Kayaking with orcas in the San Juan Islands

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Kayaking with orcas (Photo: Adventure Associates)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on January 14, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Anacortes, golf, hiking, Molly Feltner, mountain, New York, New York City, North Carolina, Pebble Beach, San Diego, Savannah, shopping, South Dakota, spa, vacation package, women's travel, Zion National Park.

Provider: Adventure Associates
Length: Three days
Price: $495

Orca whales, bald eagles, harbor seals, and great blue herons are just a few of the majestic species you can hope to encounter on Adventure Associates' three-day women-only kayaking trips in Washington's San Juan Islands. Adventure Associates has been running women-only adventure tours around the world for 20 years (about half its trips are women-only), but its San Juan kayak excursions are among its most popular, with numerous departures scheduled throughout the spring and summer months.


Alice Gifford of the Seattle-based outdoor outfitter describes a typical morning like this: "Imagine waking up to a crisp dawn inside your cozy tent. After breakfast, we carry our sturdy double-kayaks to the cove and slip off into the still morning water. Harbor seals soak in the sun on exposed rocks and lift their heads to see who enters their sleepy domain. As the current picks up and the ebbing tide gets stronger, porpoises play farther offshore. And if we're lucky, we'll hear a big ... PSHWSHH! A male orca whale with a six-foot high dorsal fin is approaching with five or six others behind him. We have had spectacular shows: spy hopping (raising head and body out of the water to have a look around), tail slaps, and even a few breaches. They move quickly, but the water-level experience is like no other."

Based out of a forested camp on the main San Juan Island, you'll learn and practice sea kayaking skills and then venture out each day in hopes of observing some of the Puget Sound's resident orca whales, as well other marine mammals and birds—close and personal. In the evening you'll be able to relax, talk, and eat dinner together.

"For most people, encountering the orca whales of Puget Sound is the biggest draw and the biggest highlight," says Gifford. "However what they often bring home with them is a renewed sense of self, a spirit of rejuvenation and lifelong friendships."

Marthalee Galeota of Seattle, who's been on the women-only kayaking trip with Adventure Associates, agrees: "There is a unique opportunity for camaraderie, conversation, and challenging oneself in a safe and wholesome way. The inner strength of each of us became more apparent—I liked exploring that strength in myself and appreciated a more core connection with other women."

Trip planning

Departure dates are scheduled throughout May, June, July, and August. The $495 trip price covers kayaking and camping equipment and fees, guides, meals, and transfers to and from the base camp. Trips meet at the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal on San Juan Island. You can reach the island by taking a ferry from Anacortes on the mainland. One-way fares are currently $10.95 per adult, but will go up in the summer months. The closest airport, Seattle-Tacoma, is a 95-mile drive from Anacortes.

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