Like the other two states along the western coast of the United States, there are lots of whale watching cruises in Washington. Although these whale watching cruises depart from a variety of different points, they are all concentrated in the Northwestern corner of Washington, slightly north of Seattle. Off this stretch of coastline is a complex arrangements of waterways and landmasses that are ideal for whale watching. The San Juan Islands and the Puget Sound are located in, or rather constitute part of, this area off the Washington coast, which is routinely sailed to search for whales (especially killer whales) and other marine life. Considered all at once, the various whale watching cruises of Washington can be hard to get a handle on, particularly because of their geographical placement, so we have compiled the following guide to help you better understand what is available. If you are ever in Washington, this guide will help you find the right whale watching cruise based on where you are in the state.
As is the case in California and Oregon, there are several cities from which you can sail on a whale watching cruise. The most northern city of departure is Bellingham, which is near the Canadian border, and as you work yourself south toward Seattle, there are several other places that offer whale watching cruises, including Orcas Island, which is the largest of the San Juan Islands, and Port Townsend, which is at the northern tip of the Puget Sound, right where the waters blend into the Salish Sea. You can also depart from Anacortes and Everett, both of which are along the route from Bellingham to Seattle.
Unlike in California and Oregon, some of Washington’s whale watching departure points don’t just line the coast, but instead are scattered about the Puget Sound/San Juan Islands area. In other words, you can’t just drive down Interstate 5 and pass by all the places that offer whale watching cruises because they are spread across the maze that is off Washington’s coast. You have to loop all the way down through Seattle and then cross a couple of major bridges as you head back north to get to Port Townsend, for instance, and it isn’t even possible to get to Orcas Island without taking a ferry.
We focused on the locations of these towns to stress that while they are all in a fairly compact part of the state, this is a bit misleading. It can be difficult to get between the cities, and some departure points are easier to get to than others. When looking for a whale watching cruise in Washington, you have to decide first and foremost where you want to depart from and then stick to it. At the last minute, you can’t just pick one of a number of different coastal cities that are all equally easy to get to, as you can in, say, Southern California. A little more geographical planning is in order. However, regardless of where you depart, your cruise will focus on seeing the same marine wildlife, as the whale watching boats sail more or less the same waters.