth of opportunity.

From the North Shore you can access a number of marine state park islands, such as Sucia, Matia and Patos. Paddle around them and enjoy the shoreline or jump ashore and explore their beautiful trails.

If you have your own kayak, consider visiting the two freshwater lakes in Moran State Park: Cascade Lake (which also has some rentals) and Mountain Lake.

Find a kayak tour or guide on Orcas Island.

Kayaking, San Juan Outfitters, San Juan Island, Washington
Kayaking San Juan County Park, San Juan Island


San Juan Island

San Juan Island has so many great kayaking sites. On the North side, put in at San Juan County Park, a secluded cove where you can also pitch a tent. To launch your kayak from this popular cove between Memorial Day and Labor Day, first check in with the park manager to purchase a permit ($7 per day/$35 for the season). To receive a permit, you must watch a 15-minute presentation on kayaking safely and how to safely view marine wildlife.

The harbor at Roche Harbor Resort is a great place to take a guided kayak tour, or put your vessel in from one of the docks. Kayak trips from San Juan Island offer unobscured views of the Olympic Mountains and of Vancouver Island, just the other side of the Canadian border.

You have a slightly better chance of spotting an orca whale from your  kayak, as the three Southern Resident pods frequent Haro Strait or Boundary Pass.

Find a kayak tour or guide on San Juan Island.