April to October is traditionally the best time for whale watching in Vancouver. Most whale watching charters out of Vancouver and Vancouver Island will offer guaranteed sightings to guests! With that being said, there are definitely some things you will want to keep in mind when it comes to whale watching in Vancouver!
There is not much more thrilling than seeing these majestic whales in their natural habitat off the coast of Vancouver. It is a bucket list item for so many visitors to British Columbia, including me! The waters off British Columbia’s coast are rich with marine life and Orcas, humpback, gray and minke whales are the most common whales that you will see on a Vancouver whale watching trip!
Keep reading below for everything you need to know about the best time for Whale Watching in Vancouver from how to book, where to book and what to pack!
More Information on the Vancouver Whale Watching and the Best Time to see Whales in Vancouver
While April to October is when most whale watching vessels operate, there are a few more things to keep in mind when booking a whale watching tour.
Firstly, spring in Vancouver is often wet so plenty of spring trips will be rainy.
Secondly, even when the sun shines in the summer, it can be cold and windy out in the ocean. Pack accordingly.
Thirdly, the whales in Canadian waters, as well as all marine mammals are protected. The rules for whale watching and approaching marine mammals, which are now in effect, provide a minimum approach distance of 100 meters for most whales, dolphins, and porpoises to legally protect these animals from human disturbances.
Additionally, the distance requirement will be greater for certain marine mammals, including killer whales in B.C. because of the threats they already face. Keeping 200 meters away from killer whales in BC and the Pacific Ocean and keeping 400 meters away from all killer whales in southern BC coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet* (June 1 – May 31). Vessel operators will also be asked to turn off their echo sounders and turn engines to neutral idle, if safe to do so, when a whale is within 400 meters.
What to Pack when Whale Watching in Vancouver
Despite the warm summer weather, being out on the water can be much colder! Even in July and August make sure to wear a warm coat for when you are on an outer deck. When I went with my son on a Price of Whales tour, we even wore a toque and gloves! There were many unprepared travelers who were not prepared for the cold wind!
If you want to get good photos, you are going to need a telephoto zoom lens with AT LEAST 300mm zoom. Important regulations mean that the vessels cannot get close to the whales so unless one swims towards a stopped ship, you will likely see them from around 100m away!
Whale Watching Tours from Vancouver
I have a post all about the best whale watching tours in Vancouver but if you want a few quick options, check out the ones below!
WHALE WATCHING TOUR WITH PRICE OF WHALES FROM GRANVILLE ISLAND
Prince of Whales offers whale watching on a covered vessel. Their office is located in Granville Island and their vessel departs from the same area. When you book with Price of Whales, experience whale watching in true comfort and style along the waters off Vancouver. You have the opportunity to see several types of whales (depending on the time of year) with orcas generally being the main attraction, as well as an assortment of sea lions, sea birds, and other marine species. Marvel at the beauty of the Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands, and Howe Sound on this 3-6 hour adventure. Price of Whales operates with a 62-foot covered vessel built for whale watching and designed to minimize its ecological footprint. You can choose to be inside or outside and can choose from 3 viewing areas on 2 levels.
WHALE WATCHING TOUR WITH HARBOUR AIR SEAPLANES
Leave behind Vancouver’s bustling harbor for the dramatic beauty of the Straight of Georgia as you fly from Vancouver harbour to Victoria harbour before getting on your whale watching boat. You have plenty of air time to soak up great aerial views of snow-capped mountains and verdant coastline before landing in Victoria. From there, board an open-topped Zodiac or covered Ocean Cruiser (please make your boat selection at time of purchase) for the whale-watching cruise. Set off into Haro Strait, an area flush with salmon—a natural attraction for orcas during migration! Spot whale pods, as well as seals, sea lions, sea otters and more. Throughout your ride, your guide shares fascinating facts about the resident marine life, and explain the area’s unique oceanic ecosystem. After your cruise, choose to head directly back to the mainland by seaplane, or stay in Victoria to enjoy more of the city and take a later flight back to Vancouver.
More Vancouver Travel Resources
5 Things to Bring with You to Vancouver
A good rain jacket is always a good idea, even in the summer. While you are not likely to get wet in July and August, late august almost always sees a wet day, and May, June and September will also get rain. If you want to read about average rainfall, I have more information on weather in Vancouver. Even if you are coming in the winter, unless you plan on skiing, you can get away with a rain jacket and some good base layers for most of the winter in and around Vancouver.
A good power bank to charge phones and other devices is always a good idea. After a day of videoing, GPS and taking photos, the last thing you want is a dead cell phone. These are inexpensive and come in handy during the day. If you are flying to Vancouver, make sure you keep any power banks in your hand luggage, as security will often remove them from checked bags (I have found that out the hard way before).
A Universal Adapter is going to be handy for International Visitors. Canada uses the same plugs as the USA but if you are coming from somewhere else abroad, grab yourself one before you arrive.
A good guidebook is something I always get when I am researching a new location. Lonely Planet is the usual go-to, but also check out these.
Reusable shopping bags are available to buy everywhere, but if you want to get a compact one before you arrive, it is a good idea.
Reusable water bottles are also a good idea. You can buy bottled water anywhere that you can get drinks, but Canada does pride itself on recycling as much as possible, and why shell out wasteful dollars when you can drink the tap water all over British Columbia.
Travel Insurance for Canada
There are a few other things to think about when it comes to international travel. The first thing is travel insurance. Whether it is an emergency room visit for something as simple as strep throat, or an emergency appendix surgery, or an unfortunate moped incident things do go wrong when people travel everyday. Canada is a very expensive country for medical care and a doctors visit in an Emergency Room is over $800 to just see the doctor.
I highly suggest travel insurance and a good policy. I personally never travel without it, and I even checked into my policy about care for my children if I am ever in an accident or hospitalized. There are just too many things to think about.
You can find out more information and buy your travel insurance here.
Renting a Car in British Columbia
Rental Cars are very popular in British Columbia. There is just so much to see and there is not a train or bus network outside of Metro Vancouver or Victoria. If you plan on leaving Vancouver and want to see even the local ski hills, I suggest a rental car. You can get a rental car before you arrive.
If you are looking for information on the best Canadian souvenirs, check out this post on souvenirs from Canada so you have an idea of what to buy!
Lindsay Nieminen is the creator of UncoveringBC.com. She grew up and still lives in the suburbs of Vancouver with her family. She aims to inspire inform, and educate others about traveling in her home province of British Columbia. She is also the creator of carpediemourway.com which aims to show parents how to seek out adventure at home or abroad, with their children in tow!