Cabin Camping with Kids: Deception Pass State Park

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.

Exploring tidepools at Rosario Beach
Sea stars, red sea cucumbers and anemones all on one rock!

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.

Cruising down the Hoypus Point trail on her bike
View of Deception Pass bridge from the Hoypus Point trail

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.

Enjoying a picnic from Oystercatcher in Coupeville
Racing on the Coupeville Wharf

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.

Gently sloping hill in front of our cabin – perfect for bike riding

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.

Pretty little waterfront area at Quarry Pond Campground

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.


Cabin Camping at Dosewallips State Park

Tent camping with small children can be terrifying challenging. There are intrepid families who camp with their kids as tiny newborns, but all the packing for camping intimidates me, let alone with a very tiny person. We finally started camping with Julia when she was about 16 or 17 months old, and while it wasn’t bad in the summer, I still wanted 4 walls around us in the late fall to help keep us warm and comfortable. Enter the cabins at Dosewallips State Park. These have become our go to in October when we want to enjoy the fall colors, but don’t want to deal with all the layers that cold-weather camping entails. We’ve since taken James as well, and it’s quickly becoming an annual tradition I really look forward to.

Drive Time from Seattle and Recommended Stops

We live in North Seattle, so if we time the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry right, it takes just over 2 hours to get to the park, even though we can never seem to drive more than an hour without stopping. Sometimes we go through Tacoma on the way home, which is about 2.5 hours.

We always stop in Port Gamble on our way. One year, we forgot a warm hat for Julia, so we popped in the Port Gamble General Store and picked up a cute little gnome hat. We enjoy the views(including Point Julia!) and the beautiful dahlia garden at the waterfront and then stop at the playground (if there isn’t a pandemic going on). There is a large lawn that is great for kids to stretch their legs even when avoiding high touch surfaces. After we get the wiggles out, we grab some lunch at Butcher & Baker Provisions. Their treats and sandwiches are so delicious!

Dashing through the leaves by the Port Gamble playground – October 2019

On our last trip, Peter wasn’t feeling well and we didn’t want to risk missing a ferry and delaying our return, so we drove through Tacoma and stopped at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Refuge that’s between Olympia and Tacoma. There are beautiful boardwalks in a short loop trail and a longer trail was under construction – such a nice spot to stretch our legs. The refuge is also included in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass (carry it with you rather than leaving it in your car), which we are really making use of this year.

Looking for tiny frogs at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – October 2019


Like most state park cabins, these are equipped with a bunk bed that has a twin bed on top (with a nice railing – Julia started sleeping in it at age 3) and a queen bed on the bottom, as well as a futon. They also have a table with chairs and a covered porch (good for cooking on a propane stove if it’s wet out). We have stayed in C6 and C8 – I like the cabins near the trail that goes under Highway 101 because it makes it easier for us to walk to the water, but there is some highway noise as a result. Some cabins are slightly closer to the restrooms, but they’re also close to the main campground road, so there’s more traffic that makes me nervous with little kids moving around.

Beware the 2-night minimum stay in cabins (and all “roofed shelters” like yurts etc). It has gotten stricter every year, so that it now applies to weekends year-round and any time between May 15 – September 15.

Testing out the top bunk in the cabins
Pre-dinner entertainment at our cabin site – a picnic blanket and beach ball were gold!

Things To Do

There are a couple of trails that depart from right next to the campground. There aren’t significant changes in elevation (they are loop trails that are between 2-3 miles) and there are some bridges and boardwalks to enjoy along the way.

Exploring the beautiful (but short!) wooded trails in Dosewallips – October 2017

The biggest highlight, though, is the trail to the beach area that starts on the East side of the Highway. You walk on 101 for a bit and can see spawning salmon in October. Then the trail continues through a small meadow and parking lot, down a gravel trail, and out to a viewing platform and the beach. It’s not a traditional beach with lots of sand, but more like a wetland area.

Plenty of stumps and logs to climb on the way to the beach
The lookout tower is a big hit with kids and offers gorgeous views

The beach is available to dig for clams or harvest oysters. We haven’t dug yet, but have seen people out with their buckets. Make sure to check the Parks website for alerts – sometimes the season is closed early due to overharvesting.

If you have painfully early risers like we do, take the trail out in the morning to watch the sunrise and have a picnic breakfast. You’ll have the place to yourself and we have seen herds of elk (they make the most interesting sounds!) and different species of birds every time we’ve visited. Watch out for elk droppings throughout the meadow (and on your way to the restroom from your camp site).

A herd of elk grazing in the meadow on our early walk to the beach
Sunrise snack near the waterfront
A fall sunrise at Dosewallips is my personal version of paradise


This state park is right on the edge of Olympic National Park, so it’s a good gateway for any hikes on the east side of the peninsula. I have Rocky Brook Falls, Murhut Falls and Lena Lake marked for future trips, but we haven’t stayed long enough to do them yet.

If you don’t feel like cooking all your meals (or if one of your party develops a man cold and couldn’t possibly rise from bed with the children), we love the Halfway House Restaurant that’s just right up the road. The staff are really friendly and have even given us a free side of fruit in the past when the kids get hangry before their breakfast is ready. They do food to go, too, so you can call in an order to bring back to your campsite if you go while we’re still navigating COVID-19.


With campsites fairly close together, I’m not sure Dosewallips would be my first choice for a summer camping trip when I expect it would be busier. However, in the early fall the leaves change colors, the sun rises later (so you have a chance to see it at a halfway reasonable hour), the salmon run, and the elk meander through the meadows, making it a magical place to cabin camp with little ones.