Winter Kayaking: San Juan Islands, Washington

You might even see some orcas on this cold-weather paddle

orcas island

Photo: Gary Luhm

Orcas Island paddling at San Juan Islands, Washington

Pacific Northwest-based sea kayak instructors Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin’s idea of a perfect winter retreat is found right in their watery backyard. Every Christmas, the couple paddles five miles from their home on Orcas Island to Patos Island State Park, part of the newly created San Juan Islands National Monument. Perched on the outer edge of the archipelago, near the Canadian border, Patos boasts a convoluted sandstone shoreline, historic lighthouse and abundant winter wildlife—including ducks and waterfowl, eagles, seals, porpoises, and orca and minke whales. Then there are the jaw-dropping views of Mount Baker, the Cascade Range and the Olympic Peninsula. Of course, being the most exposed U.S. landmass in the current-laced Strait of Georgia, Patos sees its share of “invigorating and wild” winter storms, Franklin warns —all the more reason to pack an extra day’s worth of turkey dinner leftovers. — CM

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