Summer along Washington's vast and prolific coastline is a twitterpated, colorful affair. Pregnant buds burst into bloom, madrone trees along the shoreline flash fresh, bright green leaves, and the sea follows suit—hosting hundreds of migrating bird species returning to summering waters. Whales dance through sun-warmed waves, seals sunbathe on toasted rocks, and you'd do yourself a big favor to catch a glimpse of it all.
Washington boasts one of the most rugged and wild coastlines in the country, and it is replete with crashing waves and wide-open views. Though the exposed shoreline hosts some of the best camping and hiking in the country, it's vulnerability to the restless Pacific Ocean all but eliminates its appeal for anyone but the most experienced paddlers. We suggest traveling to more protected waters where the swell is calmer and island hopping is the activity of choice. Cue: The San Juan Islands.
With fewer rainy days than both Seattle and Portland, more shoreline than any other county in the United States, and a fresh designation as a new national monument, the San Juan Islands top the charts when it comes to paddling. Truly, the options are nearly endless with overnight missions serving intrepid campers to leisure day trips replete with curious sea lions and primordial jellyfish. Find some of our favorites below, then cruise down to the adventures featured below that for even more.
Please ALWAYS abide by the tenets of Leave No Trace. Only build a fire in fire rings (trust us, there are plenty), give wildlife plenty of space, and pack out what you pack in.
A popular spot to put in is Orcas Island because of frequent, relatively inexpensive ferry stops. On a sunny day, Sucia Island is visible from Orcas Island's northern shore, making it an easy paddle for novice overnighters and a cinch to navigate. Upon arrival at Sucia Island (or any of the other 10 islands in the archipelago) sandy beaches abound, as do cozy campsites. For Spanish language buffs out there, it was given the name "Sucia" (which translates to "dirty") in the 1800s by a Spanish Captain because of the dangerous reefs and hidden rocks near shore.
Paddling north from Sucia Island earns access into some of the northernmost waters of the San Juan Islands and a 145-acre National Wildlife Refuge. Expect more advanced navigation rewarded by glorious solitude and an unparalleled abundance of wildlife.
Lummi Island is a popular weekend trip for tourists, boasting cutesy boutique hotels, handmade wares, and incredible views. This is beneficial for relatively cheap travel to the island and makes for an exceptionally sweet escape into solitude upon beelining for Clark Island State Park. The 5-mile paddle is no joke, but it is an exceptional reward—15 campsites dot the stunning, skinny island.
In search of a paddle that doesn't first necessitate a ferry ride? Paddling around the new Dungeness Lighthouse is tops. Declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1915 (are you seeing the pattern here?) by President Woodrow Wilson, it's constantly peppered with hundreds of migratory seabirds, harbor seals, and myriad species of salmon.