Friday & Roache Harbors, San Juan Island, Washington State
By Eugene Buchanan | October 2010
Few places rival the serenity of Washington’s San Juan Island for sea kayaking. It’s one of the best places in the world to watch whales from the seat of your cockpit, who frequent the nutrient-rich waters of Haro Strait, and easily accessible via the state’s ferry system.
If you have a car, you can simply drive off the ferry to start your adventure. If you don’t (note: ferries often get overloaded in the summer), your best bet is to wheel your boat with a kayak cart off the ramp and into town. From there, you can put in at the nearest beach or call San Juan Transit (make reservations; www.sanjuantransit.com) to shuttle you out to your launch point.
One of the best is right out of the bay in Roche Harbor halfway around the island. From here you can take an entire day to wend your way out of the harbor, past Pearl Bay around McCracken Point and on toward Henry Island. En route you’ll paddle over sea cucumbers and sea stars; marvel over moon and water jellies (and tentacle-filled Lion’s Mane jellyfish, hovering like aliens in outer space); soar over fields of gently swaying eel grass, the “nursery of the San Juans”; pop rockweed (whose gel acts as sunscreen) and squeeze Dead Man’s Fingers with your fingers; snack on vitamin C- and iodine-rich kelp; ogle eagles; and cavort with seals feasting in Haro Strait.
You can head out for as short or long as you like, from a simple two-hour round-trip outing to a mutli-day trip taking you around the island. The only caveat: pay attention to the local weather forecast. The west side of the island is exposed to currents and winds that can careen in from the Straits of San Juan de Fuca
If You Go: Try the Earthbox Motel (www.earthboxmotel.com) in Friday Harbor, which offers free cruiser bikes to guests to tool around town. For a guided sea kayak trip, try San Juan Island Outfitters (www.sanjuanislandoutfitters.com), which operates out of both Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor and offers everything from afternoon to multi-day sea kayaking excursions. Best time of year: May-September.
Other Activities: Make sure to tour the local whale museum, where your ticket pairs you with a local whale (ours was Bellena, a female member of pod L90 born in 1993) and kids can adorn themselves with whale costumes. It’s also worth the time to pick up some wine (from San Juan Wineries), French bread and cheese and take the scenic drive to Lime Kiln State Park where, where you can watch orcas breach at sunset 40 yards from your picnic perch.
Camping: Extend your trip by over-nighting on San Juan Island, or crossing over to state park sites throughout other islands. One of the best: San Juan County Park along the west side of San Juan Island, about a four-mile paddle out of Roche Harbor (reservations recommended). The park includes rocky bluffs and gravel beaches overlooking Haro Strait, with views to the Straits of San Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island and often breaching orcas. Park amenities include 20 campsites ($32/night, sleeping four) with water, flush toilets, a small picnic shelter, picnic tables, and beach and boat launch. Info: (360) 378-8420; www.sanjuanco.com/parks. Another option: Posey Island (www.stateparks.com/posey_island) near Roche Harbor, at high tide the smallest state park in the country with two lone campsites atop a rocky bluff.
More Info. San Juan Islands Visitor Info, (888) 468-3701; State Ferries, (800) 84-FERRY; www.sanjuanweb.com.