Many of our friends swear by Deception Pass State Park, but I somehow never managed to make a reservation in time for previous summers. When WA State Parks re-opened “roofed accommodations” this year, I immediately hopped onto the reservation site to see if any cabins were available and snagged aspot for a couple of nights. It ended up being just me and the kids because Peter was still recovering from a collapsed lung, so I made it as easy as possible for myself. I packed a lot of “no cook” meals (yogurt, banana zucchini bread, cut vegetables and fruit, cheese, etc) and planned to do take-out for dinner. That strategy ended up working out really well, and I would definitely do another easy solo trip like this, although I’m not sure I’m up to tent camping by myself with young kids yet.
Where: Deception Pass State Park; about 2 hours from Seattle through Anacortes, or between 1.5-3 hrs on the ferry.
When: Early August 2020
Site #: C4, Quarry Pond Campground
Beach and Trail Access
We enjoyed visiting Rosario Head (the north side of the park) – the hike could be up to 1.5 mi round trip if you started in the Bowman Bay area, but we parked by Rosario Beach and the loop around the viewpoint was quite short and easy for little legs. You also get to view a beautiful Samish tribe story pole depicting Ko Kwal Al-Woot, also known as the Maiden of Deception Pass. The story boards are quite weather worn, so you can read the story here.
Rosario Beach has some small, but lovely tidepools just past the picnic area. There is a rope trail to follow so that people’s feet don’t trample the sea creatures. Small anemones abound, but peer under the taller rocky outcroppings for sea stars, red sea cucumbers, and larger anemones.
We also really liked a section of Hoypus Point (right up the road from the Quarry Pond Campground). I believe there are multiple access points, but for a paved trail that’s great for views of the Deception Pass Bridge and kids on bikes/in jogging strollers, we parked near the Cornet Bay Boat Ramp and Julia rode her bike until she got tired. It wasn’t highly trafficked and the ground was flat, so it was a perfect spot to go with little ones.
Proximity to Amenities
Like many of the state parks on Whidbey Island, you can get to grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops within 20-30 minutes. For this kind of easy camping trip, I really appreciated letting the kids play as long as possible before tearing them away for dinner.
On the first night, we got take-out pizza from our favorite Coupeville spot, the Oystercatcher. There are some picnic tables right by the wharf and we got to have a waterfront view while eating our fennel salami pizza and pimento cheese with grilled bread. We grabbed ice cream from Kapaw’s Iskreme just before they closed and enjoyed a leisurely walk on the wharf before heading back to the cabin.
For night two, we ate at the Shrimp Shack just north of Deception Pass. I felt a little less comfortable there in light of the COVID pandemic – there wasn’t a picnic area nearby, so we ate at the outdoor tables and I wasn’t impressed with the mask wearing of the employees or fellow customers (not covering noses, etc) and the handwashing station wasn’t working. They were cleaning tables regularly with bleach, however, but I rushed the kids through dinner with the promise of watermelon back at the campsite.
Campground Quality and Layout
Check-in was a comedy of errors – there was no information other than “Register at the kiosk” in my confirmation e-mails, so we looked at the Quarry Pond kiosk, which only had fee envelopes for last minute camping. It turned out our cabin had a numerical key pad for access, but the key code wasn’t in my e-mail or posted on the door clip. I called reservations, but they couldn’t help other than to tell me to check those spots. We went back to the main park entrance and waited in a long line of cars that were hoping to catch sunset at the park and finally got a keycode. The process took about an hour and the kids were troopers, but it was definitely a reminder that our parks are underfunded and overworked.
The cabin itself was spotless and smelled very freshly cleaned. We’ve stayed in a lot of state park cabins and this one seemed newer (i.e., quiet mini split for heat/AC and the aforementioned key pad). The site was pretty small and there was barely enough space to park our Outback, but since we weren’t planning on building a fire, there was enough space for the kids and the restroom was within close walking distance. Julia enjoyed riding her bike down the hill in front of the site and could do a loop around our section without going out of sight for long.
Regarding accessibility – while our cabin had a few stairs to get in, there was a handicap accessible cabin up the road that had a ramp.
The campground layout wasn’t ideal – the road winds through all the campsites before the cabins at the very end. I really prefer the loops that adjoin a main road so you can get to your site quickly (like Dosewallips State Park). From what I saw, there was only one bathroom, so you could have to walk quite a ways to access it depending on your site location. I did like the cute little namesake pond – there were some benches nearby where we could sit and a few trees to temporarily hang our hammock since our site was so small.
One critique we had heard from others was that the naval jet flyovers from Oak Harbor can be loud and extended. We saw a couple of jets while we were at the beach, but never heard anything long and it was in the middle of the day, so it didn’t bother our sleep.
I loved the relative ease of enjoying the variety Deception Pass had to offer – tidepools/beach, trails, and access to other parks on Whidbey Island within a short drive. Staying in a cabin and leveraging restaurants allowed us an easy getaway since I could avoid cooking, so it felt more doable as a solo parent than a tent camping trip.
I would probably take the northern route onto Whidbey Island for this trip. We arrived on a Sunday and attempted the ferry, but the line was so long that we would likely have waited 1.5-2 hours just to board, with another 45 minutes of driving after the ferry ride. I ended up turning around and driving the “long” way around because it felt more reliable since the park is at the northern part of the island. There was some traffic going over the Deception Pass bridge, but it gave us a chance to admire the view, so I can’t complain.
We stayed for two nights and never even entered the main part of the park, so I would love to come back and explore some more. There are also some slightly larger cabins that I’d like to try, perhaps for a fall/early spring escape before our Pacific Northwest weather warms up.