On calm, overcast days in Johnstone Strait you can hear orcas blowing from more than a mile away-a spine-tingling sound that floats across the still, black waters of this passage on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. You can book an outfitter for a guided tour of Johnstone or go on your own if you have the equipment and experience.
Park in Telegraph Cove, a hamlet at the strait's west end. Paddle out of the cove and hang a right, and you're in the strait. The best campsites are near the mouths of streams, between the high-tide line and the nearly impenetrable shrubbery.
Peak orca-and kayaking-season is midsummer. Make the two-mile crossing to Hanson Island and take Blackney Passage into Blackfish Sound, where a maze of small islands offers numerous possibilities for exploration (watch for tidal currents in the narrow straits). Summer weather alternates between clear, crisp days and periods of extended overcast and gentle rains, with occasional storms.
Call British Columbia Parks at 250-949-2815. Ecosummer Expeditions (800-465-8884) runs three- to 14-day guided tours of Johnstone Strait ($425-$1,595). Pacific Rim Paddling Company (250-384-6103) has a six-day package for $675.
Most people think of Baja as a winter destination. But if you're willing to brave some heat, you can have the choicest paddling routes practically to yourselves-after all, there's a whole sea to cool off in. Early summer is best, before the hurricane season (August through October). Get out on the water before dawn, when it's cool and calm, then take a siesta during the heat of the day.
Puerto Escondido, about 15 miles south of Loreto, is a good launch point for a tour of several small desert islands. An RV park just outside Escondido offers camping, a restaurant, and parking. Launch from the harbor and make the 2.5-mile crossing to Isla Danzante, a three-mile-long island with pretty, if narrow, beaches, and good snorkeling among brilliant sergeant majors and angelfish. You can make a 20-mile circle tour back to Puerto Escondido by way of several tiny islets south of Danzante, or undertake the 60-mile circumnavigation of Isla Carmen to the northeast. For charts of the region contact Southwest Kayaks at 619-222-3616. Las Parras in Loreto (011-52-113-5-1010) rents kayaks and offers day trips. The best guidebook is Sea Kayaking in Baja by Andromeda Romano-Lax (Wilderness Press, $13.95).
Paddlers exploring the 3,000-odd islands off the Maine coast can choose their own style-isolated archipelagos and wilderness camps, or civilized tours of historic waterfront towns with nightly stops at firelit inns or B&Bs. Either way, the state offers possibly the best sea kayaking on the East Coast. Beautiful Penobscot Bay is filled with hundreds of islands and nearly as many inns, so it's a great base for day trips or longer excursions. It's crowded in midsummer-reservations are essential if you want to sleep indoors. Go in June to avoid the crowds.
Founded as a French trading post in 1613-14, the harborside village of Castine, on the east end of the bay, is a sheltered launch point with a public dock. From there you can potter about watching sailboats or head southeast about 15 miles to the Stonington Archipelago, a group of more than 75 granite islands in between Deer Island and Isle au Haut. Listen for loons calling in early morning, and watch for dolphins offshore. Good campsites are available free to members of the Maine Island Trail Association on Wheat and Harbor islands.
Just around the corner from Penobscot Bay are popular Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. For an introductory taste of sea kayaking, sign up for a half-day tour of the rugged Acadia coast with National Park Sea Kayak Tours in Bar Harbor ($45 per person; call 800-347-0940).
The Maine Island Kayak Company (800-796-2373) offers three- to five-day tours of Penobscot Bay. Costs are about $150 per day; kids in doubles pay about 30 percent less. For lodging, call the Castine Inn (207-326-4365), Castine Cottages (207-326-8003), or Bar Harbor Inn (800-248-3351). Join the Maine Island Trail Association (207-596-6456) to receive their annual guide and charts, which list islands where camping is allowed. Weather is changeable, so carry a radio for forecasts and fog alerts.