Boating in The San Juan Islands
Owning a boat while living in the Pacific Northwest can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have as a boat owner. The diverse ecology, from the salty Puget Sound to the freshwater lakes and rivers, makes it a boater’s paradise.
We’re lucky as a boat retailer to be located in the heart of Puget Sound and to be able to offer our customers a one-of-a-kind boating experience!
One of the better-known archipelagos in the United States, the San Juan Islands, encompass upper Northwestern Washington state. The islands make up the heart of San Juan County and are located in Washington State’s Salish Sea. During high tide, the archipelago comprises over 400 islands and rocks – so be careful when boating out there! – Of the 400, 128 are named and offer over 478 miles of shoreline! That’s extensive!
You could spend years exploring the San Juans and probably never see every sight available, but that is part of the fun! If you’re looking to head out for a weekend, here are a few notable islands to dock up and visit!
Shaw Island is the smallest of the islands that are serviceable by the Washington State Ferry system.
With one grocery store and a campground at Shaw County Park, you’ll find Shaw Island’s roads to be largely empty. There is no commercialism on the island to speak of, and if you decide to make a stop there and camp, you’ll find it to be tranquil and away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the islands. Surrounded by the other islands in the San Juans, you’ll have views no matter where you look! Find out more about Shaw Island here!
Lopez Island is the 3rd largest island in the San Juans. Full of vacation homes, camping, and rentals, Lopez will see a significant population bump in the summer months and is essentially the most rural of the islands. It’s also one of the flattest, allowing visitors to travel the terrain more quickly than other islands. Like the rest of the San Juans, Lopez Island receive as much rain as the rest of the state, due in part to being in the rain shadow of the Olympic mountain range. Self-proclaimed as “The Friendly Isle” they say don’t be surprised if people wave at you from their cars as you visit the island! There are many small shops, restaurants, and places to stay if you’re not sleeping aboard your cruiser. Learn more about Lopez Island here!
The island that the rest of the island chain is named after, San Juan island is the second largest of the archipelago. There is always something to learn on the island with maritime museums, historic shops and lighthouses located throughout. Friday Harbor – the main hub on the island – is home to multiple restaurants, tourist attractions and shops that you could spend a whole day there exploring! As you continue around the island, there are hotels, bed and breakfasts and camping locations scattered across A popular attraction to visit during the summer months is the island’s lavender fields. You’ll also never have to worry about finding a slip to stay in if you’re staying aboard your boat as Friday Harbor always has slips available! Looking to take a trip up there? Learn more about San Juan Island here! Want your trip planned out for you and your family so you don’t need to worry about thinking about the extras? Check this link out here!
Last but not least is Orcas Island, which is the largest of all the islands in the archipelago! Locals dub this island the “Gem of the San Juans” due to its outdoor beauty.
It is flush with lakes, thick forests, hiking trails, calm creeks, and relaxing beaches everywhere you turn, so it’s no wonder to us that this island gets that nickname!
Orcas Island has 57 square miles of land and 38 miles of hiking trails to discover from when you dock up to when you leave.
You’re pretty much guaranteed that you won’t see it all in a weekend, but that’s okay! You will have such a good time you’re destined to return.
The island features three main attraction areas: Deer Harbor, Olga, and Doe Bay. Deer Harbor and the accompanying marina are the maritime hub of the island, featuring vessel and kayak rentals as well as whale watching and wildlife tours.
Olga, the small “town” on the island, is the art hub of the island. Featuring an art co-op with over 50 artists, it’s located in an old strawberry packing plant with a cafe serving local locally sourced fare. Not into hiking or checking out art? No worries! Go relax in Doe Bay at the Doe Bay Resort and Retreat! Complete with yoga, hot tubs, massage therapy, access to sea kayaks, and rustic lodging! For more information on Orcas Island, check it out here!
As we mentioned above, there are over 400 islands that make up the Puget Sound. As a boater, you don’t have to limit yourself to the abovementioned 4 major islands. You have the entire sound at your fingertips! While some of the islands are privately owned, there are many that you can visit, fish in and camp. We suggest starting with these 4 for the more mainstream experiences before you adventure off to the rest of them, so that you can receive the core San Juan islands experience. Stay tuned for more information about other locations to go boating in the Puget Sound!
Boating on Lake Tapps
If you’re not familiar with the lakes of Puget Sound, Lake Tapps might not be on your radar. Lake Tapps is one of the more unique lakes of Puget Sound, not due to the fact that it’s a man made reservoir, but due to it having more contractual agreements with the surrounding locale and businesses than most corporations.
Lake Tapps was initially created for hydroelectric power and owned by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) serving the greater Puget Sound community until 2004. After that, PSE sold the reservoir to the combined cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, and Tukwila as well as a couple of Puget Sound based water and sewer districts. This was then called the “Cascade Water Alliance”.
This new ownership of the lake has plans not only to use the lake as a water supply for its customers but also for recreational purposes. It even has an agreement with the surrounding homeowners to maintain full water levels during the summer months!
Good news for recreational boating, right? Absolutely! In addition, it has an agreement with the local Native America Tribal Associations to maintain inflows of fish for years to come. So if you’re a fisherman, you’re in luck! Which brings us to our next point…
Judging from what you just read above, absolutely! Lake Tapps is open year round for fishing and hosts a variety of fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch and black crappie as well as tiger muskies!
You have the option to launch your boat at Lake Tapps North Park or Allan Yorke Park located on the lake or to fish from the shore at the North Park.
Lake Tapps is another Pacific Northwest treasure for watersports! With 4.5 square miles of water, there is plenty of space to wakeboard, wake surf, fish and lounge. You will find that wind isn’t prevalent in every part of the lake due to the various inlets, peninsulas, and islands. If you’re looking for calm water to wake board, just find the nearest spot and go for it! It won’t take you long to find one! Finding good water to wakesurf is an easy task because one is able to go anywhere in the middle of the lake. Just make sure you pay attention to what inlet you’re heading down as there are our various houses on the islands littered throughout the lake.
If you’re in the lower Puget Sound area, Lake Tapps is the ideal destination to take your boat out and have a good time! With options for fishing, watersports and leisure, you will have options no matter what kind of boat you have.
Boating on Lake Sammamish
If you’re living in the Puget Sound area but finding yourself a little farther east, then you should check out the freshwater paradise known as Lake Sammamish!
Located approximately 8 miles east of Seattle, Lake Sammamish stretches 7 miles north to south and a little over 1.5 miles east to west.
Getting its name from the natives that once lived on its shores, Lake Sammamish is fed by the Issaquah Creek as its largest tributary, and fed by many other smaller creeks surrounding the lake. The area surrounding the lake has exploded in popularity AND population in recent years, with the cities of Fall City, Redmond, Bellevue, and Issaquah growing rapidly.
This rapid growth and convenient location near the lake is why we put our MasterCraft-centric Union Marine location in Issaquah. This way, we can easily demo boats and host community events while supporting the local economy in a city that we know and love!
YES! Like Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish is home to smallmouth and largemouth bass. Coastal cutthroat trout, yellow perch and brown bullhead are the most common catches in the lake. There are some steelhead, kokanee and some salmon species in the lake as well, but they are closed to fishing.
When it comes to amenities that Lake Sammamish provides, they are second to none! There are parks located all around the lake that have multi lane boat launches, parks and event locations. The biggest and arguably the most usable is Lake Sammamish State Park, and more on that can be found here. No matter where you’re located on the lake, you’ll have options to enjoy the water and launch your boat!
Compared to Lake Washington, the conditions for surfing and wakeboarding are more favorable, especially for those looking to wakeboard. The lake usually presents less wind on most days compared to Lake Washington, so you’ll have a smoother experience on the water. Wakesurfing can be done on both lakes with favorable results, although Lake Sammamish does continue to provide a better overall experience.
Lake Sammamish is basically the perfect boating season playground for those looking to do anything with the water, including relaxing, watersports, swimming, or fishing. Once you pick up your boat, give Lake Sammamish a visit. You won’t regret it!
Boating on Lake Union
Lake Union is located in the heart of Seattle and is the feature area for many of Seattle’s waterfront entertainment.
Surrounded by restaurants and parks on all sides, Lake Union is split into Eastlake, Westlake, Northlake and South Lake Union and gets its name from the “union” of these neighborhoods as well as unifying the waters from the Bay to Lake Washington.
Our very own Union Marine is headquartered in Eastlake right on Lake Union. If you’re boating on lake Washington, it’s likely you end up making a trip to Lake Union as well.
Lake Union is less for water sports activities and more for entertainment and tourist attractions on top of hosting the main shipping canal in Seattle that connects to Shilshole bay.
Why not for watersports? Well, for starters the entire lake is under a speed limit of no more than 7 knots, or 8 MPH. Typical surf speeds are between 10.5 MPH and 12.5 MPH with wakeboard speeds much higher than that! So if you’re not partaking in watersports, what are you doing out on the lake?!
Fishing in Lake Union is not well documented compared to surrounding lakes. This is largely due to the west side of the lake having a larger salt content with the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks having a direct connection to the bay.
The salt content is higher in the summer with the locks opening more due to pleasure boats. That being said, typical Largemouth and Smallmouth bass, Black Crappie, Yellow Perch as well as Coastal Cutthroat Trout can be caught.
Salmon also use this area to migrate to Lake Sammamish and Washington and there’s even a migration viewing area at the locks!
Would we recommend fishing in Lake Union? Well, not really. Due to the amount of traffic around the lake from boats, ships, planes, etc the passive pollution rate is a little higher. If you do go ahead and decide to catch anything just throw it back when you’re done.
So if you can’t fish, you can’t swim and you can’t do watersports, what are you going to do?
Well luckily Seattle’s Lake Union has entertainment, docks and parks in every direction you look. Seattle’s famous Gasworks park is on Lake Union’s North shore and Lake Union park is on the South shore along with South Lake Union Spraypark. You can dock your boat and visit the “MOHAI” or Museum of History and Industry or the Center for Wooden Boats, then visit the multitude of restaurants surrounding the area. There are also a few restuarants like Bowriders Grill that you can literally dock to and hop off to have a meal.
Want to get off the water for a few? Head over to the East side and book yourself a sea flight over the sound or Lake Washington with Seattle SeaPlanes! If you’re just looking for a day of leisure like we mentioned above you’ll have a view of the Space Needle to the South, Fremont to the North, Queen Anne to the West and Capitol Hill/Eastlake to the East. Basically, the Puget Sound has water options for entertainment, watersports, and leisure almost anywhere you look, almost any time of year.
*Note* IF you do have the need for speed, there are a couple of yellow buoys facing east to west in the middle of the lake. Within these you ARE allowed to crank the throttle and do a couple of runs. Usually no more than 4.
Boating in the Columbia River
Let’s talk about the Columbia River. The longest river in the Pacific Northwest region, the Columbia River stretches from the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia to the coast in Astoria, Oregon, where it drains into the Pacific Ocean. With a total length of 1,243 miles, you have the opportunity to utilize a massive play area for water activities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Be careful of the current, though! The Columbia River has the greatest flow of any river entering the Pacific Ocean!
Since ancient times, the Columbia River has been used as a central transportation hub linking inner land communities to the coast. As it started to get colonized and railroads were later added, this facilitated more connected communities and trade.
Dredging practices, jetties at the river’s mouth, navigation locks, and canal construction have all improved river navigability and connectivity. Added dams that contribute over 40% of the nation’s hydroelectricity are also located along the river. Additionally, the dams supply irrigation and act as flood control.
The Columbia River is most notably a salmon fishing paradise. Over a million chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon traverse the river during the salmon season.
Steelhead fishing in the summer is also another prominent attraction. Honorable mentions go to bass and walleye fishing and the limited sturgeon fishing.
If you own a fishing boat, you’re in luck because you have access to arguably the best freshwater fishing experience in the world!
Given the sheer area, the Columbia River offers plenty of opportunities for watersports.
Wakeboarding, water skiing, wake surfing, and inner tubing are many water sports activities you can do across the river in Washington and Oregon.
In recent years, Oregon has introduced more rules and regulations on water sports. You will have to research where you will be having fun to ensure you don’t break any of them!
While conditions will vary depending on the day, the West Columbia river area through Vancouver, Washington, and up through Rainier, Oregon, offers the best average conditions with multiple parks and launch points up the river.
Wakeboarding/wake surfing in the Columbia River Gorge is not recommended due to the extreme amount of wind.
However, if you’re looking to take the boat out while enjoying some windsurfing fun, you’ll find that the Gorge is actually known around the world to have some of the best windsurfing conditions!
There are a few places along the river that are worth mentioning that are worth checking out. See below!
The lake is located in Eastern Washington near the Grand Coulee dam and was created for the Columbia Basin Project. Banks Lake is 27 miles long and supplies the surrounding region with irrigation water. Hot temps in the summer make this lake ideal for all the watersports during boating season!
If you’re all about fishing and taking in the views the Pacific Northwest has to offer, launching at the Beacon Rock BoatLaunch takes you into the heart of the Columbia River Gorge!