Whale Watching Tours – Best Seattle Hot Air Balloon Rides

Should you go whale watching from a boat or a hot air balloon when visiting Seattle?

How cool would it be to whale watching from a hot air balloon, that’s exactly what we did last weekend. It was a surreal experience to be floating among the whales and getting a close-up view of these beautiful creatures. The orcas or otherwise known as “killer whales” were so graceful as they swam through the water and it was an amazing sight to see them in their natural habitat.

If you want to see the orcas up close, you should pick a whale watching tour on a boat. The other option is to take a hot air balloon ride up to 5000 feet in Seattle and try to spot them from the sky with some high-powered binoculars!

Although gray whale sightings from a hot air balloon are rare, it’s not unheard of! The good news is you’ll also get epic views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade mountain range. Folks typically see a variety of amazing wildlife on the tour! It’s not rare to see elk, deer, fox pups, eagles, and many more majestic creatures! One of our flights last summer saw both a bear and a cougar on the same flight. The bear was a few years old, and the cougar was on the flight for her 40th birthday.

Seeing orca whales breach is a great experience for the whole family. So whether you’re in a hot air balloon or on a boat, keep your eyes peeled for this amazing marine mammal.

Whale watching seattle hot air balloon rides
Orca Whale Hot Air Balloon

Local Whales to Seattle

In Seattle, we have a small concentration of whales made up of a few different pods of Orcas. There are the Southern Residents, Transient Orcas, and Offshore Orcas.

The Southern Residents are a pod of orcas that live in the Puget Sound near Seattle. They are made up of three family groups: the J, K, and L pods. These orcas are considered “residents” because they spend most of their time in the same area. They eat mostly salmon, which they catch by hunting in packs while on inter-island adventures. 

Transient Orcas are a pod of orcas that live in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle. They are made up of several family groups, and they travel around a lot. They eat mostly marine wildlife, such as seals and sea lions.

Offshore Orcas are a pod of orcas that live in the open ocean, far from land. They are made up of several family groups.  They eat mostly fish, such as tuna and sharks.

Sunset whale watching tour seattle hot air ballooning rides
Orca whale breaching in front of a Seattle sunset

Whale Fun Facts

Here are some cool facts about Orcas for your entertainment!

  • Orcas are very social creatures, and they often travel in groups or “pods.”
  • Pods can be made up of family members, or they can be made up of unrelated orcas.
  • Orcas communicate with each other using a variety of sounds, including clicks, whistles, and screams.
  • Adult orcas are also known to use their tails to slap the water, which makes a loud noise.
  • Sometimes, orcas will even breach (jump out of the water) or tail-walk (balance on their tails and wave their flukes in the air). These behaviors are thought to be ways of communicating or showing excitement.
  • Whale watching tours often have a variety of marine wildlife. Guests often see a variety of whales, dolphins, gray whales, humpback whales, baleen whales, blue whales, minke whales, seals, finback whales, and other apex predators. 

Spotting Orca Whales On A Hot Air Balloon Ride

If you’re looking for a different perspective in search of whales, you could also try flying in a hot air balloon next to them. Seattle has some great hot air balloon rides that will take you up to 5000 feet in the sky. From here, you’ll be able to use some high-powered binoculars to spot the whales swimming below. Whale watching tours have multiple departure times throughout the day. Seattle Ballooning’s hot air balloon tours have a convenient departure time at sunrise and sunset.  If you are going to spot some orca whales from the balloon, you’ll want to select a sunrise flight.  Orcas whales feed the most early in the morning and at dusk! 

If you’re interested in an unforgettable adventure, there are a few things you should know. First of all, orcas are pretty easy to spot because they are the only black and white whale. They also tend to breach (jump out of the water), so keep an eye out for that too!

Second, make sure you’re whale watching with a reputable company. There are a lot of tour operators in Seattle, so do your research and pick one that is environmentally conscious, focused on conservation, and has a good reputation.

For folks that often get seasick or aren’t good on boats, hot air ballooning is a great alternative to get up close and personal with nature. An aerial adventure is a great way to experience nature without the risk of accidentally falling off a boat into the cold water of The Puget Sound.

Whale watching tour seattle hot air balloon rides
Pod of whales with Mt. Rainier

Epic Hot Air Balloon Ride

Seattle Ballooning provides hot air balloon rides directly in front of Mt. Rainier with 360-degree views. You’ll be able to see San Juan Island, Lopez Island, Orcas Island, and even downtown Seattle! Our hot air balloon rides typically reach a max altitude of 5k feet and allow a birds-eye view of Seattle’s majestic countryside. The hot air balloon ride lasts about an hour and includes champagne after the ride! The duration of the total experience lasts 3 hours from departure. 

If you’re looking for an unforgettable adventure, whale watching from a hot air balloon is something you should definitely add to your bucket list!

So, next time you’re in Seattle or looking for a unique once-in-a-lifetime adventure, consider whale watching from a hot air balloon! It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

hot air balloon ride seattle whale watching
Passengers on a hot air balloon ride with Seattle Ballooning

Whale Watching FAQ’s

Answers to common questions we get about whale watching and whale watching cruises:

How much does it cost to go whale watching in Seattle?

Whale-watching tickets for whale-watching boat tours in Seattle typically cost around $100 per person. To view whales from a hot air balloon you’ll pay $325-$375 per person and have to get pretty lucky. You can also get a special rate ticket for children and a combo ticket for families and groups. Book in advance for these life-changing experiences as upcoming availability can be hard to find. 

How does whale conservation in Seattle work?

Whale conservation is the preservation and protection of whales. This can be done through activism, education, and by working with governments and other organizations to create conservation initiatives and regulations that protect these coastal animals.

There are many different whale species, all of which are at risk in different ways. The orca, or killer whale, is one of the most well-known and loved whale species. They are unfortunately also one of the most endangered. Orcas are hunted by humans for their meat and blubber, and they also suffer from pollution and habitat loss.

Whales play a vital role in the ecosystem, and their conservation is essential to maintain a healthy balance in the oceans. Whales help to keep populations of other animals in check, and they also help to cycle nutrients throughout the water. Their poop actually helps to fertilize the ocean and create new life!

There are many organizations and conservation partners dedicated to whale conservation, and you can help by supporting their conservation efforts. You can also help by spreading awareness about the importance of whale conservation and what people can do to help. Every little bit counts, so let’s all do our part to protect these magnificent creatures!

How far in advance should I book a Seattle whale watching tour or whale watching cruise?

There is no definitive answer on how far in advance you should book your whale watching tour. Booking in advance is a good idea! It can depend on a number of factors, such as the time of year, the availability of boats, and the orca whale’s migration patterns. However, most whale watching tours or whale watching cruises book up well in advance, so it’s usually a good idea to book at least a few weeks or months in advance. For hot air balloon “whale watching tours” you’ll want to book at least a month in advance. You are also 100% more likely to see whales from a boat than from a hot air balloon.

Are their seats on whale watching tours in Seattle?

Yes, there are seats on whale watching tours in Seattle. Some boats have heated cabins with seating, cathedral bow seating. However, comfortable seating is not normally associated with whale watching.  The seats are not always comfortable, and they do not always provide a good view of the whales. Some people prefer to stand on the tour boat so that they can get a better view. If you are interested in whale watching tours, be sure to ask about the seating options before you book your tour. You may also want to ask about the weather conditions during your hours of departure the day of your tour. If it is likely to be cold or windy, you may want to bring a jacket or sweater.

Do the whale watching tours in Seattle serve lunch?

Some whale watching tours serve lunch to their guests.  You can always pre-order boxed lunches for your family! As an alternative, if a tuna or salmon randomly jumps in your boat you could eat some sushi.

Are there whale watching events in Seattle?

Not really, but many organizations use whale watching for corporate events.  It’s a unique activity to do. Although the best corporate event is flying in a hot air balloon directly in front of Mt. Rainier in Seattle and looking for whales with high-powered binoculars.  

Is whale watching in Seattle good for watching birds?

We often see a variety of pelagic birds on whale-watching tours.  Although if you are interested in bird watching, we suggest you go hot air ballooning. It’s a bird watchers’ paradise.  You’ll soar like a bird above the trees and may even fly directly over an eagle’s nest.

Will I get motion sickness on a Seattle whale watching cruise?

If you don’t have good sea legs, you’ll be likely to get some motion sickness while on a whale-watching tour. We suggest you chat with your physician about getting motion sickness medicine. There are many over the counter remedies you can purchase as well

Hot Air Balloon Pilot Eliav C.
About the Author

Chief pilot of Seattle Ballooning. I get the opportunity to provide luxury hot air balloon rides just South of Seattle in front of Mt. Rainier. When you do what you love, it’s not considered work.

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