Whale watching from Cape Disappointment State Park

whale watching

Whales play an important role in Pacific County culture. Glimpse whale art along the Discovery Trail in Long Beach.

This time of year marks the return of a special visitor to Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula – the gray whale’s annual winter migration from Alaska to Baja California includes a pass by the southern Washington coast, where whale watchers can glimpse the giants from high-perched lookouts and ocean-side seascapes.

Nearly 20,000 gray whales pass Washington’s southern coast each winter during their annual swim to the warm lagoons of Baja California. The migration typically begins in mid-December and lasts through early February. Most gray whales pass the peninsula by mid-January.

Whale-watching hot spot

The most-ideal viewing spots are in Cape Disappointment State Park near Ilwaco, where the high cliffs provide excellent vantage points. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center offers a viewing platform 200 feet above the pounding Pacific Ocean. The vistas from Cape Disappointment and North Head lighthouses also afford fabulous whale-watching opportunities.

What to do & bring

whale watching

Grays aren’t the Peninsula’s only whale visitors. Humpbacks made their way into the mouth of the Columbia River in the fall of 2015.

Now that you know where to head, here are some pro tips:

  • Go early. Mornings provide the best whale-watching conditions – try to choose a day with calm ocean conditions, and arrive before the onset of winds and accompanying whitecaps.
  • Keep your eyes peeled. Gray whales typically migrate in water no deeper than 300 feet, so look for plumes and blows in the near distance. Blows can reach 12 feet and continue periodically between prolonged dives. Watch for blows every one or two minutes at 100-yard intervals. Turbulent eddies often trail the whales along the surface following short dives.
  • Get comfy. Consider bringing a folding chair and binoculars. Whale watching is not a hurried hobby. Patience pays off.
  • Second chances. The gray whales’ northern migration begins mid-March, so you can catch these majestic visitors a bit later in the year when they return to their summer feeding grounds in the arctic region. Immature whales, adult males and females without calves are the first to head north, passing the Peninsula in March and April. Later, females with calves come along at a slightly slower pace, passing the Washington coast. Watch for northbound whales through June.

Remember to bring your Discover Pass when entering Washington state parks; you can’t park and exit your vehicle without one. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is open 10 am – 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday during fall and winter months. Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for youth aged 7 to 17 and free for kids under 7.

The Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau facilitates, coordinates and implements the promotion of our communities as a tourist destination. Contact us at (360) 642-2400 or ask@funbeach.com.

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