Captain Ahab may have had an easier time finding Moby Dick if he had started his expedition in the Pacific Northwest. The rugged coastlines of Washington and Oregon host thousands of resident and migrating whales every year, offering wonderful spots for whale watching around every cape and corner. There are so many great choices, it can feel positively over-whale-ming!
To help you narrow down your search, we’re taking a look at four spots for whale watching in the Pacific Northwest. These great locations offer stunning ocean views, frequent whale sightings, and local guides to help you make the most of your whale watching adventure. You won’t even need to pack your sailing shoes - just a good map, a strong pair of binoculars, and a patient but steady eye.
Despite Stephanie Meyer’s popular tale, vampires aren’t the most exciting thing you’ll see sparkling under the sun in Port Angeles, Washington. The area is a popular whale-watching destination thanks to its prime location near the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, where hundreds of humpback whales gather each summer to feed in the cold, nutrient-dense waters. During the peak season you may also catch a glimpse of grey whales, orcas, and even the elusive minke whale breaching from the depths.
Best of all, there are prime spots for whale watching around every corner. There are several local whale tours to choose from, with many companies offering daily tours from the convenient Port Angeles harbor. If you prefer to stay on dry land, the Olympic Coast Discovery Center is an official site on the west coast Whale Trail that offers miles of protected coastline where you can see majestic whales right from the shore. No matter what you choose, you’ll be just 15 minutes from West of the Elwah, a rustic cabin framed by the majestic Olympic Mountains.
Just 30 minutes south of Port Angeles, the charming town of Sequim sits right near the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. The largest natural sand spit in the United States, Dungeness shelters a bay rich in marine life, including seals, sea lions, and pods of orcas. From the refuge bluffs you have a perfect view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a popular passage point for orcas from spring to fall. If you’re feeling adventurous, hike the 6.8-mile spit for the chance at a more rare (but much more personal) view of whales playing in the waves.
For the best Sequim whale experience, choose a rental like our 10,000 Waves Shorefront Cabin. It’s just 10 minutes from the Dungeness Spit and offers private tidelands where your group can hunt for smaller - but just as stunning - marine species.
Pacific City, Oregon
From December to January and again in late March, nearly 20,000 gray whales swim within half a mile of the Oregon coastline as they make their bi-annual migration from the frigid waters of Alaska to their breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico. During peak migration times, as many as 30 whales per hour swim near the shore! The best places for land-based watching are high elevations that overlook the ocean, such as the popular Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon.
This sandstone headline is one of three capes along the Oregon coast and extends nearly half a mile into the Pacific Ocean, offering a perfect overhead view of the whale migration. When you reach the top, search for spouts on the surface (they can reach as high as 12 feet) and zoom into the area with binoculars. When you’ve looked your fill, it’s less than half a mile back to The Rock House #140, a private beachfront home that offers easy access to all of Pacific City.
The charming city of Nehalem, Oregon offers easy access to some of the best whale watching locations on the coast. It’s just 90 minutes west of Portland and a short but scenic drive from Ecola State Park, Cape Meares, and Cape Lookout.
It’s even closer to Neahkahnie Mountain, a 1,600-foot viewpoint that showcases miles of unimpeded coastline views. The summit is an official location of Whale Watching Spoken Here, a program that places volunteers at 26 Oregon locations to help visitors see and learn about migrating and resident gray whales. The Purcell House rental is nestled right at the mountain base, keeping you within walking distance of the whales all season long.