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San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

Phoenix, Arizona
posts: 6
reviews: 12
San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

I will be in the Pacific Northwest from Thursday 6/6-Saturday 6/15. It will be my husband and I with two younger children (3 & 8).I am planning the first 3 nights in Seattle and then on Sunday get a rental car and drive to Anacortes to take the Ferry to the San Juan islands. I am leaning toward Orcas - just because of Mt. Constitution and the West Beach Resort. However if the inter-island ferry is a pain I would be willing to stay in Friday Harbor. I am open to one or two nights in the San Juans. My kids aren't going to do long hikes, but car and walking tours work. I am also debating if my 3 year old would enjoy the whale watching tours or if it would be torture being trapped on a boat. Can you see whales from the beaches? Do the Ferry's see whales? Are the Ferry's easy enough during mid-week with a car? From the San Juans we will head back to Anacortes and drive to Whistler, Vancouver and back to Seattle.

Seattle, Wa
posts: 2,544
reviews: 30
1. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

I'm a bit confused. If you want to stay on Orcas, you should, but why the question about the interisland ferry? Is it because you think all the whale tours leave from SJI? They don't--you can get a whale watching boat from Orcas.

Now, if you want to try to see whales from shore, that's best from SJI, from Lime Kiln Park or the county park. That takes patience, though--you may have to spend all day there to see them, and even then of course you may not. You occasionally see them from a ferry, but not usually. If you want to see them, going on a boat tour is your best bet. The boats use radio communications to go to where the whales are.

The ferries are easy enough midweek, especially since you're coming before summer.

Friday Harbor...
Destination Expert
for San Juan Islands
posts: 864
reviews: 8
2. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

You asked "Can you see whales from the beaches? Do the Ferry's see whales? Are the Ferry's easy enough during mid-week with a car?" as well as a question about the inter-island ferries.

I have been traveling on the ferries out here for decades and unlike most locals I do spend some time outside every ride on the deck watching the views and the wildlife but I myself have never seen a Orca whale from a ferry. My husband once saw some from the ferry that goes from FH to Sidney BC but that's in over 20 years of ferry riding so I'd say you chances of seeing Orcas is extremely low from the ferry from Anacortes.

Your best chance of seeing orca whales in season would be to take a motorized whale watch trip that leaves from Roche Harbor or Snug harbor as the whales are more often seen on the west side of SJ Island. You can also take a boat that leaves from Friday Harbor which may well mean extra boat travel time to get to where the orcas are located that day (if found at all). From land orcas can sometimes be seen from a few parks on SJ island, Limekiln and American Camp but then it’s really a matter of luck and timing. Lime Kiln Park is also known as the “whale watch” park because orca whales can sometimes be seen along the coastline during the summer months. There are also bald eagles, seals, porpoises, and the occasional minke or grey whale which can at times be seen as well. However a motorized whale watch boat that can cover many dozens of miles in a short time span and has radio communication with all the other whale watch boats gives the best chance of one seeing orcas during their season in these waters on a vacation visit. Info on Limekiln Park is at www.parks.wa.gov/parks/…

Yes, mid summer is the busiest season to visit the SJ islands but certainly leaving either on one of the earliest ferry's or the latest mean less wait time. The busiest times to take the ferry are Friday afternoons and evenings heading to the islands and Sunday afternoons leaving the islands. Expect to wait longer at those times. Here is information in detail about how to get from Seattle to the ferry landing in Anacortes if you have a car (then you can either take your car on the ferry or park it there and walk on the ferry). This also includes info on the ferry ride itself: visitsanjuans.com/getting-here/san-juan-isla… . In the summer season, plan on arriving at the ferry terminal at least 90 minutes ahead of sailing on the days/times listed above, the rest of the year one hour in advance should be enough. The San Juan ferries have lots of room for walk-on passengers but the space for cars in limited to under 200 per vessel. You should consider leaving the car in Anacortes in the summer, because the lines for cars at the ferry terminals can be long. Arriving an hour or two early is a must if taking a car in the warmer months, but walk-ons can show up right until departure time (allowing for time to park your car) and still get onboard. You'll find enough to do around the rurally located terminal while you wait for your ferry though if you do take your car. Grassy trails lead down to the nearby beach and through the shoreline wetlands. You can get something at the small gift shop, buy drinks and snacks, walk your dog in the dog-walk area and on the beach, relax at a picnic table, or go online using the terminal's wireless Internet service (which has a fee). Or you could do it the Islanders way and spend the time talking together outside, playing cards, engaging in ball games with the dogs, reading or napping in your car.

As for waiting for the inter-island ferry we ride the interisland ferry quite often with a car and basically never arrive at the ferry landing before 10 minutes from when it departs, although as visitors you might want to get there 30 minutes before the inter-island just to feel secure. There is no cost for passengers on the inter-island ferry. The only charge is for the car and that is only when you go in the direction from Orcas to SJ. If you take a car from SJ to Orcas then you have to buy a ticket for the car (1 ticket which you would buy on Orcas as all car tickets are RT when heading east). Rates are at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/pdf/CurrentFares.pdf Do keep in mind the drive time you'll need from your last stop on Orcas to the ferry landing and that their curvy roads have a 35 MPH speed limit outside of town.

Seattle, Wa
posts: 2,544
reviews: 30
3. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

Drifting Clouds, do you really think it's better to take a boat from SJI to whale watch, if someone is staying on Orcas? I agree you might get a bit less time seeing whales, depending on where they are, but it seems to me the hassle of going to SJI from Orcas, with small kids, THEN getting on a whale boat, might not be the best option, when you could take a tour from Orcas.

Friday Harbor...
Destination Expert
for San Juan Islands
posts: 864
reviews: 8
4. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

There are three companies on Orcas island that are currently listed as doing whale watch trips. See visitsanjuans.com/what-to-do/orcas-island-wh… And yes, of course one can take one of these boats and go, however I do know from having taken many of the whale watch boats on the islands back when I worked for the Chamber of Commerce that *where* your boat leaves from can add or subtract significantly from how much you get to see the orca whales. The orcas are feeding on salmon and they go where the salmon travel and as I said that means usually the waters to the west side of San Juan island and up into the Gulf islands of BC Canada. So if you travel on a boat from Orcas island & if your main interest is in seeing the orca most of the time you will be spending far more time just getting to and from where the orca are and less time *with* the orcas in sight. I know how disappointed people can be when they are somewhere in sight of a pod of leaping orcas and the captain has to leave the area because of the time needed to travel back to their home dock, lots of heavy sighing happens etc. But if your family is only going to Orcas island and not to SJI than of course a Orcas island whale watch boat would be the best way to see them from Orcas island.

Green Valley...
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park, Seattle
posts: 16,764
reviews: 45
5. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

Because of such questions as raised by Christy1, I searched for answers and found this interesting and informative website which provides a fairly compelling reason to base whale watching from on, and off, San Juan Island.

Map showing, among other species, Orca whale sightings around the Salish Sea (and why the west side of San Juan Island is so popular for Orca watchers). www.orcanetwork.org/sightings/map.html#map

Edited: 4:37 pm, May 22, 2013
Overland Park...
posts: 2
reviews: 56
6. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

I just returned from a week on SJI and it was great. We stayed on the west of the island and saw whales everyday. Lime Kiln Park is a family friendly place to look for whales and maybe see a sunset. If you are looking for a whale watch trip by boat, I would recommend Maya's Westside Charters. Captain Jim is a retired school teacher that has a heart to teach about the whales and everything else your kids will see while out on the boat. We went out twice this past week and where able to stay with "J pod" for about 2.5 hours. J pod is one of three resident groups of orcas that travel around the islands. It is made up of 27 whales.

posts: 7
7. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

I agree with Jeff r. And drifting clouds. My husband and I visited SJI in June 2011 and stayed on the West side of the island. We were fortunate to see the resident whales everyday from the west side bank, just driving down the shore, from American Camp, Limekiln and also had a fabulous day with J Pod with Jim Maya charters!!!

We are so excited to be returning to the island with our girls ( 4yr and 10yr ) for their first visit in just a few weeks. There are VRBO homes on the West side perfect for seeing a pod pass by, eagles, fox, deer and seals. Caution some are on high banks. We choose one without a high bank as we have a 4 yr old. Jim Maya is great!! Don't miss out on going out with him!!! They won't want to get off the boat.

8. Re: San Juans with Kids, Whale Watching, Ferry

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