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.


Travelogue – Whale Watching Birthday Trip

While we didn’t go all out and invite everyone we knew to Julia’s 1st birthday party, I found that even inviting our relatively small group of family and very close friends meant that I spent most of the time organizing and hosting rather than spending the time with Julia. A big party is right for some people, and I love hosting for other occasions, but I learned my birthday lesson and this year we took a weekend trip just as a family to celebrate her 2nd birthday.

Julia loves whales and talks about them all the time, so we decided a whale watching trip would be a great way to spend the day. Gray whales spend part of their migration period in the Puget Sound between March and April, which conveniently falls right around Julia’s birthday. I debated between Port Townsend and Langley for awhile – Port Townsend had easier to find family-friendly hotels, but the primary whale watching provider in Langley was less expensive and was offering a Groupon. Once I found a little AirBnB in Langley, it was easy to commit. This was also our first stay in an AirBnB – I love booking apartments or hotel suites on trips, but I don’t love the service fee and strict cancellation policies that AirBnB has, so a short weekend trip seemed like a good way to be pretty certain we weren’t going to need to cancel.

We took the ferry out to Langley on Saturday morning and killed some time having coffee at Useless Bay Coffee Company and throwing rocks/running at the Seawall park. It was lightly raining, so we were a little concerned the cruise would be miserable, but it cleared up just around the time it was time to go meet the boat.


We boarded our Mystic Sea Charters Gray Whale Watching cruise at a little dock area just down the hill from downtown. We had a lot of time between boarding and departure (about 45 minutes), but were able to kill time with a few toys and snacks we’d brought along (and a packet of goldfish purchased from the honor bar). There are also some laminated pictures of whales that Julia liked looking at. Seating was either chairs at tables in a covered deck area (soft sided) or booths in the cabin, but the booth to allow Julia more room to move around.


We were lucky and there was a whale nearby feeding in a shallow area, so we hadn’t been on the water more than 20 minutes when we got to spend lots of time watching her flip onto her side to scoop up the mud shrimp. There was even a very sweet naturalist on board who added interesting commentary. Julia was pretty cold, but she toughed it out in the toddler carrier for awhile before we went back inside for a bit to warm up.


She loved holding the binoculars herself

The boat moved on to another viewing spot and she lightly protested being loaded back up, but then enjoyed checking out another whale before passing out in the carrier after we put my mittens on her (she won’t usually wear her own very long). She was able to nap for a little over an hour, which allowed us to stay outside and watch the whales as long as I kept moving a bit. She woke up about 30-40 minutes before the end of the trip and got to visit the captain’s area en route back to the dock. There’s a laptop with an impressive map of the topography that they use to help navigate, but she was mostly interested in the old-fashioned looking wheel for steering.

Out like a light in the LilléBaby Toddler Carrier

The 3 hour cruise was a perfect length of time for us. All told, we saw 5 whales and loved every minute. The crew and the on-board naturalist are friendly and knowledgeable and really want everyone to enjoy the trip. If you make the trip with little ones, I would recommend packing extra warm clothes and snacks for the, and bringing a carrier since strollers aren’t allowed and you’ll want them to be extra safe and secure while on board.

After the boat ride, we went to check into the AirBnB that was ready earlier than expected. We set up Julia’s pack and play and let her play a bit on the stairs while we unpacked.


We had some time to kill before dinner, so we stopped at Rhododendron Park near Coupeville. It’s a county park that looks like it could use some funding – one of the two swings was broken, the climbing gym was broken, and there was one other playground structure that wasn’t in great shape. Julia just wanted to run in the fields and grab a stick on the tiny trail, though, so it was at least a good spot to stretch her legs.


We also had some time to pop into the delightful Honey Bear toy store to pick up a couple of new books before heading out to dinner at my all time favorite restaurant in the whole world: Coupeville’s The Oystercatcher. We have loved this place since we came for our anniversary trip when we moved to Seattle (our first PNW whale watching experience) and happened upon it while staying nearby. The food is so amazingly fresh and local, and they don’t blink an eye at Peter’s multiple food allergies. We had made a reservation right as they opened at 5 because while the island location makes the atmosphere a little more casual, it’s definitely a splurge/nicer restaurant and we hoped she would behave accordingly.

Walking up the stairs to dinner with her new books

Julia surprised us with some impeccable birthday behavior, so we were able to indulge in pimento cheese, a bottle of wine, amuse bouches that were tailored to dietary restrictions, a beet salad with pistachios, a carrot and ginger soup that Julia devoured, a green pea sorbet palate cleanser, the market fish prep (sablefish – yum!) and a phenomenal duck breast with spaetzle, chard and mushrooms (Julia ate most of my mushrooms, but they looked good). She was still on her best behavior after almost two hours (although we were grateful for the new books), so I also shared grapefruit and black pepper ice cream with her, topped off with their amazing chocolate mignardises.

Using a knife like a grown up to spread her pimento cheese


My favorite little chocolate face

The sun was just setting as we left, so we took advantage of it and ran up and down the pier a few times to celebrate bursting with happiness (and chocolate).


Our AirBnB was really comfortable for all of us (the bedroom was open to the stairs, so we could hear Julia in her pack and play downstairs without a monitor, but still have separate space from her to chat after she went to bed) and in a great location. We walked about 10 minutes at toddler speed to breakfast at Useless Bay at 7:30 the next morning and got to see a bunch of bunnies hopping about. It felt really magical to see the sun rising over the mountains with all the little furry creatures around.

Bunnies out for Palm Sunday?

Breakfast was delicious (I highly recommend their pork sausage – it was so flavorful and tasted house made), so we went off with full bellies to explore Castle Park. We’ve visited a similar playground on the peninsula and Julia loved the park so much. It’s really built like a fort with tons of space to climb and run around. It was too wet to go down the slides, but there were still lots of things to do. It was a perfect stop to run her little heart out before we headed back to the ferry home. She went to sleep just as we got to the short line for the ferry, so you know she’d had a good time.


We had an amazing weekend with our little one and she’s still talking about her “whale birthday.” I can’t wait to plan next year’s adventure!

What was your most memorable birthday celebration with your family?

Summary of Places
Mystic Sea Charters
Seawall Park (no website)
Useless Bay Coffee Company
Rhododendron Park
Honey Bear
The Oystercatcher
Castle Park