your paddlesports destination

Orcas Island / San Juan Islands in Washington

Trip Overview

So my wife and I went to visit friends who are renting a place on Orcas Island, in the San Juans. We have been there before and usually bring our own boats, but our friends told us they had kayaks we could use. We arrived on Saturday, and did a lot of running around, planning to paddle on Sunday, until we realized that the "kayaks" that they had were little 9 footers, not at all suitable for those waters. So we tried to rent kayaks... after several speeches from local outfitters about tidal currents, we found that you pretty much can't rent kayaks on the island.

We were advised to check with a guy on the island who makes his own boats, and found that he doesn't really rent either, but we opted to take a guided trip with his company. I was really impressed. The boats were built in the style of traditional Alaskan kayaks, with wood frames, and waterproofed canvas skins stretched over them (apparently, you can't use sealskins anymore). I was kind of dreading the ride in this thing, but after I took a seat, I was pleasantly surprised. The seats were made completely of minicell foam, with a nice NRS backband. The guide compared them to paddling a Lazy-boy.

We paddled out from the north side of the Island just before sunset, toward Sucia Island, a big state park, passing Parker's reef wildlife refuge. It was a spectacular day, mostly calm, with some small waves, and of course a pretty good tidal current edging us east one moment and west the next.

The guide told us that the currents cause the most problems out here for the uninitiated, sometimes leading to Coast Guard rescues. Several seals followed us for most of the trip. We also encountered a pod of Porpoises, who swam right along with us for a while as we were on our way back to Orcas. I also just missed getting a great shot of a Bald Eagle that flew right over us!

In all, it was a great day, though we usually don't do guided trips, I think it was worth it this time, since the currents are tricky and those boats are just plain awesome. I still can't believe how fast that thing was, to be that roomy and comfortable. We already have plans to build our own.

We really want to go back and spend a few days on Sucia Island, maybe in September, which our guide told us when most of the tourists are gone. I would definitely recommend Orcas, particularly the north side as a great place to paddle.


Launches on the Island are few. We launched out of Bartwood Lodge, a nice little resort on the north side of the island (sorry I don't have the number).

We went out with Osprey Tours and Handmade Kayaks 360-376-3677 (they include a photo cd, which we don't have yet, but I'm attaching a snapshot of one of the boats that I took... the funny hats are traditional whale hunting visors that the outfitter has. They kind of collect sound, and do a great job of keeping the sun out of your eyes.)


From Seattle, go north toward Burlington, take to exit for Anacortes, follow the signs to SJI Ferry, take the ferry to Orcas.


Osprey Tours and Handmade Kayaks


Just our guide, Kelly. If I were doing it on my own, I would say at least a good map, and Capt. Jack's, or current atlas (and know how to use it).
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip