Easy Whale Watching Tips for the Northwest


Whale watching is one of those crazy amazing experiences that tops the bucket list for tons of people across the world. The search is part of the excitement, but that moment when you finally see whales is magical. 

The Northwest is bursting with opportunities for whale watching, and planning a trip for that purpose is easy. There are charter companies to get your group to the right place at the right time to catch more than a glimpse of these breathtaking marine animals.

Oregon Coast Whale Watching

The Oregon Coast, including Manzanita, Cannon Beach and Rockaway Beach, is the perfect whale watching destination year-round. Most commonly, visitors will see gray whales with the migratory season being as follows: headed south from the Alaska area from mid-December through January, then back north from March to June. There are approximately 18,000 gray whales that pass close to the Oregon Coast during each leg of the migration, anywhere from five miles offshore to as close as half a mile. 

Here are some tried and true tips to make your whale watching adventure successful.

- Choose a calm weather day preferably in the morning. Keep in mind, spring through fall is prime whale watching season.

- Look for whale spouts and then zoom in with a good pair of binoculars. 

- If you want the best opportunity and views, book a spot on a charter boat.

- Think outside the box—the view from above via helicopter is quite stunning.

Find the best accommodations for your trip, grab your binoculars and camera, and head to the Oregon Coast. 

Orcas Island and the San Juan Islands Whale Watching

Orcas Island and the San Juan Islands are extremely popular for whale watching, given that orca (killer) whales live there year-round. Additionally, visitors often spot humpbacks, minkes, and sometimes gray whales as well. 

Professional whale and wildlife tours are your best bet for whale sightings. Usually there are knowledgeable naturalists aboard these tours, and they are phenomenal for pointing out different creatures, even going the extra mile with some educational information and more. It is a great idea to read over the Be Whale Wise guidelines prior to your expedition and remember to keep a respectful distance between you and the whales.

FUN FACT: Free Willy II was filmed in the San Juan Islands. 

Vancouver Island

Chances are that hopping a boat in Vancouver Island between April and October ups the ante for spotting a whale. The area is brimming with whale-watching excursions and charter companies that can get you close to the action and spot orcas, Pacific gray, minke and humpbacks. 

Whale watching tours in the Vancouver Island area originate from the inner harbor of Victoria, Sidney, Sooke, Tofino, Campbell River and Port Hardy, as well as some other places on the island. Bring your camera, binoculars and your sense of adventure. And, of course, all good trips begin with a comfortable home base so choose lodging with that in mind.