San Juan Island is really about whales, whales, whales. From the whale tour boats on the harbor to the parks where you can see whales – everyone wants a glimpse of the mystical orcas. We found a wide variety of prices, service and style from the various whale tours on the island. If you’ve ever been to a tourist destination such as Hawaii — you’ll find the whale tours to be a similarly aggressive marketing plan. Every streetcorner has a different angle on the whale tours, with many convincing salespeople routing you to the same tours. Check out our photos of a couple of the whale tour boats to give you an idea of the typical whale tour from San Juan Safaris and XXXXX Tours.
We tried out two parks which require a drive from Friday Harbor — Lime Kiln and American Camp. In general – the sooner you get out of Friday Harbor’s touristy mess – the better. It’s a tourist trap and a necessary evil — but the lucky folks can get out easily to enjoy the island’s natural beauty that they came for. Lime Kiln is popular as it offers whale watching right from the shore and is a naturalist spot for analysis of whale volumes. The narrow trail along the shore at Lime Kiln lets you see a broad view of the water and an occasional whale.
The park estimates you have about a 23% chance of seeing a whale on any given day between May and August. The park includes a historic lighthouse that is a popular destination for visitors. There is also an abandoned lime factory (“kiln”) where lime was powdered, dried, and seperated in days past. We liked the park even though we didn’t see any whales. There was a friendly visitor center that provided a ton of information on whales and the park’s best activities.
American Camp is a very different park from Lime Kiln as it is known for historic battle encampments and miltary history. The “redoubt” allows you to see a panoramic view of multiple beautiful national parks and mountains. The long shoreline covered with pebbles, sand, and drifted logs is perfect for a beach bonfire or picnic. I wouldn’t plan any swimming at American Camp, but the friendly visitor center will direct you on a variety of hikes depending on your interest. The water views are great and the trails far more easy to traverse than Lime Kiln.
Whale Watching Tour Boats: