There is something special about seeing Orcas from land. You can hear them breach, breath and sing and if you aren’t already, this will be the moment you fall in love with them forever. San Juan Island offers some of the best whale watching in the world. In case you and yours aren’t at ease on a whale watching boat or want to spend your vacation bucks on other adventures, just grab your binoculars and head to the West Side, where the endangered gentle giants live.
1) Lime Kiln State Park aka the Whale Watch Park
Lime Kiln with its historic lighthouse, easily accessible nature trails, interpretive center, rebuilt lime kiln and whale watching platform is the place to watch whales from shore. In Summer the Resident Killer Whales swim by - and often stay a while - an average of twice a day. The interpretive signs along the whale watching platform explain the Orca’s habitat, dietary and environmental needs and challenges.
The waters surrounding the park and its steep cliffs are the most amazing color of green and very deep, making it possible for the Black Fish to come incredibly close to the shoreline. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an Orca eye to eye.
2) American Camp National Park
This vast, former encampment in the south of San Juan Island, awash in the island’s fascinating history, offers amazing wildlife watching, hiking, biking and birding. The great moraines left after the last ice age, formed a submerged ridge in the deep waters off South Beach, known as the Salmon Bank, where Orcas come to feed.
If you walk towards the sea from the Interpretive Center through lush prairie grass and windblown trees, you will find yourself high above the water with great views of the snow-covered Olympic Mountains. Watch for whale watch boats, a good indicator where the whales are, and get your private show from land.
On the southern tip of the park find the historic Cattle Point Light House on a bluff with 360-degree views. Out there the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Haro Strait, a popular feeding ground for the Black Fish as well.
3) San Juan County Park
This 12-acre gem where the 1998 Feature Film “Practical Magic” was filmed has a crescent moon shaped, pebble beach where kayakers put in. The water is shallow and warm and perfect to cool off on a hot Summer day. The wide open grassy field on top of the rocky bluffs surrounding the beach make the perfect look-out for Orcas.