Published: Apr 30 2019
The Pacific Northwest is quintessentially known for its water. From majestic orca populations to colossal salmon runs, tribal canoes to opening day regattas, there are a million things to explore by boat in both the saltwater and freshwater.
Here are some of the top boating locales in the region, and the opportunities that they have to offer:
The Puget Sound is the main protected waterway in Washington State and stretches from Neah Bay to the capital city of Olympia. It is home to iconic wildlife like killer whales, excellent salmon, and halibut fishing, and is a beautiful boating destination. Book a boat tour on Puget Sound, charter a yacht, go whale watching, sailing, or try a fishing charter when exploring this region of Washington.
Puget Sound represents one of the leading North American shipping channels from Asia, is home to several naval bases, and is one of the West Coast headquarters for NOAA. It is also home to over a thousand miles of freshwater and saltwater coastline, hundreds of islands, dozens of parks, and several large cities. The temperate weather in Puget Sound allows for year-round boatings. Summer is the best time of year to visit Puget Sound, but you'll see several boats enjoying the water on sunny days in winter.
The city of Seattle is uniquely positioned on a long strip of land that stretches between a large freshwater lake and the saltwater Puget Sound. There are lots of marinas in Seattle for boaters, with every form of boat imaginable available to rent. If planning an event in Seattle, consider booking a yacht charter or renting a boat to host the event on the water. Bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings, or corporate events on a boat add a special element to the gathering in Seattle.
Boaters visiting Seattle can enjoy the calm waters of Lake Washington and the connected Lake Union by boat, and take the Ballard Locks through to Puget Sound if they prefer saltwater boating. Along the way, they will be treated to views of bald eagles, harbor seals, and salmon in the right seasons. Fishing is excellent in both locations, as is the weather for sailing.
The first week of August in Seattle is Sea Fair, the biggest boating event in the city. It is a chance to celebrate boats of all makes and models and take part in different activities. If you love football, consider heading to Lake Washington to sailgate during home games for the Washington Huskies. There is a large group of fans who congregate along the edge of the stadium open to the water to watch and listen to the game by boat.
Though Tacoma is best known for its commercial waterfront, there are excellent opportunities for boat rentals and yacht charters here. Point Defiance, home to a combined zoo, park, aquarium, and frontier fortress is a highlight stop for boaters, as are the many islands that can be found in the region. The Tacoma Narrows passage offers some good rapids that can be enjoyed by kayakers and gives views of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which has architectural fame as "Galloping Gertie," the bridge that undulated so severely with the wind that you could catch it on video. Tacoma in April brings the Daffodil festival, where local boaters will bedeck their boats with daffodils and participate in the floating parade.
This archipelago is known for two things-- sun and whales. Rent a boat on Orcas Island or book a whale watching tour. The San Juans are the Pacific Northwest's hot spot for orcas, though it is possible to see half a dozen other species of whale, dolphin, or porpoise at the right time of year. They are also a great spot for kayak rentals, fishing trips, and wildlife tours.
The San Juan Islands are also a significant meetup point for many boat manufacturers like Bayliner, who hosts an annual gathering each summer on San Juan island. The area is the right combination of park-only islands, tourist villages and resorts, and residential. It is one of the most popular boating locations in the state for a good reason. If you are looking to rent a boat on the mainland to head to the San Juans, the cities of Anacortes and Bellingham make good starting points nearby.
At 55 miles in length, Whidbey has the honor of being the longest island in the continental US. Stretching between the north end of Seattle and the beginning of the San Juans, this island offers several different things for boaters. On the outer side of the island are many high, exposed bluffs that point toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the channel that leads to the Pacific. It's a great destination in Washington to rent a boat, book a sailing charter, go fishing, or enjoy a boat tour or stop at a winery on Whidbey Island.
This sizeable glacial fjord sits between the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas on the Western side of Puget Sound. It is a fishing and boating locale, and the small body size makes it warmer than most of the other regional waters, and therefore accessible for watersports. Both sides of the canal are clustered with homes, many of which have docks or mooring buoys. There are also several boat-in resorts and marinas available along the length of the canal. These waters stay well-sheltered and are excellent for watercraft of all sizes. If you are sailing into the canal, be aware that there is a drawbridge that you may need to contact.
This town on the tip of Admiralty Inlet is well worth the trip. It is home to one of the world's foremost wooden boatbuilding schools (and to an excellent wooden boat festival each mid-September), a number of top-notch maritime shops, and a beautiful and walkable downtown. Even if you are just boating through, the gorgeous Victorian architecture here is unique in a mostly-modern region that didn't see Europeans until the mid-1800s. Haunted hotels, gourmet food, galleries, and shops are all excellent reasons to stay and explore if you have the time. Boating from Port Townsend, you can head inland toward Hood Canal or Puget Sound, Northward toward the San Juans or British Columbia, or out to the Pacific.
Port Angeles is a great location to leave from if you plan on doing halibut fishing, sailing along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or heading to Victoria. It's also great for kayak rentals and outdoor activities. Port Angeles is one of the closest points in Washington State to the iconic city within British Columbia, and on a good day, it offers a simple, cross-channel journey. Just be prepared with your passport if you decide to take the trip, as you will need to clear customs when you reach the marina across the way.
Port Angeles is also home to the Olympic National Park, and if you have access to a car while at one of the marinas here, you can head up to Hurricane Ridge or Lake Crescent in under an hour. Port Angeles has an annual kayak festival in late April that offers a chance to demo new gear, buy used and closeout items at a discount, meet with pros and just boat with other kayak lovers.
This Northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula is the corner of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Neah Bay is an excellent starting point if you plan on doing some deep-sea fishing or coastal sailing, though it requires some skill to boat here as the conditions are rarely flat. There are several Neah Bay is also a great place to watch for gray whales, and is home to the Makah tribe.
If you want to see traditional native canoes, head here during mid-July. Neah Bay is one of the stops for the annual canoe journey, where dozens of Pacific Northwest tribes from BC, Washington, and Oregon gather and caravan by canoe to a final destination and celebration. If you can catch the group on their overnight stay here, you will get the opportunity to see a variety of traditional multi-person canoes still created the conventional way from old-growth cedars. To watch them travel together is nothing short of stunning.
When it comes to boating in Washington, you cannot go wrong with boat type or location. If you are unsure of the kind of boating you love best, the diverse environment and set of boating opportunities make it an excellent place to take a vacation and go boating. Download the GetMyBoat app to search and book boat rentals, yacht charters, and more during your adventures in Washington State.