Pacific Northwest Experience Guide

Over 400 islands dot the 7,000-square-miles of the winding, reaching Salish Sea. With no mind to borders, this interwoven marine system (with depths over 600 meters in places) connects inlets, channels, and fjords of British Columbia and Washington State.

And Mother Nature did well. The moisture-rich, moderate climate heartily nurtures the region’s flora and fauna. More than 200 species of fish and 100 species of birds nest in towering trees, boggy marshes, and coastal nooks and crannies; and numerous marine mammals live in or migrate seasonally to these waters.

Join the ranks of hefty black bears, wily chipmunks and flying squirrels, and nearly 40 mammal species exploring windswept beaches, pastoral island meadows, and massive old-growth forests on our coastal Washington or British Columbia adventure cruises.

Wildlife Guide


Land Animals & Birds

Peacefulness in the wilderness areas of the Salish Sea is plentiful, but that doesn’t mean it’s always quiet. Squawking seabirds, tapping woodpeckers, chattering chipmunks, the cry of an osprey—keep eyes and ears open for spectacular wildlife.

  • Spotted and snowy owls
  • Bald Eagle and Golden eagle
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Great blue heron
  • Cormorants
  • Seabirds
  • Bear
  • Olympic marmot
  • Red fox
  • Black-tailed deer
  • Mountain goat

Marine Animals

Seaweeds, kelp, and other nutrients comprise foundational parts of the food-chain that attract myriad other marine life. Shallow, tidal areas are colored with orange starfish, crabs, and sea anemone. Deep channels are favorite feeding grounds for orca. And it’s a common sight, to spot sea lions spying on you too!

  • Orca whales
  • Sea lions
  • Harbor seals
  • Sea and river otters
  • Dall’s porpoise
  • Dolphin
  • Giant Pacific octopus
  • Pink, purple, and orange sea stars
  • Sea urchin and sea anemone
  • Gumboot chiton
  • Pacific salmon

Plants & Flowers

The Pacific Northwest is known for lush, dense forests and rugged, tree-lined coasts. Plants grow with abandon in the moisture- and soil-rich region—including rhododendron that burst with color and old-growth trees that age into the hundreds of years.

  • Douglas fir
  • Western red cedar
  • Grand fir
  • Rhododendron
  • Dogwood
  • Sword fern
  • Red flowering currant
  • Trillium
  • Wildflowers: columbine, bleeding heart, camas, glacier lily, avalanche lily, Olympic daisy
  • Salmonberry, thimbleberry, huckleberry

Seasonal Variations

In the Pacific Northwest, spring bustles! Meltwaters from coastal ranges cause waterfalls to thunder. Rhododendron and tulips bloom alongside trillium and currants. Fall is rich with the glow of red-orange-yellow foliage. And migrating birds pass through along the Pacific Flyway during both seasons.

Locals often tease, if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes—and they’re often right! While each season offers different and unique conditions, we unquestionably believe our home region is gorgeous every month of the year!

Seasonal Variations for Pacific Northwest

Pacific Northwest Slideshow

Snow-capped peaks, tide pools full of busy life, kayaking close to steep fjord walls, playing peek-a-boo with bobbing harbor seals… Click on the image at left to see a sneak peek at sights in coastal Washington and British Columbia.

What to See & Do on a Pacific Northwest Cruise


On Board

  • With binoculars in-hand, keep watch—high above, along shore, and in the water—for eagles, bears, porpoises, orca, and sea lions from the bow deck
  • Wind down with a sunset, cold pint of local brew, and a game of cards with your travel companions in the lounge
  • Visit your captain on the Bridge and learn how Captain Vancouver’s maps and navigation are still important tools today
  • Take in the spectacular sunrise set against the Coast Range or Olympic Mountains from toasty-warm hot tub
  • From the bow, breathe in the salty, fresh air and look for brilliant constellations in the pitch-dark night sky

In the Water

  • Kayak through one of the most beautiful places on earth, Princess Louisa Inlet
  • Snorkel along coastal Washington's rocky outcroppings in search of sealife amongst the Salish Sea's San Juan Islands
  • Paddle board among rocky outcroppings and intertidal wetlands alongside seabirds fishing for their dinner
  • On kayak outings, keep your eyes peeled above and below the surface for marine life lurking close by
  • Along glacially carved islands and fjords, a skiff excursion reveals bird colonies at a wildlife preserve or bioluminescence in the waters surrounding the Harmony Islands

On Land

  • Visit with locals—from oyster farmers to Popeye, the Friday Harbor marina's resident harbor seal
  • Temperate rainforest hikes lead you under dense canopy for an up-close exploration of local flora
  • Hike towering summits for unobstructed views of the surrounding islands and mountain peaks
  • “Treasure-filled” tide pools nature walks reveal hermit crabs, waving sea anemone, barnacles, tiny fish, slow-moving sea stars
  • Learn the region’s Native American and whaling histories, and depending on itinerary, explore a seaside town and Victoria, BC; or keep the focus on national and federal parks.

Pacific Northwest Travel FAQs


Q. Do you have specific arrival and departure guidelines I should follow when making my travel plans?

Yes! View our recommending arrival & departure times by clicking here.


Q. Can I scuba dive? What about snorkeling?

Scuba diving is not permitted from our vessels and there are no scuba diving opportunities on either itinerary.

Snorkeling gear including wetsuits is available for a small fee aboard the Wilderness Discoverer on coastal Washington cruises. If conditions permit, snorkel in search of colorful anemone, octopus, and other marine life.


Q. Will I see whales?

Whales are always a possibility. Various species tend to migrate through the Salish Sea in the spring, summer, and fall months, but there are three resident pods of orcas in the San Juan Islands, so there is a chance that you may see some on your trip.



Q. How much free time do we have in Victoria?

On our British Columbia cruise, you’ll clear customs in Victoria and then enjoy High Tea at the Empress Hotel. After, you’ll have roughly a half day to explore this charming city—visiting a museum or browsing charming shops.

Important Notice - if you're traveling with minors, take note of special entry requirements. Click here for more details.

Itinerary Comparison

Itinerary Name British Columbia's Yachters' Paradise Explore! Olympic Wilderness & San Juan Islands
Duration 7 Nights 7 Nights
Begin/End Points Roundtrip Seattle, WA Roundtrip Seattle, WA
Fares From $3,845 $3,845

Kayak, paddle board, and skiff in Princess Louisa Inlet, Buccaneer Bay, and Jervis Inlet

Search for orca whales, eagles, and Dall’s porpoise

High Tea at Victoria’s Empress Hotel

Visit the Whale Museum in quaint Friday Harbor

Casual beachcombing and guided nature walks

Cruise the Seattle waterfront

Gunkholing in a yachters’ paradise

Transit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and cruise the Seattle waterfront

Kayak, paddle board, and skiff in glacial fjords and winding island channels

Hike in temperate rainforest, old growth forest, Washington State parks, and Mt. Constitution

Watch for gray whales, orcas, seals, sea lions, eagles, and sea birds

Uncover Native cultures of the Pacific Northwest

Oyster and clam tasting hosted by local growers

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