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Washington state is known for its rain and its beautiful natural landscapes, as well as being famed for its coffee houses. But it’s also known for its scenic Pacific coastline and the large number of kayaking opportunities that can be found there.
This northwestern corner of the USA has plenty of water, from the ocean and tranquil bays to lakes and rivers. There’s something for everyone. But trying to narrow it down to just a few destinations can be tricky.
So that’s why we’ve put together a little guide to kayaking in Washington, with a few of our favorite spots to kayak around the state.
Why Is Kayaking So Popular In This Area?
Nature And Wildlife
The Pacific Northwest can be a paradise for any outdoor enthusiast and Washington State is right in the heart of it. While the Evergreen State can be a fantastic place for all sorts of popular outdoor activities, one of the most well known activities in the state is probably kayaking.
You may have seen many of the images, seen videos, or read tales of kayakers paddling along with orcas swimming alongside them. Off the coast of Washington is one of the places where this is possible.
With Washington’s largest and most populated city, Seattle, being right on the coast of the Puget Sound, with access to the Pacific Ocean, water and water sports are an important part of life for the city and the state.
Washington is filled with mountains, forests and miles of coastline and you can be surrounded by stunning scenery just about anywhere in the state. With all this nature, it can be a wonderful place for spotting wildlife, particularly birds and marine life.
There’s an abundance of lakes and rivers across the state, not to mention the Pacific Ocean, which makes it a great kayaking destination, no matter what type of kayaking you’re after. The Evergreen State can also be a great place to fish, so make sure you have your Washington fishing permit.
In fact, fishing has become so popular in Washington that the state government has launched its own Fish Washington app. This app can give you advice on up to date fishing regulations for every body of water in the state, including every river, lake, stream and coastal area.
There are many bodies of water where you can fish from your kayak and enjoy the state’s beautiful scenery.
What About Kayak Fishing?
To fish in Washington state, you will need a fishing license, which can be purchased online through the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Everyone who is over the age of 15 will need one.
Salmon is a popular fish to catch in Washington and can be caught in a range of lakes and rivers in the state. Each area has a particular time of year when the salmon fishing will tend to be better.
You can check each river, lake and ocean area to find out what type of fish might be biting and what times might be best. The state fishing app will also let you keep up to date with fishing information while you’re on the go, which is great if you’re traveling around the state.
Washington State: Popular Places To Go Kayaking
1: Lake Washington
This large lakes sits to the east of the city of Seattle, between Seattle and Bellevue, making it easily accessible. Even though the lake has cities on either side, it can offer a relaxing day on the water.
There are several beach parks around the lake, where you can launch your kayak. Matthews Beach Park in northeast Seattle has one of the largest beaches in Seattle and can be a great place to launch.
On the other side of the lake, in Bellevue, you can launch from Enatai Beach Park. From this park you can also rent kayaks and canoes or launch your own. There’s also the opportunity to paddle along and into the Mercer Slough Nature Park, where you can see various wildlife species, including otters, turtles and many different birds.
Lake Washington can also be a great place to fish, with a number of species to be found in the lake. Coastal Cutthroat Trout and bass can be fished through most of the year. However, the best fishing times tend to be late spring through early fall.
2: Orcas Island
Orcas Island is one of the largest islands in the San Juan Islands, just off the coast of Washington, north of Seattle. These islands, and in particular, Orcas Island, are popular with tourists who visit for the many opportunities to get out on the water for whale watching.
Obstruction Pass State Park can be a great place to launch your yak or stop for an overnight stay. There’s a campsite close to the water’s edge on the Cascadia Marine Trail, which is for use only by those arriving by paddle or wind powered craft.
The calm waters around Orcas Island can offer amazing opportunities for spotting marine wildlife, including sea lions, dolphins and the killer whales themselves, orcas.
Video: Kayaking with Orcas- San Juan Island, WA
There are also several outfitters on Orcas Island that offer kayak rentals and guided kayaking tours. And when you want to spend a few hours on land, there are plenty of hiking trails on the island where you can stretch your legs and explore the mountains and forests.
On the western edge of the San Juan Islands is San Juan Island, which is another one of the larger islands in the group. This can also be a great place to explore the coastline and watch the orcas. Friday Harbor is the main town on the island where there are plenty of kayak outfitters and tour operators.
3: Alki Beach
Alki Beach Park in West Seattle can let you launch your kayak and get out to explore the waters of the Puget Sound. Alki Beach is one of the most important beaches in Seattle, as it was the landing spot for the city’s first white settlers back in 1851.
The beach park has facilities for kayak and paddle board rentals or you can launch your own vessel and explore on your own. There are also various kayak tours that will tell you about the history of the city and the area while you paddle.
From the Puget Sound you will get a spectacular view of the city, including Seattle’s famous tower, the Space Needle. There are also opportunities to see marine wildlife, such as seals, and also the national bird, the bald eagle.
Also in the Puget Sound, southwest from Alki Beach, you’ll find Blake Island Marine State Park, which you can only access by boat. There are plenty of places to camp on the island, making it a good choice if you want to explore the island or its 5 mile coastline a little more.
There are hiking trails, beaches and restrooms, as well as great views, which can make it a great place to spend a couple of nights.
4: Olympic National Park
All species of salmon that are native to the Pacific Northwest can be found in Olympic National Park, which makes it quite a draw for anglers. It’s also a popular place for trout fishing, including Cutthroat, Steelhead and Bull, and various other species.
For fishing inside the national park, you don’t need a state fishing license. However, you will need one if you intend to fish in the Pacific Ocean from the shores of the national park. You will also need to make sure you have a Washington State Catch Record Card if you will be fishing for salmon or steelhead.
There are several rivers and lakes within the national park where you can fish from your kayak, including Lake Crescent, Lake Ozette and the Ozette River.
While you’re not allowed to keep any of the wild salmon or trout, there may be times during the fall when you are allowed to keep hatchery salmon and trout.
Are There Kayak Laws For Washington State?
- Life Jackets – You are required by law to have a US Coast Guard approved PFD for each person on your kayak, in the correct size and quickly accessible.
- All children under 13 are required by law to wear a PFD while on board a kayak.
- Sound Producing Devices – Washington law states that you must carry a whistle or other suitable sound producing device on board your kayak at all times while on the water.
- A Navigation Light is required by law on kayaks when operating in low visibility or at night.
- Visual Distress Signals for night use are required on all kayaks on coastal waters between sunset and sunrise.
Washington State Kayak Rentals & Tours
- REI Boathouse at Enatai Beach Park (Lake Washington, WA – rentals and tours)
- Northwest Paddle Surfers (Lake Washington, WA – rentals)
- Agua Verde Paddle Club (Lake Washington, WA – rentals and tours)
- Waterfront Adventures (Lake Washington, WA – rentals)
- UW Waterfront Activity Center (Lake Washington, WA – rentals)
- Outer Island Excursions (Orcas Island, WA – rentals and tours)
- Crescent Beach Kayaks (Orcas Island, WA – rentals)
- San Juan Outfitters (San Juan Island and Orcas Island, WA – rentals and tours)
- Orcas Adventures (Orcas Island, WA – rentals)
- Shearwater Adventures (Orcas Island, WA – tours)
- Outdoor Odysseys Sea Kayaking (San Juan Islands, WA – tours)
- Alki Kayak Tours (Alki Beach, WA – rentals and tours)
- Exotic Aquatics (Puget Sound, WA – rentals
- Ballard Kayak (Puget Sound, WA – rentals and tours)
As you will see, there are some fabulous places to get out in your kayak in Washington State. With great scenery and amazing opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitats, Washington can be exciting and enjoyable for all ages.
The state has plenty of good spots with calm water where beginners can learn but with stunning surroundings that paddlers of all levels of experience can appreciate.
We know we’ve only covered a small number of Washington’s great paddling spots, so if you have a favorite spot you’d like to share with us, leave us a comment. And don’t forget to share this on your social media for your followers to enjoy.
> Our destination map for kayakers and canoeists