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Best Time to Visit San Juan Islands (See Marine Wildlife Up Close!)

Plan your perfect trip to the San Juan Islands! July & August offer ideal weather for kayaking & whale-watching. Learn the best times for budget-friendly travels & outdoor adventures.

Tobi Miles
August 11, 2022
Best Time to Visit San Juan Islands (See Marine Wildlife Up Close!)

The San Juan Islands are a chain of about 172 islands in the San Juan county of Washington, United States. Bordering Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, the San Juan Islands is a tourist hub boasting numerous attractions.

The best time to visit the San Juan Islands is July and August, when the Summer Arts Festival and Orcas Jazz Festivals are held. Temperature is between 22⁰C/71⁰F and 10⁰C/50⁰F, making it perfect for kayaking, whale-watching, and picnics. All shops and seasonal restaurants are also back open. Visitors can take advantage of round-trip ferry fares at just $63.

The San Juan Islands is a vacationer's favorite destination because of its serene, calm, and peaceful nature. The archipelago has stunning ocean views, lush landscapes, abundant wildlife, and meadows to hike in. The San Juan Islands offer visitors mellow island vibes, a sharp contrast to the worries and stress of living in the city.

When Should You Not Visit San Juan Islands?

November is the least ideal time to visit the San Juan Islands. However, there is no bad time to visit the San Juan Islands if we talk about its beauty or activities. The islands are completely buzzing with activities all year round.

Seeing those bright sunny days and beautiful beaches is one of the major attractions to the Island; it just makes sense to visit at a time when these will be enjoyed to their fullest. Late autumn, particularly November, is the last moment to experience them.

The weather during November requires visitors to wear warm and heavy clothing. This sort of dress code might seem a little uncomfortable for someone looking out to get loose and have fun with nothing in the way.

The month of November and its successive months, December and January, alone experience the highest amount of rain with at least 11, 9, and 10 days of precipitation, respectively.

When Is The Cheapest Time To Go To San Juan Islands?

The cheapest time to visit the San Juan Islands is late September or the next few months. With September comes the end of summer and, consequently, the Peak season in San Juan.

Late September to March are the best times to plan a visit to the San Juan Islands on a budget. The Islands receive fewer visitors during this period, so ferry fares, hotel bookings, and prices of goods and services rendered will drastically reduce.

They do this to keep their businesses running while they await the summer visitors' return, which will cause prices to go back up.

What Time of Year is the Best Weather in San Juan Islands?

The time of the year with the best weather in the San Juan Islands in July and August. The average temperature of these months is usually 16.4 °C (61.6 °F).

The weather in July and August is very mild and warm, and even if it gets really hot, it can barely get above 33/34 °C (91/93 °F) due to the cooling effects of the ocean.

Days of rainfall are lowest in July and August, with 0.4 inches/5 days and 0.8 inches/8 days of precipitation, respectively.

January: Winter Hiking and Mountain Biking

January is the peak of winter and the coldest month of the year, although it never gets Sub-Zero frozen. The average temperature during this month is 2⁰C and 7⁰C (36⁰F-45⁰F). January is the best time to engage if you are a fan of winter hiking and mountain biking.

Mountain biking is not allowed all through the months of summer, but as soon as it is winter, the wide and steep ridges go open to allow bikers to explore the hills. One way to fully explore this island with ease is through biking.

Winter hiking is also very convenient in January because of the lack of crowd. One could get on a ferry anytime and head to the San Juan Islands to hit the trails without booking reservations earlier.

Hiking in the wintertime is very interesting as you get to have the trails to a large extent by yourself with nice weather. It is safe to hike for both beginners and professional hikers. Some of the best hiking trails include:

  • South Beach Trail
  • Bell Point Trail
  • Jakle’s Lagoon & Mount Finlayson
  • Lime Kiln Point State Park Trail
  • Young Hill Trail

February: Visit the Whale Museum

The temperature of February is just as mild as January, except it is slightly getting warm. With a temperature averaging 2⁰C and 8⁰C (35⁰F-47⁰F), February is the last month of winter. It witnesses seven days of average rainfall.

One of the most exciting activities every visitor should partake in a while in San Juan is visiting the Whale Museum. The museum was opened in 1979, making it the first museum in the United States dedicated to a wildlife species.

The Whale Museum offers visitors a lot of interesting sights to behold. One of them is a collection of whale skeletons put up for display. It is recommended for San Juan Islands visitors to visit the museum first before going on a whale-watching expedition. This would help understand marine wildlife better.

Related Read: 30 Top Treehouse Rentals in Washington

March: Lime Kiln Lighthouse

With March comes Spring and clearer days. Temperatures have become warmer than in previous months, with highs of 10⁰C and lows of 3⁰C (51⁰F - 38⁰F).

The Lime Kiln Lighthouse was built and commissioned in 1919 on the western part of the San Juan Islands. This lighthouse overlooks Dead Man's Bay, and it still functions to date as a navigational aid for sea vessels through the Haro Straits.

In 1979 the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation declared the lighthouse a historic site, and in 1985 became a sanctuary for whales and a research station for marine mammal scientists. Lime Kiln lighthouse is open to the public for tours. The lighthouse offers the best view of the Salish Sea.

Notable Events:

  • Spring Break Specials & Events

April: Turtleback Mountain Hike

The month of April is a good time to appreciate and get lost in the beauty of nature. This spring season offers visitors a great opportunity to hike Turtleback Mountain under great weather and a favorable temperature of 13°C / 4°C (56⁰F / 40⁰F)

The Turtleback Mountain trail is a short trail that leads to Turtlehead summit at the south end. This summit is one of the most spectacular viewpoints on the entire islands, giving tourists a birds-eye view of most of the San Juan Islands, Vancouver Island, Olympic Mountains, and the Gulf Islands of Canada.

The Turtleback Mountain stands at 1,520 feet (San Juan Islands' second highest summit) on the Orcas island of the archipelago and is visible almost throughout the entire Islands.

This 8-Mile trail is a favorite amongst hikers. Hikers who do not want to take the exposed ascent up to Turtlehead can opt for the northern ascent instead.

  • Orcas Island Lit Fest

May: Whale Watching

May is the slow transition from spring to summer. The atmosphere around the islands is very indifferent, not hot, not cold, yet very mild and comfortable. We could see temperatures reaching 15⁰ Celsius (59⁰ F) and as low as 8⁰ Celsius (46⁰ F).

May provides pleasant weather to go Whale watching in the San Juan Islands. May also offers about 90 percent whale sighting chances guaranteeing visitors opportunities to watch these whales in action in their natural habitat.

One of the best places to watch whales from shore is the Lime Kiln Point State Park in the San Juan Islands.

Visitors will get close-up views of whales ranging from the island's resident Orcas to gray, humpback, and minke whales. Also present in San Juan waters are the Pacific white-sided dolphins.

To get the ultimate whale-watching experience, you should go on seaplane flights, boat expeditions, or Kayaking. You are guaranteed to see several Orca pods of the more than 85 Orca whales that inhabit the island.

  • National Historic Preservation Month
  • Spring & Summer Concerts & Festivals

June: Cattle Point Lighthouse

The temperature in June is between 9⁰ C and 19⁰ C (47⁰ F-66⁰ F). It is officially summer and that time of the year when the entire country starts trooping in to take part in the numerous activities that will be happening in the San Juan Islands.

The sunny days are a perfect time to head outside to hike and tour this lighthouse that was built in 1935. The Cattle Point lighthouse offers breathtaking spectacles of the island and its wildlife. Hiking the trail up to the lighthouse presents visitors' chances to see red foxes, golden eagles, otters, and deers.

The Cattle Point lighthouse, although small, is a must-visit on the San Juan Islands, and because it hardly gets overcrowded, it is an ideal place to have family picnics.

  • Orcas Island Summer Solstice Parade & Celebration
  • Friday Harbor Bike Fest
  • Rock & Roll Regatta
  • Three Lakes Triathlon & Marathon

Related Read: 25 Romantic Things To Do In Seattle

July: Moran State Park

The peak season of visitations and activities on San Juan Islands is in full swing in July. At temperatures of 10⁰C to 22⁰C (50⁰F - 71⁰F), July is the month with the most pleasant weather in San Juan County.

This is the perfect time to head over to Moran State park. Moran State park is located on Orcas Island and is also the site of Camp Moran, which offers a big lodge that could accommodate up to 148 visitors at once.

The Moran State park stretches across 5,424 acres of land with over 38 Miles of hiking trails that are also suitable for mountain biking. This park consists of five freshwater lakes where visitors can fish, swim and kayak. It also has many shelters suitable for picnics.

  • Orcas Island Cider & Mead Festival
  • Lavender Festival and Arts Fair
  • 4th Of July Celebrations

August: Kayaker Paddling

The weather remains technically the same all July through August, with temperatures of 10⁰C to 22⁰C (50⁰F - 71⁰F). August, in hand with July, experiences the least rainfall of the year with 2-day precipitation.

The sunshine and warm weather during this period make it a perfect time for outdoor and sporting activities like Kayak paddling.

Ferries allow visitors to bring their kayaks aboard when heading to the San Juan Islands, or if you can't or don't own one, you can always rent a kayak when you arrive on the islands.

Kayaking the rugged western shores of the islands gives you a better view of the wildlife, bringing you closer to the Orcas.

  • Orcas Island Fly-in and Antique Car Show
  • Summer Arts Festival
  • The Lakedale Music Festival with Brian Nova
  • San Juan County Fair
  • Orcas Island Jazz Festival

September: Lakedale Music Festival

On average, September in San Juan Islands is usually between 17⁰C (63⁰ F) on the high and 10⁰C (50⁰ F) at its low. September is the beginning of Autumn, and beautiful, chilly weather comes with it.

September is a great time to visit Orcas Islands' Historical Museum, which also serves as the island's center for genealogical, archaeological, and historical studies.

The museum, situated on Orcas Island, the largest island on the San Juan Islands, consists of six homesteads built with logs obtained from the island. It houses antiques, artifacts, history, and exhibits from the early settlers on the Island.

  • Savor the San Juans
  • The Lakedale Music Festival with Brian Nova
  • Lopez Island Artists' Studio Tour.

October: Visit San Juan Islands Sculpture Park & Nature Reserve

October averages temperature lows of 6⁰C (14⁰ F) and highs of about 14⁰C (57⁰ F). The temperature is slightly colder as we gradually head to the winter part of the year. Still, the weather is very beautiful, and sunshine is available in the right quantity.

Credit: Brian A. Fox / Flickr

Autumn is a good time to be in the parks. San Juan Islands Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve covering 20 acres of area with over 150 sculptures on display, is a perfect destination in October.

The sculpture park and nature reserve are ideal for family treats and outings. A $5 donation to any charity of your choice is what permits you on the facilities.

  • Friday Harbor Film Festival
  • Eat Island Grown
  • Orcas Island Food Festival

Related Read: 20 Best Waterfalls in Washington

November: Scuba Dive

November is both the end of Autumn and the beginning of the Winter season. We could have temperatures not getting higher than 9⁰C (49⁰F) and a minimum of 4⁰C (39⁰ F).

Scuba diving presents visitors with a special feeling of adventure where divers get to see things under the deep blue sea. There are several spots to get the full diving experience in the San Juan Islands.

They include turn island, Lime Kiln Point, Reuben Tarte pack, and Smallpox Bay, among others.

  • San Juan Island Artisans Holiday Marketplace
  • Friday Harbor Winterfest
  • Island Lights Festival

December: Shop and Dine at Friday Harbor

'Tis the holiday season, and you might get some snow and rain during this period. Temperature ranges between 7⁰C high ( and 2⁰C (35⁰ F).

Since the Christmas holiday is finally here in December, Shopping and Dining at Friday Harbor is a great idea, especially with the family.

Friday Harbor is a coastal town on San Juan Island with streets lined with shops, restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and museums, all within a walkable distance.

Going through these places is a form of excursion that will surely be a major highlight of your visit to the islands.

Some of the places you might want to check out the whole while at Friday Harbor are:

Island Studios - this is an art gallery that represents over 200 artists from San Juan. Their artworks can be collected from this studio.

Farmer's Markets - this is usually available Saturday of every week in Friday Harbor, and you'll find things like fresh meats and cheeses, seafood, arts and crafts on display, live music, etc.

Serendipity Bookstore - this is a store containing over 17,000 used books stored in a Victorian house.

Friday Harbor Chocolates - this spot used to be a barbershop but now is a sweet shop that sells handcrafted chocolates, dessert wines, and no-preservative confections.

Some major events in December:

  • Friday Harbor Winterfest
  • Eastsound's Artisans Fair
  • Old Fashioned Christmas Market

How Many Days Should You Spend at the San Juan Islands?

3-5 days is all you need to explore this beauty of nature. To fully touch all that San Juan Islands offer, you need a 3-day weekend and five days if you can afford it. This will allow you to explore the three islands thoroughly.

Usually, some people take one-day trips to the islands, but people usually leave not too far away and want to take a quick hiking trip.

What is The Best Time to Visit San Juan Islands With Family?

The best time to visit San Juan Islands with family is mid-September or later.

This is because the peak season is slowly ending, prices drop a little bit, the weather is still very friendly, and most island activities are open during this time.

What is The Best Time to Visit the San Juan Islands?

The best time to visit the San Juan Islands is in July or August. These peak summer months come with the least rain with just two days of precipitation and favorable weather that encourages exploration and outdoor activities.

However, keep in mind that prices of fares, tickets, and hotel fees will be slightly hiked during this period.

Related Read: Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier

Best Month to Visit San Juan Islands to Avoid Crowds

The best month to avoid crowding in the San Juan Islands is late autumn and winter. That is November through February.

Visits to the islands are usually at their lowest during these months, and it's a perfect time for you if you want to avoid crowds.

When is The Best Time for a Summer Trip to San Juan Islands?

August is the best time for a Summer Trip to the San Juan Islands. Fun activities are in full swing, the weather is great, and chances of rain ruining your picnics or hiking trips are minimal.

Also, August has the most number of events and festivals in summer. You are sure of having an unforgettable experience.

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
March 28, 2024
A nomadic wordsmith savoring the world's flavors and penning stories that turn every journey into an epic.
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