* Article updated October 29th, 2018 *
Deception Pass State Park enthusiasts can tour museums, go kayaking, and enjoy fresh brewed coffee kettle from Nature’s Coffee Kettle while watching the sun rise from Mount Erie.
Deception Pass State Park is one of Washington’s most visited parks. Situated near a stretch of coastal islands that spread along the U.S. and Canadian border, this park offers access to miles of marine coastline to explore. We’re talking craggy cliffs overlooking the ocean and miles of hiking trails through old growth forests. This kind of landscape offers up plenty to keep campers busy, and there are several activities that you won’t want to miss out on while you are staying here.
The park is actually situated on two islands, Whidbey and Fidalgo, with a bridge connecting the two. You can seek out ocean wildlife in the tide pools, hike the trails, or kayak to one of the more remote beaches.
The cultural significance of Deception Pass State Park is as intriguing as the landscape. The most recently acquired property at the park is Kukutali Preserve, which Washington State Parks co manages with Swinomoish Indian Tribal Community. This area features trails through an old growth forest and views of the ocean and nearby islands.
The Best Deception Pass State Park Trip
Start With Deception Pass Camping
There are more than 300 campsites at Deception Pass State Park, but they tend to fill up quickly. So, it’s always a good idea to reserve your spot early for Deception Pass camping. There are over 30 miles of hiking trails in the park, as well as 1.2 miles of ADA trails, 3 miles of biking trails, and 6 miles of horseback riding trails, allowing you to enjoy the views in any way you please.
With all of that camping space and plenty to explore, this park is a great option for camping in Washington state. The Dyrt campers have shared tips and thoughts from their own experiences at Deception Pass State Park, to help ensure you have a great time during your stay.
Cranberry Lake is where you’ll find the majority of spots for Deception Pass camping, but if you’re lucky you can snag a more remote spot at Bowman Bay, where there are 20 sites, or Quarry Pond, where you will find 63 sites.
The camping here is incredible, but the activities are what make it such a popular destination. These are the top tips that you won’t want to forget about while camping near Deception Pass State Park:
1. Go on a Kayak Tour
There are a variety of tour groups operating in the area, and most are reasonably priced. Anacortes Kayak Tours offers 1.5 hour sea-kayaking trips geared towards kids, and longer full and half-day trips for those who want to stay out on the water for longer.
You can even bring your own kayak and tour the bay yourself. There are several boat and watercraft launches located throughout the park. You might even catch of glimpse of some local wildlife while you are out on the water, like this seal that tried to hitch a ride with The Dyrt camper Elliott B. and his family.
2. Book a Fishing Charter
Deception Pass State Park offers both freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities with access to the Pacific Ocean and several lakes. Halibut, lingcod, salmon, prawns, and crab await anglers eager to cast their line into waters here. Whether you’re looking for a full day excursion or a short afternoon jaunt, tour companies like Jolly Mon Charters can be found in surrounding towns like Anacortes and Oak Harbor.
3. Hike Mount Erie
Looking for stunning views of Deception Pass and the surrounding islands? The 5-mile, roundtrip day hike to the top of Mount Erie offers just that. Gain 1300′ of elevation as you follow a series of trails through junctions, along meadows, and eventually to the summit, where you can take in all of the surrounding scenery.
“The views are breathtaking! A nice hike down to the beach and my dog and I had a blast. A little overcast so we only saw a couple other people the whole time. This is a must-see for anyone in the Pacific North West.” — The Dyrt camper Jessica M.
4. Traverse High Bridge
The High Bridge spanning the Juan de Fuca and Saratoga Passage is an icon of the Pacific Northwest. Nearly a quarter of a mile long and only 28 feet wide, the bridge can be passed via car, bike, or on foot. If you don’t feel like trekking across the bridge, at least view it from a distance and snap a photo or two.
5. Swim or Fish at Cranberry Lake
For freshwater swimming and fishing head to Cranberry Lake. The waters stay between a comfortable 55 and 60 degrees here and there is a sandy beach with an enclosed swimming area on the west side of the lake, where you can lounge or cool off. You can also fish for trout, bass, and perch here. If you do decide to fish at Cranberry Lake make sure you have a current fishing license from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
6. Hike Deception Pass to Lighthouse Point
This hike navigates the circumference of an unnamed peninsula to Lighthouse Point. You will get to enjoy incredible views of Lottie Bay, the High Bridge, and Rosario Head along the way. After the first 3/4 mile of the hike, the loop itself becomes a bit tricky, requiring sure footing and some focused attention. It is recommended that you head back after reaching Lighthouse Point if you are hiking with little ones.
“The area has a lot to offer from a great for families. We did the Rosario Head (sunset) and Lighthouse Point hikes, which are short and easy for young children.” — The Dyrt camper David C.
7. Visit the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center in Bowman Bay
Beginning in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps went to work at Deception Pass in an effort to make the park more accessible for visitors. They created most of the roads and trails that you can now enjoy here. To celebrate their hard work, an interpretive center was built at Bowman Bay. Now you can learn about the Conservation Corps and see historic artifacts from the area. If it is so nice out that you don’t feel like heading inside, you can just wander along the bay and take in the views.
8. Double Feature at the Drive-In Movie Theatre
This local favorite shows two features a night for $7.00 per person ($1.00 for kids), and is a throwback to the 1950s when drive-in theaters were all the rage. The drive-in is located in the nearby town of Oaks Harbor. The first feature rolls at dusk, with the second following shortly thereafter. It might be unconventional to see a movie while you’re camping, but it is also a fresh and exciting way to spend an evening in the woods.
9. Explore the Tide Pools
At Rosario Beach, tide pools abound. These tiny ecosystems are home to barnacles, urchins, mussels, snails, and more. Balance carefully on the slippery rocks to get an up close glimpse into their underwater world. It is important to follow the rope trail that has been set up. This ensures your own safety and helps to maintain natural habitats. And it’s only 12 minutes from Deception Pass State Park.
10. Become a Park Ranger for a Day
The Deception Pass camping fee might seem high, but keep in mind that this price also covers entrance into the park. Along with park entrance and camping, you can look forward to activities like boating, mountain biking, kayaking, diving, and fishing.
The park also offers a ranger program, where visitors can learn about the park’s unique ecosystems. If you don’t feel like fishing and want to hunt for your dinner, shellfish are abundant within the park. Just remember to obtain a license from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife first.
11. Sleep Soundly with Earplugs
The Jets from the nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island fly over the park during training exercises on occasion, and it can get a bit noisy. This state park is also, of course, home to a lot of wildlife. While camping in Deception Pass can be a serene experience, animals do sometimes make some noise too. Ear plugs can be a good way to ensure that you get a great nights sleep no matter what is going on around you.
“The worst thing are jets from the nearby naval base are super loud and fly very late into the night, well beyond quiet hours.” Luckily they didn’t fly at night on our last night, being a Friday. Bring earplugs!!” — The Dyrt camper David C.
12. Backpack Deeper for Deception Pass Solitude
Most of the camping in Deception Pass State Park is accessible by car, which is convenient. However, there are some secluded campsites within the park. The best way to access these sites is by backpacking in. In the more remote areas you will get additional privacy and solitude. It can make for an even more relaxing Deception Pass camping experience for some.
“They have several secluded campsites set aside for hikers and bikers, and they were totally worth the work. We ended up in site #233 and it was perfect. Totally tucked away in the trees with soft ground and simple surroundings. If you plan to hike or bike in and use these spots, get there as early as you can.” — The Dyrt camper Travis D.
13. Find Deception Pass Camping Near the Beach
We might have saved the best tip for last, so if you’re still here, you’re in for a treat.
Arrive early and snag one of the first-come, first-served beachside camp spots. Camping near the water has many benefits, including the lull of the waves as you drift off to sleep at night. You also have a short walk to the water throughout the day. One drawback is that most of the park’s visitors will be accessing these areas at some point, limiting your privacy.
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