Whales, Water, and Wildlife of the San Juan Islands, Washington
- Kayak along the shoreline, inlets, and bays of San Juan Island
- Capture a view of the life of orca whales, sea lions, and other wildlife while cruising between the islands
- Savor the abundant life from the northwest ecosystems, from beaches to forestlands
- Five-hour kayaking trip, including gear and guide, at a relaxing to moderate pace
- Private whale-watching cruise around San Juan Island
- Transportation from Washington Ferry Terminal at Anacortes to San Juan Island; to lodging and recreational areas on San Juan Island
|Dates||Sep 7–12, 2014|
Coast Salish people have harvested and gathered on the San Juan Islands for 12,000 years, reaping the riches of the sea and forests. Designation of the San Juan Islands National Monument was formalized by President Obama in March 2013 because of the vast and unique biological life and environmental conditions found here.
Discover some of these same riches as you immerse yourself in the beauty of the San Juan Islands, from the serene sunsets over the islands to the spellbinding orca whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Join us in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, home to both transient and resident orca whales. Learn about the current culture, flora and fauna, and history of these islands. For six days we will be exploring the forests and beaches, from Fidalgo Island to San Juan Island. The majority of the trip is on San Juan Island. For part of the trip we will stay at Roche Harbor, which is on the National Register of Historical Sites. At this very popular marine harbor, we will see small boats to million-dollar boats moving in and out of the harbor.
Each day’s schedule brings you a new experience on the diverse island of San Juan. This intriguing island has prairies, forests, and extensive sandy and rocky shorelines. We will walk the shores, paddle its waters, and hike the hills for expansive views of Washington state and Canada. You will discover the beauty of the San Juan Islands as well as the historical use of the land -- by the Native people for food and by nonnatives for its lime and lumber. You will learn about the border disputes of past and present threats to the waterways of the San Juan Islands.
Gliding along the shoreline and moving among a maze of inlets and bays, we will kayak to view the islands from a water perspective. We have seen shorebirds, Great Blue Herons, eagles, river otters, and an occasional porpoise or seal on the day’s trip. Artists and residence homes can be seen from the shore, and boats of all kind snake through the popular waters of Roche Harbor.
Our hikes will be through Northwest forests, prairie lands, and beaches, each presenting its own unique ecosystem. As we walk the beaches on San Juan, we will search for the invertebrates critical to the life of the islands’ food chain. We will hike up the trails to the top of the hills and view the archipelago of islands below, with endless bays and inlets, that make up the incredible beauty of the San Juan Islands.
While traveling across the island, we will see how the local residents live. We will see evidence of farming, developing vineyards, artistry, and, of course, marine-related ventures scattered throughout the island. This island is populated and has been treasured by European Americans for over 170 years. Therefore this is not a strictly “wilderness” experience. Seeing the islands after the tourist season in the fall will be to our advantage.
We will tour the Whale Museum to prepare you for understanding the extraordinary and unique differences in the two pods of orca whales. One pod, the Southern Resident pod, is classified as an endangered species by both the federal governments of Canada and the United States. In 2011 there were 88 Southern Resident orcas counted in this area. A day trip aboard the whale-watching boat circles the island to the south side, facing the Olympic Peninsula, where both the transient and resident orca whales reside. We hope and expect to see more than orcas. We often see sea lions, seals, porpoises, and a variety of marine birds along with the breathtaking landscape of the Olympic Peninsula and distant Victoria, Canada. Once you see the beauty and abundance of this ecosystem, the threats of coal barges, ocean acidification, and loss of whale food supplies will sharpen your interest in how to save this unique part of the world.
Day 1: We will meet at Washington Park, in Anacortes, WA. This is a 220-acre city park with a 2.2-mile walking loop. This park is a perfect introduction to the NW ecosystem, where the ocean meets the forest. A naturalist will introduce us to the Northwest flora and fauna of the islands as we walk the 2.2-mile forest loop around the peninsula. From the park, in the best of weather, we will see the Olympic Mountains and many of the San Juan Islands. We will picnic at the water’s edge then head to the ferry. Travel to San Juan Island by ferry will take about an hour or so, depending on the summer schedule, which will be published in May 2014. On arrival at San Juan Island, we will take time to visit the popular town of Friday Harbor, then go on to our lodging at Juniper Lane Lodge. We will cook our first meal together at the lodge.
Day 2: In preparation for the whale cruise, we will go to the Whale Museum for a private tour and talk about the transient and residential orca whale populations. The rest of the day will be on the trails at American Camp National Historic Park. This is a remarkable area of the island because it has three distinct ecosystems (forest, prairie, and beach) within one day’s walk.
Day 3: We are moving to Roche Harbor and into our cabins today. Roche Harbor is a small bay with access to a few shops and a general store. It is on the National Register of Historical Sites. It has a beautiful marine harbor, an old historic hotel with Victorian gardens, bocce courts, and a sculpture garden. And did we mention the heated outdoor pool for our enjoyment?! Today we are going on a kayak trip to see the island from the water’s perspective as we glide along the shoreline, moving among a maze of inlets and bays.
Day 4: Today is a relaxing day at Roche Harbor, combined with a trip to English Camp. We will see where the British set up camp in 1859 during a border dispute with the United States, which all started over a pig. We will hike to the top of the hill that has a wonderful view of Canada and other outer San Juan Islands weather permitting, of course!
Day 5: We will meet at the dock to board the chartered boat for our trip around the south side of San Juan to search for orca whales and other wildlife. When we return to Roche Harbor, we will have free time to swim in the heated swimming pool, play bocce, stroll on the docks, or visit the nearby sculpture park. No group cooking dinner tonight! Tonight we have a farewell dinner together at the McPherson Restaurant.
Day 6: This morning we head back to Friday Harbor for free time in town until we board the ferry and head back to Anacortes. The trip ends with a farewell from the Anacortes ferry dock! Ferry departure and arrival to Anacortes is dependent on the summer schedule published in May 2014.
From Seattle and/or Sea-Tac Airport: Take I-5 North to Burlington. Take Hwy 20 West to Anacortes. From downtown Seattle it takes about 1.5-2 hours to drive to Anacortes, always dependent on traffic and what time of day one leaves Seattle! More details will be given prior to the trip.
From Bellingham, WA: Take I-5 South to Burlington. Take Hwy 20 West to Anacortes. You can expect this to be an hour drive.
It is recommended that participants plan an overnight stay in Anacortes the Saturday night before we meet on Sunday. A variety of price-point accommodations in Anacortes will be provided to participants.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying at a guesthouse near Friday Harbor for two nights. This is a green hotel, as they proudly call it, because it was built with recycled materials, plus they manage the guesthouse with this philosophy. “We aim to tread as light as possible on the planet while providing guests with a fun, comfortable, and relaxing stay.”
For three evenings we will be at the historic seaside village of Roche Harbor (established in 1886). Our accommodations are cabins at Roche Harbor Resort. Each cabin is fully furnished with pillows, linens, and towels. Each has a fully equipped, full-size kitchen, where we will share cooking meals for the week. The cabins face the water with partial views of the harbor and a simple walk to the outdoor heated swimming pool. We will have complimentary pool passes and bocce court passes. There are fire pits and picnic tables at each cabin.
On the first day, Sunday, we will meet at Washington Park in Anacortes and participants will bring their own lunch. For the rest of the trip, participants and leaders will prepare breakfasts and dinners using a preplanned menu, from Monday-Friday morning. Each day participants will make their own lunch with food provided. We will have a farewell dinner at the lovely Roche Harbor restaurant Thursday evening.
The trip difficulty is moderate. Hiking terrains are sandy and rocky beaches, and elevated climbs through forests and prairie lands. The highest climb will be 380 feet. Hikes will last four to six hours, with breaks for lunch and snacks. Proper shoes and socks are needed for these conditions. Closed-toed shoes or hiking boots are recommended for all walking/hiking conditions.
The kayak trip is planned as a “moderate to casual paddling” trip that enhances opportunities for photography and enjoying the marine ecosystem. It is a five-hour trip, though, so participants should be prepared for this, both physically and mentally. Everyone should be prepared with appropriate clothing for potentially cool and rainy weather for any day of the trip.
Equipment and Clothing
Plan on a variety of weather conditions that likely will include rain, wind, sunshine, and temperatures ranging from 45-75 degrees. Participants are encouraged to be prepared for the range of possible conditions with layered clothing. Bring well-broken-in hiking shoes, sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, bug repellent, and a day pack for lunch and personal items. Closed-toed shoes or hiking boots are recommended for all walking/hiking conditions. No special equipment is required. All the kayaking gear, paddles, kayaks, and safety vests will be provided. A flashlight or headlamp is always important for emergencies. All personal medication and special needs should be included in packing for the trip.
- Official Travel Guide San Juan Islands: http://www.visitsanjuans.com/
- National Park Service History and Culture: http://www.nps.gov/sajh/historyculture/thefirstones.htm
- Center For Whale Research: http://www.whaleresearch.com/facts.html
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/orca/Conservation
Coal train and shipping through the San Juan Islands and the state of Washington:
Peabody Energy plans to mine enough new coal to ship to China and other parts of Asia at an estimated rate of 144 million tons per year. To do this, mines in Wyoming and Montana will export coal in open rail cars through a corridor of Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. This represents an additional 38-62 trains per day. Plans, hearings, and permits are moving forward to add five major terminals in Oregon and Washington for the export of coal to Asia. Negative outcomes are expected to affect fisheries, marine ecosystems, and human health and quality of life.
There will be:
1) An addition of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide gasses into the environment from coal burning, along with multitude of other particulates released from open-bin train cars carrying the coal.
2) Increased traffic through the San Juan Islands, also increasing shipping and noise pollution for marine mammals.
3) The release of pollution into the atmosphere and waters, causing toxic conditions and increasing acidification of the oceans.
Multiple threats to the orca whale populations:
The current orca whales are threatened by high levels of industrial toxic contaminants, overfishing, and the destruction of their habitat. Industrial pollution takes a toll on the whales' immune systems and creates other health problems. Several man-made disturbances that threaten these animals include: 1) The type of noise created by ships, and industrial and military activity leads to disturbances of the animals' echolocation. Echolocation is used by whales for navigation and finding food. 2) Fishing line and gear entanglements endangering them and killing their prey.
Acidification of the oceans and its effect on the natural habitats of the San Juans:
Ocean acidification means that the ocean’s pH level is getting lower than its “average." While the ocean is still alkaline in nature (not an acid), currently pH level is reported to have changed from 8.25 to 8.14. This change in equilibrium has a direct negative effect on plankton life, which are the base of the entire food chain for marine life. Acidification threatens all life and conditions of the ocean.
In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
- Carbon Offsets
- Electronic Billing and Forms
- Electronic Devices
- How to Apply for a Trip
- Leader Gratuities
- Liability Release and Assumption of Risk
- Medical Issues
- Non-discrimination Statement
- Participant Approval
- Reservation and Cancellation Policy
- Seller of Travel Disclosure
- Travel Insurance
- Trip Feedback
- Trip Price
- Wilderness Manners