Deception Pass Weekend Adventure

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Several rocky island shores with forested hillsides are seen from above on a sunny day. The water has a current through Deception Pass and is bright blue. The sky is also blue with a few wispy clouds
The view from the Deception Pass Bridge looking west towards Admiralty Inlet

Deception Pass State Park is the most popular state park in Washington and it’s easy to see why. Close to our major populations center (about two hours from Seattle) and with ocean beaches, lakes and forest, spectacular sunsets, an iconic historic bridge and endless recreation opportunities, it’s easy to see why. This is a wonderful place in the summer (though it can be crowded) but is also an excellent year round day or weekend trip from Seattle. It is especially enjoyable in the fall and spring, when it’s easier to secure a campsite in the campground and it’s a less crowded. If you’re looking for a longer trip or you want to take your time coming and going, a visit a Deception Pass weekend fits in nicely with the Whidbey Island and Skagit Valley day trip.

Where is Deception Pass State Park?

A Deception Pass weekend is a straightforward two hour trip from Seattle, and you can even make it into a loop by driving one way and taking the Mukilteo ferry the other. The park is located west of Mt Vernon and spans across both Fidalgo island (where Anacortes is located) and the north end of Whidbey Island near the town of Oak Harbor.

Deception Pass Weekend Camping

Deception Pass State park has an enormous campground and a couple of small ones. Despite the large size, it’s a terrific campground. There are lots of trees so it doesn’t feel like there are as many people there as there are. There are lots of trails that you can access right from your campsite, and there are heated flushing toilets and showers as well as water faucets. This campground is full on summer weekends, so either reserve it well ahead of time or go before Memorial Day or after Labor day. The park also has two cabins that can be reserved. If camping is not your thing, there are lots of vacation rentals available near by, in Anacortes, Cornet Bay and Oak Harbor (all about 20 minutes away). An important thing to note is that there is a Naval Air Station a short distance away and there are planes that go overhead. I have only camped here on weekends and have not had this be an issue, but I know that it happens even on weekends so it’s a good thing to be aware of if you’re sensitive to noise.

What to do at Deception Pass

A Deception pass weekend will give you the opportunity to engage in lots of different activities, and there’s something here to delight pretty much anyone!

Deception Pass Hiking

Trees are along the sides of a trail on a bluff. There's a wooden railing and water can be seen through the trees
The trails in Deception pass state park go through a variety of different types of forests, and along cliffs near the water

There are more than 30 miles of trails in the park, going along the beach, through the forest and along lakes. My favorite hike is a loop around Rosario Head and Bowman Bay, but there are lots of options and you can make your own loop using the trail map. To do the Rosario head and Bowman Bay loop, it’s about 5 miles with a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain. You can also do one part of the loop and not the other for a shorter outing. I like to start by Rosario head (this is on the north side of the bridge, the Fidalgo Island side, closer to Anacortes). You can start with a short loop out to Rosario head (excellent views to the north and west).

Small rocky islands in the water in Deception Pass state park. The sky and water are gray and foggy.
The view from Rosario Head in Deception Pass State Park on a foggy morning

Leaving Rosario head, go along the bluff on the trail to Bowman Bay, a really beautiful trail above the water through the forest. In less than a mile you’ll come to Bowman Bay. Cross it and then the trail continues to Lighthouse point (it’s a loop around Lighthouse point-important to note you can not see a lighthouse on this trail!). When you return from that loop, you can continue on to Lottie’s Bay or back the way you came. The whole thing is about 5 miles, but you can make it much shorter by starting at Bowman Bay (there’s a large parking lot) and going from there either to Lighthouse point or to Rosario head.

A small, gravel and rocky beach in a cove surrounded by rocks and green trees. It's a partly cloudy day with a bit of blue sky.
One of the tiny coves around Lighthouse Point

Beach Walking and Tidepooling

This could still be considered hiking, but no Deception pass weekend would be complete without some serious beach time. On the south side of the bridge, on the Whidbey Island side, both North Beach and West Beach have lots of beach to walk on and North Beach in particular has excellent tidepools at low tide. You can walk between the bridge, both of these beaches and the main campground in about a mile and a half. West Beach is an excellent place to watch a sunset!

The sun is just about to set below the water. In the foreground are some bushes and islands.
Spectacular sunsets are the norm from West Beach

Swimming in Cranberry Lake

There’s a swimming beach at Cranberry lake, which is about 50 yards from the saltwater beach! Here there is an official swimming area and the water (in summer) gets a bit warmer. There’s a huge picnic area and parking lot between West Beach and Cranberry lake so lots of picnic opportunity and places to set up your beach chair to settle in for some swimming and beaching.

Three picnic tables in the sand next to a lake that is surrounded by forest on a sunny day.
The Cranberry lake swimming beach features many picnic tables and an outdoor shower for rinsing off.

Deception Pass Bridge

The underside of a metal bridge is a maze of metal going in many directions
The mesmerizing Deception pass bridge, seen from the trail underneath it

Deception Pass has an impressive historic bridge, built in 1935. It’s a high bridge over a narrow and turbulent pass known as, you guessed it! Deception Pass. This area is subject to extreme tidal currents and it can be interesting to watch boats navigating it, some with more success than others. You can walk across the bridge, if you’re not keen on heights this might not be the activity for you, but there are gorgeous views up there. If you’re not sure you want to walk out on the bridge, there’s a parking area on the south end (or you can walk in less than a mile from the main campground) and you can explore the trails below the bridge and be impressed with it’s design. At the time of this writing, construction work is going on the bridge for two years (2019 and 2020) so parking is more limited and travel may be slower across it.

Kayaking and Canoeing

Bowman Bay in particular is a fabulous place for kayaking, being quite protected and having lots of rocky shore to explore. Cranberry lake is also an excellent option for calm water. Don’t kayak in Deception Pass itself! The currents are WAAAAYYY too crazy!

Fishing and Crabbing

I’ve personally had great luck crabbing off the dock in Cornet Bay (East of Cranberry lake and the bridge), and I think if you had access to a boat crabbing in Bowman Bay would be good as well (I’ve often seen crab pots there). In addition there are always lots of people fishing in Cranberry Lake as well as along the shore on North Beach and West Beach.

However you decide to spend your Deception Pass weekend, you won’t run out of things to do, or diverse scenery to enjoy!

A high green metal bridge spans a narrow channel above blue water with several fishing boats and a sailboat passing under. Around the bridge and water are rocky headlands and forested hillsides. It's a blue sky sunny day. Text reads: Deception Pass State Park adventure near Seattle
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Jennie Flaming
Jennie Thwing Flaming, Chief Adventure Officer: Jennie's life has been a continual quest for adventure (of the non-adrenalin inducing kind) from birth till now. Professionally, she pursues adventures in teaching, counseling and working to obliterate institutional racism for students in our region's public schools and also works as a tour and hiking guide. Previous professional adventures include working in schools in Seattle and Alaska, leading tours and managing tour guides and presenting traveling science shows and lessons with Pacific Science Center. She believes in sharing her beloved Pacific Northwest home with visitors. She likes to be outdoors and spend time with the people she loves. Jennie is born and raised in Seattle and has also lived in Alaska and the Netherlands.