Searching for best launch sites.

I will be in the Puget Sound and the San Jaun Islands a little over a week in July. Any suggestions on some of the better areas to check out.



San Juan
County Parks reservations for camping, THE San Juan County Park on San Juan Island best choice. During July Orca encounters are possible. You need a wetsuit or dry suit. Check NOAA tide charts for best dates…out to Juan de Fuca mornings, back to SJCP afternoons.

Read Washburne’s

Kayaking Puget Sound, San Juans & Gulf Islands

There’s a photo essay for SJCP in ‘GO PADDLING’

watch for fog
If you try to cross the Rosario Straights to the islands, be very aware that fog can move in very quickly and you don’t want to be out there when it does.

Probably out of your way, but a nice launch site in the lower sound is at Arcadia–east of Shelton. I would also recommend the Little Creek Hotel/Casino for eating and accommodations. It’s right off 101 south of Shelton.

Poke around…
Poke around on this site:

Lots of details and ratings of different launch sites.

The easy trip is to rent boats in Anacortes and paddle out to Guemes IS and neighboring islands. Avoid Haro and Rosario Straits, too many barges, ships and exposed paddling.

San Juans were very crowded when I visited out there last summer. Campsites fill up. Ferries fill up. You can and should make reservations for both.

My friend and I started our trip on Lopez Island. What we did not consider was the ferry schedule. There are only limited sailings to Lopez, like 2 per day. The car in front of us got on the morning boat, but not us, so we had a nice front row seat while we wasted a day waiting for the afternoon sailing. At the end of the trip, taking the early boat back because we were afraid of not getting on the afternoon boat, so essentially we lost another day. The moral of the story is that when you pick your San Juans destination, pick one with frequent ferry sailings, or make sure to have a reservation.


Ferry reservations
Second that. They do take reservations now, which wasn’t the case the last time I went to the SJI.

Books and charts and website
For the guidebook: Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, by Rob Casey; this is an updated, expanded version of Randal Washburne’s classic guide.

For the tide and current information you WILL need in this region: Captn. Jack’s Tide and Current Almanac 2015. Contains all the substation data, not just major spots. Also includes astronomical data that affects tidal behavior. You can get tidal info online also, but I find it a PITA compared with just flipping open the Captn. Jack’s and doing the basic corrections for the substations (simple arithmetic).

For the charts: Your choice of standard nautical charts (free online from NOAA or buy from several private publishers who use NOAA data), or buy the Sea Trails map-charts that are specifically designed for use by kayakers. They publish an entire set just for the San Juan Islands, as well as ones for the rest of coastal WA. Best to use BOTH the standard chart and a Sea Trails map-chart for where you go, as each contains useful info the other does not.

For the website: Washington Water Trails created and maintains an excellent website showing locations and other info for designated small-boat campsites (mostly for kayakers and canoers, but a few where other boaters may also camp). Go to and take a look; you can also buy an excellent print guide to campsites on the Cascadia Marine Trail, one of several in the state.

Other non-ferry non-San Juan suggestions
-Launch from Bowman Bay and paddle deception pass on an ebb current is fun. Standing waves, whirlpools and a 6-8 kt current but with big calm eddies to hang out in. Launch at slack before EBB. 20 mins to the pass then hang out and play in the currents. Deception pass is not recommended on a flood unless you know where to go and have a 100% combat roll.

-Launch from Bowman Bay and head north along the cliffs.

-Launch from Washington park in Anacortes and head south to Allen and Burrows islands and around Williamson Rocks if there’s no fog. (10-15 nm)

-Launch from Washington Park and head north to cypress if currents cooperate. A circumnav of Cypress is a good full day trip(17 nm) or overnighter.

-In Seattle a cruise around lake union and up the ship canal to the locks or over the Arboretum is a cool if like checking out boats. Multiple launch sites around the lake.

Most of the north sound and san juan islands is not for the novice. South sound paddles are more sheltered.

North wind tends to pick up afternoon in the summer on fair weather days. Winds in the strait of Juan de Fuca are 20+ most afternoons. These push swells into the spots listed above making for a fun but bumpy ride.

Crossing Rosario is serious business 5-7 miles, 2-5kt cross current and opposing winds and tankers doing 18 kts.

Crossing over to Cypress is less so but still has potential with wind current, ferry and tanker traffic.

bank to
bank. Not one free open unreserved campsite from Bellingham to Salt Creek. Forgetabboutit !

I know a coupla freebies but tell you no way.

For an unreserved sites travel over the hill to the Pacific or to Makah Bay - excellent of itself.

The area is international camping and computer industry tight with an outflow of mill workers, lost souls from Oregon.

Don’t forget …
… the “Kayak / Canoe Launch Sites”:

Also available as a smartphone app for mobile use!

Jeffrey Lee

have u checked Pnet site ?
have you checked Pnet’s “go paddling” launch map yet? might be of some help.

What nickjc said…
…best advice so far.