On a childhood fishing trip with his dad in the San Juan Islands, Shane Aggergaard noticed a group of orcas swimming toward his boat. Rather than steering clear of human contact, they swam directly under the boat—one even looked Shane right in the eye. It was a moment of whale-human connection he never forgot, and nowadays tries to approximate through Island Adventures. The whale-watching tour company, which Shane founded with his wife, Jennifer, brings passengers into close contact with the aquatic mammals of the Pacific Northwest.
Depending on the season, wilderness-savvy guides—who’ve led more than 6,000 collective wildlife tours during their careers—can introduce passengers to minke whales and the San Juan’s three resident orca pods, migrating gray whales, or humpbacks. Their 101-foot vessel, The Island Explorer 3, boasts a large bow pulpit and a viewing deck with more than 400 feet of railing, ideal for seeing whales in their entirety, from their tails to their trusty sets of water wings. The team backs each tour with a whale-sighting guarantee and strives to ensure future sightings by making sustainable choices, from its ecofriendly cleaning products to the boat's cabin floor made from recycled tires.
In the barrel room at Port Gardner Bay Winery, Chris Covington stays vigilant watching over casks of reds and whites with the anticipation and pride of a master winemaker. After learning that his engineering and chemistry knowledge could be put to use fermenting grapes and crafting unique alcoholic nectars, Chris began experimenting with the wine-making process, eventually producing his own wines independently. Today, Chris crafts vintages ranging from cabernet sauvignons and merlots to malbecs and gewürztraminers, earning him a spot in Evening Magazine's "The Best of Western Washington". In addition to his day-to-day production duties, Chris also hosts frequent events, from tastings featuring live performances from local musicians to wine classes that discuss the wine-making process and dispel rumors that the best way to crush a grape is by breaking its heart.
For the Hanke family, it seems like Puget Sound Express has always been part of their lives. Raised in the Puget Sound his entire life, Pete Hanke honed his seafaring abilities alongside his father, Pete Sr. Together, the two started leading weeklong sailing adventures across the Pacific Northwest in 1981 and eventually started whale tours. Today, the business still remains a family affair, with grandparents, children, and grandchildren working side by side. Sherri Hanke, Pete’s wife, feels this is the company's biggest feature. "We have three generations of captains, so there is a wealth of knowledge there."
In addition to their family members, Puget Sound Express's crew is well acquainted with the area's 88 resident killer whales, which naturalists can identify based on their markings and slick leather jackets. Tours also pass into the habitats of other wildlife, often spotting humpbacks, sea birds, and bald eagles. The Hankes' most popular voyage tours the San Juan Islands, pausing at the fishing village of Friday Harbor. According to Sherri, this region is well known for its weather. "We refer to it as the Blue Hole, because it is like this circle of sunlight. It could be raining in Seattle and extremely sunny here."
The Hankes take adventure-seekers out on the M.V. Glacier Spirit, a modern, 70-seat vessel with open-air viewing decks and large windows allowing sightseers unencumbered views. Additionally, an on-board hydrophone listens in on whales' vocalizations to see which songs are currently stuck in their heads.
Dave Button grew up along Washington's Skagit River and had the inspiration to found his own company while navigating the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon under the helm of famed guide Georgie White. Soon after, Dave returned home to create Pacific NW Float Trips in 1974. Today, Dave and his crew of trained, passionate guides share their knowledge of the region's landscapes and hottest nightclubs for 20-something salmon via inspirational tours held year-round on the Skagit, Nooksack, and Wenatchee Rivers. Having scored the No. 5 spot on Sunset magazine's Top 10 Rafting Trips, Pacific NW's famed Bald Eagle Raft Adventure grants tourists a chance to take in the serenity of rustling cottonwoods and the majesty of Mount Baker as their guides quietly point out migratory eagles from Canada and Alaska.
Growing up in Idaho, Luke E. Baugh was never far from adventure. His early experiences in the state's rugged backcountry were so formative that, rather than settling down when he got older, he set out to explore the natural landscape of the entire United States. Luke spent years on the nation's most challenging rivers, mastering the art and safety of rafting as he learned to maneuver through their harrowing rapids. But that wasn't enough. Luke had to share the beauty he'd experienced with others.
At Triad River Tours, Luke and his team know that the number-one reason people don't get to enjoy the outdoors is fear, which is why they make it their mission to ease as many of their customers' worries as possible. Every lead rafting guide is a professional outdoorsman who undergoes and graduates from Swiftwater Rescue training. Every tour follows meticulous safety protocols, including the use of a safety kayaker to communicate upcoming river conditions and funny-looking pebbles. And even before they offer a tour, the team spends up to six months scouting, preparing, and analyzing the specific route to ensure that every variable has been accounted for. This is all so that everyone, from the timid to the adventurous, can enjoy the beauty of the water and the inspiration of the outdoors. The result is a range of exhilarating tours for every interest, from the tranquility of romantic dinner tours to the adrenaline boost of Sauk River's Class III rapids.
Wayne Ackerlund and his knowledgeable guides captain a small fleet of propane-heated boats along the Skagit River, home to the highest concentration of bald eagles, as well as the happiest population of water molecules, in the lower 48 states. Before the three-hour tour kicks off, guides will greet guests at Howard Miller Steelhead Park and transport them to the launch site. High-backed, cushioned seats help six to eight guests relax as they sip steaming mugs of hot cocoa, keeping eyes and camera lenses peeled for glimpses of regal eagles feeding or building nest eggs. As guides tell of the eagles, their habits, and their habitat, motorized boats sail across a diverse ecosystem harboring elk, cougars, bears, and waterfowl, all living in the shelter of blue snow-capped mountains and lush evergreen forests.