Orcas, with their distinctive black and white spots, are an awe-inspiring sight in the wild. Each year, groups of these fascinating creatures make their way along the rugged Pacific Coast of the United States. There are plenty of viewing opportunities near many vacation rentals. Whether your ideal getaway spot is the sun-soaked shores of California or the wild glaciers of Alaska, it’s easy to find the perfect spot to watch whales. Each of these locations is known for its natural beauty and abundance of killer whales.
1. Salish Sea, Washington
The Salish Sea, a complex network of canals and waterways off of the coast of northwestern Washington, is one of the best places to see orcas in the United States. Most visitors book vacation rentals in the San Juan Islands, a picturesque archipelago located an easy drive from Seattle. From March through October, pods of killer whales come to feed on the salmon runs, so it’s easy to spot the majestic animals in the wild. Book a tour through local operators such as San Juan Safaris in Friday Harbor or San Juan Outfitters in Roche Harbor; if you want to get up close to the marine mammals, try the adventurous Western Prince Western Explorer tour, which uses an inflatable zodiac-style boat. Another great option is Lime Kiln Point State Park, where you can see whales and sea lions right from the shore. While you’re in the islands, be sure to try popular local activities such as sea kayaking and hiking Mount Constitution in Moran State Park.
2. Prince William Sound, Alaska
Home to more than 200 resident killer whales, Prince William Sound gives you a great probability of seeing the animals in the wild from mid-May through mid-June. Book your stay in the beautiful village of Seward, a charming fishing village at the base of enormous mountains. From there, you can hop on the Orca Quest Cruise with Major Marine Tours. As the captain navigates to local orca hot spots, you can learn about local wildlife from expert naturalists and listen to the whale calls on the boat’s hydrophone. If you’re staying near Eshamy Bay or Whittier, check out a whale-watching tour with Prince William Sound Adventures. The captains frequently shut down the boat engines, so you can watch the whales in peace; you might even see an orca swim right up to the silent boat to investigate. After your tour, explore the ice caves on Byron Glacier, hike to Horsetail Falls, or marvel at huge schools of spawning salmon from the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform.
3. Inside Passage, Alaska
Keep an eye out for leaping orcas while you take in some of Alaska’s most magnificent scenery in the Inside Passage, a network of waterways along the southern panhandle of the state. If sightseeing is high on your list, it’s hard to beat the Glacier Bay area. Stay in Gustavus for easy access to tours with The Taz, which offers the chance to see orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, and porpoises. From September through May, the boat is also permitted to enter Glacier Bay; alternatively, you can see the glacier aboard the National Park Service boat from nearby Bartlett Cove. For a truly thrilling experience, book vacation rentals in Ketchikan and head out for a kayak tour of Orcas Cove with Southeast Sea Kayaks. Here, you can get close to the enormous animals, and if you’re lucky, see one pass right next to your boat.
4. Monterey, California
Enjoy a sunny whale-watching vacation in Monterey, a seaside town perched on jagged cliffs. Just offshore, a deep submarine canyon provides plenty of food for orcas, giving you plenty of chances to see them year-round. Most orcas in the area are the gentle resident variation. If you’re hoping to see the transient orcas, which are famous for hunting seals and baby whales, come from mid-April to mid-May as they travel through the Pacific toward Alaska. While you’re in town, Choose from a huge variety of orca cruises. For small groups, Fast Raft’s compact boats provide a fun, adventurous ride and chances to get close to the orcas, while Princess Monterey Whale Watching offers indoor and outdoor viewing areas on two decks. Don’t miss Monterey’s many other fantastic attractions, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Big Sur State Park, and Cannery Row.
5. Vancouver Island, Canada
Enjoy a no-stress international getaway on Vancouver Island, which is a quick flight or ferry ride from Seattle. From April through October, this large island buzzes with visitors in town to see killer whales. Victoria makes a great home base; from here, you can select whale-watching tours from companies including SpringTide and Orca Spirit. If you’re concerned about sustainability, check out Eagle Wing Whale and Wildlife Tours, which is dedicated to conservation and protection. To get off the beaten path, head north to Telegraph Cove, where North Island Kayak provides paddle trips to see orcas in the wild. Off the water, Vancouver Island is packed with family friendly attractions, such as the Butchart Gardens, Mount Washington Alpine Resort, and the lovely Craigdarroch Castle.
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