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Humpback Whales in Washington

Where, When and How to See Humpback Whales in Washington Waters

Their populations once decimated by whaling, humpbacks are now returning annually to Washington in record numbers, where they linger in the nourishing waters along the Pacific Coast and throughout the Salish Sea.

Because of COVID-19, please take recommended safety precautions if you are planning a future trip, and always check the availability of services, events, amenities and other details before you go.

When are the best times to see humpbacks in Washington?

Summer through fall months bring the best chances for sightings as the whales migrate to and from their winter breeding grounds.

Where can I board a boat for whale-watching tours?

Shipboard opportunities are plentiful, especially from Anacortes, Orcas Island, Port Angeles (an area rich with marine life), Port Townsend, Friday Harbor and Seattle. Passengers on Washington State Ferries sometimes spot humpbacks, orcas and other species of whales and porpoises on their sailings.

Where are the best spots to see whales from the shore?

To catch a glimpse from land, try your luck at Point No Point Lighthouse on the Kitsap Peninsula, Possession Point State Park on Whidbey Island or Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park (read more about this park in our guide to Tacoma).

At the mouth of the Columbia River along U.S. Highway 101, you may catch breaches and spy-hopping near Dismal Nitch and Station Camp set against the picturesque backdrop of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Alternatively, take a longer peek at the Pacific from North Head Lighthouse within Cape Disappointment State Park, a year-round destination for wildlife and, in winter, wild waves.

What rules must I follow to watch responsibly and safely?

All marine mammals are protected under federal law. Never touch, harass or come within 100 yards of a humpback whale. Plan excursions only with licensed tour operators. If you are approached by a whale, remain stationary and wait for it to swim away.

–Written by Lynette Rae McAdams, who has guided readers to incredible humpback experiences in Alaska and Hawaii and spectacular tide pools of the Northwest.
–Top photo of a humpback whale and her calf by Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures. All humpback whale photos were obtained under National Marine Fisheries Service permits 753, 19225 and 13846.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey, and was updated in January 2021.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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