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San Juan Whale Watching

For those that haven't been, the San Juans are a special place. Located near the Canadian border, these Washington islands offer just about everything for the adventurer and romantic including kayaking, sailing, quiet roads for bicycling, island-hoping by ferry boat, camping, fantastic restaurants, charming B&Bs, historic towns, and whale watching. Given the semi-remote location, they are typically quite the challenge to reach. However, they boast a handful of public use airports that make travel substantially easier. Instead of an 8+ hour drive from Bend to reach the ferry, the islands can be directly reached by airplane in 2 hours (or less).

San Juan Islands sit right next to Victoria, BC in Northwest Washington
Map of San Juan Islands and Public Airports (Orange Dots)

This past weekend, we decided to get out of the Bend heat and enjoy a whale-watching day trip in the San Juans. Neither of us had been on a whale watching tour, but getting out to the ocean sounded good to us!


Our morning started with a sunrise departure, as we headed North over the Cascade Mountains. The calm air and quiet skies treated us to some great views of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood.

View of glacier just North of Mt. Hood Meadows ski area
Mt. Hood in the morning

We landed in Anacortes, parking our plane at the municipal airport and popped on to the watching tour boat just down the hill in the marina. The salty morning sea air was refreshing.


To our delight, the tour boat was a nearly brand new catamaran with lots of deck space and ample seating. We settled down, sipping on our coffee and nibbling on fresh pastries we had picked up along the way.

New catamaran from Island Adventures
Our whale watching tour boat

Our tour boat motored around the islands, looking for wildlife, including whales. We stopped at a few marine sanctuaries, observing otters, sea lions, eagles, and jumping salmon. The variety of island parks and coastal scenery made us wish we had planned an overnight trip!

Blind Island, just off the coast of Shaw Island
Blind Island

Eventually, we did come across a whale. It was amazing to watch how the seagulls would fly away and fish would jump when the whale got near - even though the whale was still below the surface. This certainly helped us figure out where to look! That said, the whale would only peak out for a brief second and then slip below the surface, not giving much time (for a non-professional) to take a photo. Suffice to say, I won't have a career in wildlife photography!

Whale watching
Whale just peaking out
Whale watching
Whale body emerging out of the water
Whale watching
Whale cresting just above the water

Eventually, we headed back to the marina in Anacortes, grabbing a late lunch at Anthony's. The marina view while eating fresh seafood was idyllic.


We decided to head home before dinner, so we popped back to the airport, topped off the tanks and said goodbye to the San Juans after a fun-filled day.

Diamond DA40NG
Happy wife, happy life

On the flight home, we were again afforded amazing views of the Puget Sound and Cascades. We took advantage of a tail wind at a higher altitude and cruised over Mt. Hood with the sun setting over the Pacific. It couldn't have been a better ending to a fun day trip up to one of my favorite places in the Pacific Northwest.

Mt Hood in a DA40NG
Cruising past Mt Hood


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