Whidbey Island Deception Pass
June 28 - July 2, 2015
The temperature is too damn high; the grass is too damn dry.
We decided on Saturday that enough heat was enough - we needed cooler weather for a few days! So after a quick scan, we noticed that weather on Whidbey was as much as 20F degrees cooler than where we were. It's closer to us than the Olympic peninsula or the Pacific coast, and we didn't have to think about putting Rocinante on a ferry to get there. So, we planned a 4 day escape and made reservations via the WA State Parks website, grabbing the very last campsite at Deception Pass State Park that suited our interests (3 nights 6/28-7/2, partial hookups for AC in case of extra heat, and a spot that would officially hold our 28' trailer).
BTW, Fort Casey and Fort Ebey State Parks looked interesting, but had zero available sites with hookups. Given we were headed into a holiday week, we were happy to find anything even though we chose to spend only 3 nights, returning on Thursday before the inbound 4th of July camper crush for the weekend.
Camping at Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass is a beautiful park. It's large enough to make for some fun casual hikes and has enough hills to enable bike rides that will be more challenging than you might expect. The trees in the main campground are beautiful. The physical plan is great, landscaping is lovely where it's employed, and facilities are in good shape.
Of course, the nearby Deception and Canoe passes between Fidalgo and Whidbey island are a delight. Beautiful scenery, and a stunning walkable bridge make for a very pleasant visit. We even saw a bald eagle fishing off the North Beach, though he didn't catch anything. Cranberry Lake is a particularly nice, with a sandy swimming beach and a place where you can rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boats for some fun on the water.
The noise. OMG, the noise!
You need to know about the noise. Not just road noise. Not just boater noise. Those would be nothing compared to what you may experience while visiting here. Deception Pass park is directly under flyways for the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station just south of the park. So, at any time you may have a fleet of EA-18G Growlers screaming overhead at low altitude. They make no bones about it. They are insanely loud, blasting everything in their path with incredible waves of searing jet noise. Sonic booms are the only sound they don't make.
You have been warned. The park warns you as well (see below). Take this seriously. Your imagination is likely insufficient to the reality of this sonic torture. Despite the scenery and the fun surroundings, we will not be camping at this park again. The noise is just unacceptable. For all we know, it may have damaged our hearing. It was truly that awful.
If they aren't flying, the park is an incredibly pleasant serene experience. If they are flying, you'll be constantly ducking your head, looking up and wondering what war zone you dropped into without warning. Each night we had jets screaming overhead from roughly 8pm to midnight. Every night. Fly-bys happen during the day as well, though they didn't seem as bad...perhaps because we were out and about. We hope your experience is better. We have friends who stayed here with no jet noise, so it's possible.
As an FYI, all State Parks on Whidbey Island carry the same warning on the WA State Parks website. "U.S. Navy jets from nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island may fly over the campground at any time for several hours. Navy personnel conduct training missions at various times during the day and night. Depending on the direction of the wind, their flight pattern may put them above the park, creating noisy conditions for campers."
What loop, which campsite?
You may be wondering...what exactly did we grab at the last possible minute? Deception Pass State Park, after all, has a pretty big and very popular campground. Not an easy place to get into, given we're lifetime members of Procrastinators International and Last Minute Louies Unlimited when it comes to selecting a campsite.
In our last minute thirst for cool camping, we snapped up #361, in the Quarry Pond Loop. This is actually across Route 20 from the park proper. Some refer to it as an "overflow" area, but it's nicer than that. There are lots of trees, generous shade, plenty of sites with partial hookups (water & electric), flush toilets and coin-op showers. There's also a dump station across the main drag, just inside the park. So what's the catch? The Quarry Pond loop has incredibly dusty gravel streets throughout, while camping loops inside the park are paved and dust-free. Swimming in the pond is prohibited. The Quarry loop also had a generally unkempt look about it. That said, we were glad to get into the campground and had a lovely time (aside from the jet noise).
One note about our particular campsite: Site #361 is level and long, and we found it easy to park our trailer there. However, it is at the confluence of two streets within the Quarry Pond loop. As a result of this, it gets traffic from both sides, and a double-helping of dust. So, while we were glad to get into the campground and we liked the site overall, the dry weather and frequent passage of cars made this one of our dustier camping experiences.
There are no sewer hookups at campsites in this park, but if you camp here you can use their dump station for free on the way in and/or out. If you don't camp here, they ask you to pay a small fee to use it.
Bonus - new friends!
While camping we were fortunate enough to meet a lovely couple from Utah, camping in a very cool restored Shasta trailer. They were camped in site #347, next to us and right on the Quarry Pond. They are editors for Salt Lake Magazine, Utah Style and Design, and Utah Bride & Groom magazines. Over a couple of evenings we gave each other tours of our trailers, shared some great stories, and a few nice bottles of wine. Now, that's some premier glamping, right there. Pulling interesting trailers leads to meeting truly fun and interesting people!
Here's a little glamping bonus for you, dear readers: a fresh and flavorful watermelon update.
Can't hear Verizon now.
We had little to no signal from Verizon throughout most of the park. We were once able to actually send an email by using our Wilson Sleek Booster, but in general we had "No Service" or a single bar of 1X. However, there's plenty of 4G, wi-fi hot spots and groceries in Oak Harbor, only 6-7 miles south.
Where's the beach?
Deception Pass park has two beaches: West and North. Each is accessible via car, bike, or a walk.
If you're looking for a beach that lets you alternately play in the ocean waves and swim on a popular sandy freshwater beach, you want West Beach. This is also the place from which to watch a sunset. They have nice picnic tables here, a concession stand for treats, and a rental counter for kayaks, canoes and pedal boats. The parking lot is large. While we were there, it had plenty of room, but if we were betting folks we'd expect the lot to fill early on busy weekends. There's no extra charge to park down here or use the facilities beyond what you already paid to get into the park. It's also a pretty easy hike from here to the North Beach and then up to the bridge, should you wish to do so.
North Beach is where you go if your primary goal is to view the spectacular bridge over the pass and then perhaps hike up to it. This lot is smaller than at West Beach, though we noticed an additional lot there as we left that location. It's an easy walk from here down to North Beach. This is definitely not a swimming beach. Currents are strong here, either drawing east into and through Deception Pass, or pushing west out into the Admiralty Inlet (Puget Sound). It's a lovely gravel beach, though, and the views are stunning. We saw a Bald Eagle fishing here from some trees at the East end of the beach. There was signage here indicating that some marine mammals (e.g. seals or sea lions) had been sunning themselves on the beach earlier in the day, though we did not see any.
Deception Pass Bridge
From the same parking lot as North Beach it's an easy hike up to the bridge. Once you get up there, it is a simple matter to walk up the stairs and then along either side of the bridge. Once you're across, it is also easy to again climb down stairs, walk under the bridge, and then come back the same way. The view from the bridge to the East and West is simply stunning. During our visit, the tide was coming in, and thus the current below was moving strongly from West to East.
Realizing that flight patterns emanating from the Naval Air Station may change due to wind directions and general cussedness, we still explored a couple of other parks on the island to see what they had to offer and whether they were more peaceful. It may have been a trick of the wind, but we found the following parks to be quiet during our visit.
Fort Ebey State Park
Fort Ebey State Park is roughly 18 miles south of Deception Pass State Park and 8 miles south of Oak Harbor. Site of a small WWII gun battery on a high bluff, it's a lovely place with lots of trees and expansive views. The campground is small, but looks nice. It has 50 campsites, 11 of which are equipped with partial utilities (water, electric). There are plenty of trees and lots of shade, loop roads are paved, and the campground is serene. (We didn't hear a single jet fly by during our visit.)
We wandered about the battlements and enjoyed a nice walk along the bluffs here on what is referred to as the "beach trail". Scenery to the west is stunning, and the trail is pleasant.
We'll try this park on a future camping trip on Whidbey Island!
Fort Casey State Park
Fort Casey State Park is another interesting location on Whidbey Island. It's a much larger WWII gunnery emplacement which has since been converted into a state park. The old fortress structures and gun emplacements are still there, wide open for wandering and exploration. There are great views across Admiralty Inlet from atop the gun emplacements. They still have two disappearing guns mounted, which makes it easy to see how part of the battery would have worked had it ever been needed. That's right, the guns were never actually used in defense of our country...but they were ready.
The campground here is even smaller than at Fort Ebey, with 35 sites, 12 of which have partial utilities (water, electric). It has no trees, but in exchange offers an arresting view of the Admiralty Inlet, and is within easy walking distance of the terminal for the Port Townsend - Coupeville ferry. A walk on puts you inexpensively in Port Townsend with easy strolling access to a quaint town on the Olympic Peninsula. There is also plenty of open space for flying kites.