Outer Island Expeditions on Orcas Island is a great way to see what the San Juan Islands have to offer. With many outdoors activities and lodging options to choose from, you do not need to only visit Orcas Island to book a tour with them. Outer Island Expeditions has other locations away from Orcas Island. However, since we spent our time at this location, I will be reviewing this one only. Their office is located just outside of Eastsound past the airport. There is short term parking outside, along with additional parking lots depending on the tour. We had a little down time before our tour, so we walked on the beach front and sat around an empty fire pit on Adirondack chairs. It was a nice way to relax and take in the scenery. San Juan Islands are located in the Puget Sound just north of Seattle, WA. The two most popular tourist islands are San Juan Island and Orcas Island. WSDOT’s ferry system allows for easy travel to and from the islands from the main land.
At the end of the tourist season, we decided to book our tours for a chance to see some whales. What we got was much more.
Even though the temperatures were in the 50s and 60s, we did not have any rain in the forecast for the weekend. I layered my clothing for the boat tour since I tend to be more on the cold side. The wind was brisk, but I ended up sitting outside on the boat for almost the entire journey. Outer Island Expeditions has two tour times for the whale watching and two boats. We were on the Black Fish II, the larger of the two boats. The Triton also went out with us and followed us through the islands in the Puget Sound. Our first spotting opportunity was wildlife on Spieden Island. As we watched fallow deer graze on the grass before climbing the high terrain away from us. As we were leaving the island, a seal continued to pop out of the water to entertain our tour.
The second stop would be to watch humpback whales spout and surface before diving for more food. We watched at a far distance as drifting between the Canadian and US border. A few waves of their tails meant deeper dives and longer waiting between the dives. Outer Island Expeditions still had more to show us, so we cruised onward.
Humpback Whale Diving
As we headed towards the orcas, Dall porpoises played in front of the boat. An older lady on the boat would yell “yes” every time one of them breached, which was comical. I tried to hold in my laughter as I filmed them playing in front of us. After talking to Ashley, our guide, she said she rarely sees them this playful.
Pod of Dall Porpoises
Dall Porpoises Playing
After the Dall porpoises gave up, it was off to see the transient orcas. Other boats were surrounding and following them as they hunted seals along the coast of an island. Apparently they differ than resident orcas by covering long distances while hunting. We found this to be true as they drove for roughly five minutes before surfacing far away from us. Captain Paul would get decently close before they dived again leaving us wondering where they were headed.
Transient Orca Whales or Killer Whales
After all the excitement of cruising to find marine wildlife, we finished by drifting through kelp and seaweed areas before returning to Orcas Island. Outside of the above mentioned animals, we were able to spot a few bald eagles flying around the islands, along with harbor seals and sea lions. Overall, our captain did not get too close to the whales. There are laws pertaining to whale watching, which other companies did not seem to follow. Since I did not go to the upper deck, I did not interact much with Captain Paul. Ashley did provide great information and detail if asked letting the passengers control the tour. It was nice because she did not give us the same spiel as all the other tours and was not interrupting our experience with detail we may not want to hear.
Again, we were lucky with weather. Fortunately, Outer Island Expeditions had more people sign up for the our tour time at 1 pm, so we did not have to go on the earlier one. Outer Island staff make sure there are at least four signed up for the tour to make it worth their time. Demi, our guide, was waiting for us. After getting free water and snacks, she provided life vests and instructions. After picking out our kayaks, she instructed us on how to kayak properly to stay dry. No wetsuits/dry-suits were provided, only the bare essentials were.
Andy Getting the Kayak Ready
With Mt. Baker in clear view, we kayaked with our backs away from it towards Point Doughty. After learning it is impossible to drive to the point (we drove on some private drives by mistake the day before), I was excited to kayak up to it. The point is only accessible by kayaks (and paddle boards).
Leaving Outer Island Expeditions with Mt. Baker in Sight
As we paddled two miles to the point, wildlife put on a show. Harbor seals sun bathed on rocks right off the coast, while sea lions swam in the distant waters. As the shoreline became rocky, neon purple starfish started to appear under the water. I have never seen starfish before were hard to photograph.
Approaching Point Doughty
After kayaking around the point, we stowed the kayaks on a rocky beach and took the stairs to Point Doughty. Here we were able to take pictures, snack, and relax before heading back the two miles to end the tour. The point has a rudimentary toilet facility and picnic table. Before we left, Demi spotted some harbor porpoises playing in the distance.
Andy and I on Point Doughty
By the time we left the point, our kayaks were almost in the water. The tide was rising. On the way back, we kayaked between two rocks making up Point Doughty since the water level had risen. It was only a short amount of time, but it was still fun to navigate away from open waters. Outer Island Expeditions sells many Groupon, LivingSocial, and TravelZoo vouchers for discounted tour options throughout the year. I bought two vouchers for the Whale-Watching Cruise in the San Juans for $55 a piece awhile ago before researching the best times to see the migrating whales, which are in May and October. I also bought two gift vouchers for my brother and friend when they were visiting Seattle in the summer. Their gift vouchers included an Orcas Island: Guided Kayak Tour for $39 a piece. My brother was not able to use his vouchers during his visit, so Andy and I kept them for future use. I did not receive any compensation for this post. I enjoyed Outer Island Expeditions and wanted to share my experience with my readers. All opinions and observations are 100% my own.
Would you go on a whale watching tour?
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