|NAUTICAL MILES: Seattle Waterfront (Amanda Clement/Stockbyte/Getty)|
While Alki Kayak Tours' two-hour paddle in Elliott Bay skirts downtown Seattle, the views still make it a worthy urban excursion. "We look across a nautical mile at the city, so you can see the whole skyline, from the Space Needle to the Columbia Tower," says owner and guide Greg Whittaker. Other highlights include views of the historic Magnolia neighborhood, West Point Lighthouse, Bainbridge Island, and Blake Island State Park, the closet state park to the city.
Alki Kayak Tours uses only double kayaks for its guided trips, with one triple kayak available that an adult (often the guide) and two younger kids can share. "It's not a tippy river kayak," says Whittaker, who says Alki Kayak boasts a 100 percent safety record during its three years of operation. "Capsizing is very rare, one in a thousand," he adds. Alki Kayak also uses all locally manufactured equipment to support sustainable tourism.
Families spend the first half hour on the beach getting fitted and learning about safety on the water. "These tours are very safe as long as you follow maritime rules," says Whittaker. "Elliott bay is a big, open maritime area, so we have ships and tugs and we stay out of the shipping lanes. We carry radios and can talk to ship captains, which kids love." While on the water, look for harbor seals, California sea lions, sea birds, jellyfish, and bald eagles. Every tour covers the natural and human history of the region, which includes the site where Europeans first settled in the mid 1800s.
While summer is peak kayaking season in the Pacific Northwest, Whittaker prefers spring and fall for the best wildlife viewing. "I love the proximity and ease with which you can get out and be in the urban environment but still be close to wilderness," he says. "We want people to become a part of the natural world, which makes people want to protect it."
Access and Resources
Alki Kayak Tours
Address: 1660 Harbor Ave. Seattle
Cost: Kayak rentals: $15 an hour for a single, $25 an hour for a double; $39 for two-hour tour of Elliott Bay
Ages: Kids ages five and up can do the tour
Where Guides Go for Grub: Alki Crab and Fish Restaurant at the launch site
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication