Each September, as kids go back to school and the days of summer fade away, Budd Inlet becomes a hotbed of salt water action. Returning salmon mingle and wait to work their way up the freshwater of the Deschutes River as hungry seals feast on the smorgasbord, all to the delight of onlookers at the 5th Avenue Bridge. For a few adventurous souls, the activity in the water serves as an invitation to get a little closer and see the action from water level. With each high tide, kayakers head south, following the rising waters in hopes witness this event firsthand.
Launching from Tugboat Annie’s, a handful of Olympia residents slip into Budd Inlet on rented kayaks each day, eager for an amazing journey on the water. Located a short distance from the salmon and seals, this location for renting a kayak to enjoy Olympia views and adventures can’t be beat. Close to the log booms where the seals hang out, renting a kayak from Tugboat Annie’s costs just $20 per kayak for 2 hours. You can also rent a kayak out in Boston Harbor, but the paddling to the Olympia views and seal/salmon experience might be too long for first timers.
Paddling south toward the city, they are on an adventure that many locals overlook. As they get closer toward the 4th Avenue Bridge, the majesty and beauty of the region shows itself. While many find themselves frequenting land based destinations, be it a city, state, county or National Park, a few of us that live around Olympia enjoy seeing our town from the Puget Sound as often as possible. Exploring Budd Inlet by kayak is fun year round, but the late summer and fall months make it a unique and truly Pacific Northwest experience, as seals and salmon swim next to your human-powered boats.
Olympia residents Leslie and Dan Wolff explore Budd Inlet by kayak often. They tell us that year round, the waters and experiences found while kayaking are meditative, intoxicating them with a unique nature adventure. Each September though, the Wolffs can be found celebrating the return of the salmon and the activity of the seals by paddling around the southern end of the Sound.
“I absolutely love being on the water in any capacity,” Leslie told us after a day on the water. “The South Sound is sheltered enough to feel calm like a lake, but the wildlife is above and beyond what most expect. I’ve seen scores of seals on every trip, including seeing the young seal pups sunning on the log booms. You can just float on by and have them bark at you. Sometimes they swim right up and follow you. It’s a pretty magical feeling!”
Dan seconds the animal watching experience found while kayaking in Budd Inlet. “The highlight of paddling from Tugboat Annie’s is definitely watching the wildlife. Don’t approach the seals, but watch them as you drift silently with the current. Do not harass the breeding grounds and don’t approach the wildlife, but understand that the seals are allowed to approach you. Often, seals will come up close to you and play around your boat.”
While seals can be seen during each season, heading out as summer wains will allow you to witness the waters full of salmon as well, the seal’s favorite treat. The best place to watch the salmon, and a few inevitable seals on salmon skirmishes, is to paddle below the 4th Ave Bridge and look south toward the 5th Ave Bridge. Here, you can watch seals toss the salmon around as the rest of the school swims fast, often making a small wake. The salmon watching isn’t as easy as from the viewing platform on the 5th Ave Bridge, but those patient enough might be able to see a seal eating a salmon just a few feet from their kayak.
Leslie and Dan have advice for the curious about kayaking in Budd Inlet. “Jump in, no pun intended, and do it. Don’t wait! If you’ve never been on the water around Olympia, find a friend to show you the ropes, read the warnings and instructions and go for it. Don’t hesitate to ask the rental staff questions they want you to stay safe as badly as you want to stay safe.”
The Wolff’s also recommend bringing water to drink on your journey and to remember to put your precious items (cell phone, credit cards, anything water will damage) in a sealed container or plastic bag. It is also important to not assume kayaks will be available if you decide on a last minute adventure. Make a reservation before you go.
Paddling around Budd Inlet with the salmon and seals is a perfectly Pacific Northwest experience. Surrounded by some of the most gorgeous landscape in the world, it is important to reconnect with the waters in our own backyard. By seeing things from the rolling waves, we gain a new perspective and often a new appreciation for life in Thurston County.