Best Places to Paddle Puget Sound

May 8, 2016

By Ken Campbell

Photo at right: Kayakers enjoy the golden light of sunset on the Nisqually Delta. Photo by Ken Campbell


Whether you are paddling a sea kayak or a SUP, there are many excellent local destinations to enjoy the water and wildlife. We asked Northwest kayak and SUP expert, Ken Campbell, to share his favorite places to paddle in the Puget Sound. Here are his top five locations from Olympia to the San Juans.

Nisqually Delta, Olympia

Highlights: This estuary is rich with birds and wildlife.

Best time to go: While summer evenings are a great time to paddle in the Delta, the time of day is not as important as tidal height. For maximum enjoyment, plan to visit during a 10-foot tide.

Things to know: You’ll need a Fish and Wildlife Pass or a Discover Pass to park at Luhr Beach. The boat launch here is the most practical way to access the delta.

How to get there: From I-5 southbound take the 114 exit off I-5, approximately 3.5 miles south of Du Pont. Follow the exit road until it changes to Martin Way East. Follow for about a mile and turn right onto Orion Drive NE. Go half-a-mile and turn right onto Meridian Road NE. Follow 2 miles, turn right onto 46th Avenue NE. Drive approximately 0.3 miles and turn left onto D. Milluhr Road NE. Follow as it curves north. Park in the designated areas near the water.

Dyes Inlet, Silverdale

Highlights: Waterfront homes and protected waters.

Best time to go: Morning is an especially beautiful time with the mirror-calm water reflecting the rising sun.

Things to know: There are a number of access points, including Silverdale Waterfront Park. Parking is good and no passes are required, although some locations have time limits.

How to get there: From Hwy 3 northbound, take the Silverdale Way exit and turn right onto Silverdale Way NW. Go just under 0.7 miles and turn right onto NW Byron Street and follow to Silverdale Waterfront Park.

Foss Waterway, Tacoma

Highlights: A dawn paddle shows Tacoma in its best light, with its revitalized downtown core looking clean and shiny as the new day begins.

Best time to go: Any time.

Things to know: While boat traffic can be active, it’s fun to paddle among the sailboats and power yachts.

How to get there: Many public access points can be found off of I-705 on the Tacoma waterfront.

Sucia Island, San Juan Islands

Highlights: The intricate sandstone shoreline of Sucia is a special place to paddle. The wildlife is amazing, and the waters are home to sea lion, porpoise and orca.

Best time to go: The month of September is optimal because the summer crowds are gone but the weather is still fantastic.

Things to know: Sucia Island is only a 2-mile paddle from Ocras Island. A Discover Pass may be required to park in some areas along North Beach. Currents can be strong in some places, be sure to bring a tidal chart and a time-piece.

How to get there: From the ferry terminal, follow Orcas Road north for roughly 7.7 miles until it changes to Lover’s Lane. In approximately 0.3 miles turn left or right onto Mt. Baker Road and follow any road signs leading to public beach access along the North Beach area.

Lopez Sound, San Juan Islands

Highlights: This is a beautiful place to paddle in the golden light of a Northwest sunset on a warm evening.

Best time to go: Summer has the nicest weather and even though there are more visitors at that time of year, this part of the San Juans doesn’t feel overcrowded.

Things to know: Currents can be strong in some places, make sure to bring a tidal chart and a time-piece. A Discover Pass may be required to park.

How to get there: The best public access is Spencer Spit State Park on the east side of Lopez Island which is a short 4-mile drive from the ferry. From the ferry terminal follow Ferry Road for a little over 2 miles to the first fork. Take a left onto Center Road Then turn left onto Cross Road Turn right onto Port Stanley Rd and left onto Bakerview Road Follow the signs to the Spencer Spit State Park.

Ken Campbell is the Director of the Ikkatsu Project, a Tacoma-based organization raising awareness about the issue of marine plastics. He is the author of several sea kayaking guide books to western Washington and is almost always getting ready for the next expedition.