The Pacific Northwest is rich with scenic and natural wonders. Surrounded by water, volcanoes, and rainforests, those lucky enough to call this region home are blessed each and every day with staggering displays of beauty in every direction. With stunning views in nearly every city, finding a spot to explore is as easy as pointing to a town on a map, hopping on a ferry, and driving along Highway 101.
And more often than not, most people who explore the Pacific Northwest eventually find themselves in the town of Port Angeles, located on the Olympic Peninsula.
Port Angeles, known locally as P.A., is often referred to as the gateway to Olympic National Park. Nestled between the majestic Olympic Mountains and the picturesque waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the city sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, the majority of which are on their way to the beaches, mountains, and rainforests of Olympic.
While most turn their gaze toward the natural beauty of the land and waters of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, one amazing experience is occurring just off the waters in the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca. Each year, between May and October, the waters off of Port Angeles become more than just a shipping lane for cargo entering and leaving the Pacific Northwest. The warming waters transform P.A. from an international port city into something much more awesome—a hub for some of the best whale watching in the world.
There is nothing quite as majestic as seeing an orca pod swimming free in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. With snowcapped mountains above and tree-lined hills and beaches on the horizon, encountering an orca in the wild is a rare treat right in the PNW's backyard. For many, seeing a whale is a lifelong dream and seeing an orca pod is on the short end of many nature lover’s bucket lists. Luckily, those fortunate enough to live near or visit the Pacific Northwest are just a few hours away from seeing the majestic ocean dwellers. Whale-watching companies in the city of Port Angeles offer visitors a chance for a guaranteed whale sighting on a number of cruises, and recently, an Island Adventure Cruises boat had quite an amazing trip. The day was windy, but within the first hour on the boat, passengers encountered two pods of orca whales, totaling 30 in number.
Sixty minutes away from the entrance to Olympic National Park, 50+ people were about to have one of the best days of whale-watching in their lives. With the glaciers on Mount Carrie visible, peeking over Hurricane Ridge, the two pods of orcas swam, jumped, and rolled for all to see. For over two hours in the summer sun, the passengers on the boat watched in awe as the killer whales followed schools of returning salmon. As the boat sat still, keeping the required legal distance, seven orcas lined up fin to fin in a hunting formation, following the schools of returning Chinook. Later, two orcas swam within fifteen feet of the boat, majestically rolling and surfacing for all to enjoy.
The tours aren’t just about seeing whales.
On the boat, naturalists explain the geology and natural history of the region, helping to give a better understanding about the relationship between man, the sea, and its inhabitants. The trips pass next to lighthouses, historical islands, and small rocky outcroppings which are home to all sorts of sea creatures. Besides seeing orcas, the boats usually encounter a plethora of other sea life, ranging from porpoises, otters, eagles, and seals to even occasional sightings of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. Those who take tours out of Port Angeles also see a few other species of whales, depending on the time of the year. It isn’t uncommon on whale watching trips out of Port Angeles to see minke whales, gray whales, and even humpbacks.
Whale watching is just one more element why the Olympic Peninsula and the Pacific Northwest are arguably the best places in the world for wilderness and nature experiences.
Under the shadows of glaciers and volcanoes, surrounded by old growth forests and wild beaches, the waters off of Port Angeles are something many more people need to experience in their lifetimes. If you are visiting the region or live here, heading up to P.A. and going whale watching will be the perfect end to summer, or the best way to jumpstart your vacation.