Lime Kiln State Park is a must-see stop for every whale enthusiast visiting San Juan Island. It is also known as the “whale-watching park” and is one of the best places in the world to watch for orca whales from shore. Due to the steep underwater topography, salmon and other prey fish are driven right up against the shore, and hungry orcas will sometimes approach to within 10 feet of the rocky beach while feeding. Visitors with a keen eye may also be able to spot minke whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters, and bald eagles as well. Peak whale watching season is May through September, although June and July are the most likely months for spotting whales. Check the board outside of the interpretive center for updates on when the whales were last seen in the area.
Lime Kiln’s 36 acres is located on the west side of San Juan Island, and overlooks Haro Strait and Vancouver Island. The park is crisscrossed with a network of easy to moderate walking trails weaving through a madrona forest. You can see an original lime kiln that was used on the island around the turn of the century to convert limestone to lime, a material used in the production of cement. Another popular attraction in the park is the Lime Kiln lighthouse, which was built in 1919 and serves as a navigational beacon for ships in Haro Strait to this day. Interpretive programs and lighthouse tours are available during the summer. The lighthouse is also home to an acoustic research project off the point. Hydrophones have been placed 7 meters under the surface of the Salish Sea to the southwest of the lighthouse, and are used for listening to the marine life that frequents the area. If you are interested, you can listen to clips of the orca’s vocalizations or a live stream of the hydrophone here: http://www.orcasound.net/lk/ . The seasonal interpretive center, located on site, has information about the orca whales, the historic lime kilns, and the lighthouse. Food and gifts are available for purchase, and there are restrooms.