Are you looking for amazing whale-watching Seattle opportunities? Inside, I detail everything I know about Seattle whale watching, what animals to see, and where you can go for the best opportunities.
When I went on my first whale-watching Seattle trip, we saw almost a dozen orcas and three gray whales, and both of the visible volcanos – Rainier and Baker – were showing off. It was a truly memorable experience!
Whale Watching Seattle: Everything to know about booking an amazing trip
I’m super excited to dive into what you need to know about whale watching in Seattle and show you some of my favorite photos!
Seattle Whale Watching Tips
What month is best for whale watching in Seattle?
This is a great question. The easy answer is most of the year because orcas are around the sound often in the winter, and humpbacks and others visit in the summer. However, the weather can be tricky in the winter (Seattle gloom, anyone?), making it a less enjoyable experience.
Your best bet for most Seattle whale-watching trips is in the summer, but if you’re here at other times, there’s still a great shot to see them!
How long was the Seattle Whale Watching trip?
The one I took was around 4 hours and left from Edmonds, which is a 30-minute drive from the Ballard area. In addition to the whale watchign Seattle cost, I bought a muffin and a parking pass. in all, it totaled approximately $180 after taxes.
However, this tour leaves from downtown Seattle, which is much easier to access for most guests.
Where will the Seattle whale watching tour take me?
They have a good idea of where the whales are around Seattle and will go to them. n my trip, we found them very quickly, but for others, you may have to head out a while before tracking them down.
Because our orcas were in the Sound, we stayed in the region before heading up north past Hat Island (where we saw the gray whales).
Is whale watching in Seattle worth it?
Yes, a day out on the water in the PNW is worth it. Now, if you have a great weather day plus see lots of wildlife, it’s one of the best things you can do in Seattle. Even if you aren’t a photographer or enjoy the water, I still think everyone should book it for the experience.
Related: Whale watching in Santa Barbara
What time of year can you see orcas in Seattle?
I’ve lived in Seattle for over a year and found that orcas were most present in winter and spring. I’m not a scientist, so I’m not sure why this might be, but it could track with when salmon/other fish are most present.
Or it has something to do with water temperatures. Either way, spring would be a great time to see orcas while whale watching in Seattle.
What to wear while whale watching in Seattle?
Even if it’s a bluebird day and warm on land, bring a jacket, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. When the boat is at full speed, it can be chilly, and even when it’s floating looking for whales, it is way cooler than onshore.
What else to bring while Seattle whale watching?
You can buy food and drinks onboard, but they’re pricey. Bring snacks and something to drink to save some money.
Where to Go Whale Watching in Seattle For Free
So, you can’t do any tours for free, but there are ways to find and do Seattle whale watching for free. My biggest suggestion is to join the Orca Network on Facebook. It’s a local group that shares where whales are spotted around Seattle.
Most of the time, it’s not near you, but if they are, you can get a good idea of their direction and where to go to see them.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been able to get down to the water and see whales because of this group! Also, I booked my own whale watching Seattle trip because I noticed there were almost a dozen orcas nearby and knew it would be a phenomenal trip!
Hop on a ferry
While not free, hopping on a ferry can give you a great opportunity to see whales that are in the area. In the spring of 2023, a ferry boat was stopped for what seemed like 40 minutes as orcas swam around the boat trying to find seals.
Those passengers got the ride of their lives! (Or they were late to whatever they were headed to!)
Related: Wildlife photography guide
Locations where whales hang out
After tracking the Orca Network for over a year, orcas love to hang out near Tacoma and Vashon Island. Don’t ask me why, but this is where so many people see them and land amazing photographs.
When you’re trying to find places to see whales for free, you want to pick locations that will have the closest to you. For example, Point Defiance has a lot of visibility, and narrow water passages force whales into close proximity of you.
The same goes for further north near Alki Beach, Discovery Park, the ferry line between Edmonds and Kingston, and even better, the passage between Mukilteo and Clinton.
What can I see when I do Seattle Whale Watching?
These are the pride and joy of Seattle. When Orcas come into the sound, people (okay, just me) go haywire and spend all day trying to find them. Thankfully, the whale-watching Seattle tours know where they are, too, and can get you as close as legally possible to see them!
These are less likely to be found in the Puget Sound and tend to be up in the San Juan Islands. But sometimes, they do come down into the more busy Seattle area. If you’re looking for humpbacks, definitely book a whale-watching Seattle trip, as the boat will be able to travel far and wide to see some gorgeous spots.
These are pretty common in Puget Sound, and, for some reason, love Hat Island, which is just north of Edmonds. Gray Whales used to be uncommon here, but their presence has grown quickly over the last 20 years.
While there’s no “spot” for them, you can definitely see them on your tours. However, they are less likely to be spotted on a whale-watching tour than if you go to a river by the North Cascades. If you do spot one, hopefully, you can get it fishing!
These look like dolphins or orcas but obviously are not. They’re smaller but have a fin, so some people get confused, especially in low light or distance. Odds are you’ll see one of these during your Seattle whale watching trip, but if not, you can still spot these from shore.
I actually just saw one while paddleboarding off Golden Gardens.
You’ll definitely see seals or sea lions on your whale watching trip. They are all over the sound and love the nutrient-rich waters we have here.
In addition to Whale Watching Seattle, where else can I go?
You can also head up to the San Juan Islands to go whale watching. This can be done via Bellingham or hopping on a ferry and launching from San Juan Island.
This will give you a better opportunity to see humpbacks and allow you a more scenic tour (hopefully, Mt. Baker is out) versus going through the sound, which is more commercialized.
Related: Best hikes in Washington
FAQ: Whale Watching Seattle
What are the boating rules regarding whale watching in Seattle?
There are very strict rules about how close you can get to orcas and other whales.
- Endangered Southern Resident Orcas (fish-eating): 300 years parallel and 400 yards front/back
- Bigg’s Transient Orcas (mammal-eating): 200 yards
- Baleen Whales and other marine mammals: 100 yards
- Slow to under knots within 1/2 mile of whales
What camera and lens should I bring for whale watching Seattle?
In an ideal world, you want a lens that can reach 400-600mm. I own a 150-600 Tamron G2, perfect for wildlife photography.
You’ll get incredible photos with that much zoom, though your videos will be shaky, as it’s hard to control the shake that zoomed in, plus with waves.
Are there whales in Seattle?
Yes! Seattle is known for amazing whale-watching opportunities, and it happens almost year-round. You’ll be able to see orcas, humpbacks, gray whales, porpoises, and even dolphins. It’s a remarkable display of wildlife in a bustling city.
What other west coast locations have great whale watching?
Outside of whale watching Seattle, you can find amazing tours in San Diego (CA), Monterey (CA), Santa Barbara (CA), Juneau (AK), Seward (AK), and Depot Bay (OR).
Final Thoughts on Whale Watching Seattle
The whale watching Seattle team does such a great job that you will have the time of your life. I loved every second of it, and the naturalists onboard do a wonderful job educating passengers on the whales, wildlife, Seattle, and much more!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
Heading to the North Cascades? Check out my Guide.