With its varied terrain, spectacular scenery and multitude of recreational opportunities, it’s no surprise that Deception Pass State Park is one of the most frequently-visited parks in Washington.
Located among the islands that dot the coast near the U.S.-Canadian border, the park actually stretches across two islands—Whidbey and Fidalgo—with the halves connected by a bridge between them. With so many exciting things to see and do, virtually every Deception Pass State Park outing ends with visitors already planning their next trip.
Deception Pass State Park History
Though it was first mapped by the Vancouver Expedition in 1792, the area surrounding Deception Pass was home to multiple Coast Salish tribes for centuries prior to its discovery by British explorers. After Washington achieved statehood in 1889, the current park site was part of an area managed by the U.S. military.
At the end of the first World War, the government announced a plan to sell the land for private development and was met with impassioned public protests. Several years of negotiation resulted in the transfer of the 1,800-acre property to the State of Washington in 1922 for the purpose of establishing a state park “dedicated to the uses and pleasures of the people forever.”
Despite the preservation of the land for recreational purposes, no state funding, facilities or staff existed at the time to create and manage the park. The National Park Service stepped in, and along with significant assistance from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), began work on construction of trails, benches and other infrastructure to make the park accessible to as many people as possible.
During the early years, the only way to get from the park lands on Whidbey Island to those on Fidalgo Island was via boat, typically on the small ferry that ran inconsistently between Yokeko Point and Hoypus Point. Finally, the state legislature passed a bill funding construction of a bridge between the two islands in 1934. Within a year, the steel structure was in place, carrying roughly 700 cars per day from one side of the park to the other. Today, around 20,000 cars travel the two bridges between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands on a daily basis.
Nearly a century after its founding, the park continues to expand, with the most recent addition being Kukutali Preserve on Kiket Island. The site is owned and managed in a partnership between Washington State Parks and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and it features a vast preserve dense with old-growth forest and native plant species.
Getting to Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park primarily occupies the northern end of Whidbey Island and the southern section of Fidalgo Island. The bridge between allows both cars, pedestrians and cyclists to cross the narrow strait dubbed “Deception Pass” by Captain Edward Vancouver during his expedition to the region in the late 18th century.
Visitors coming from Seattle have two options for accessing the park:
- One route takes I-5 north to exit 182 and then along the Mukilteo Speedway to Mukilteo, where a ferry runs to Clinton on Whidbey Island. Once on the island, visitors will need to drive north over the length of the island to reach the park entrance.
- The second option is to remain on I-5 for about an hour until reaching Burlington, where visitors will take Highway 20 to the Fidalgo Island side of the park.
Deception Pass State Park Facilities and Fees
The 3,800-acre Deception Pass State Park offers visitors abundant opportunities to explore, with 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and 33,900 feet of freshwater shoreline on three lakes. Open year-round, the park’s hours of operation are 6:30 a.m. to sunset during the summer months and 8 a.m. to sunset in winter. Visitors will need either an annual ($30) or single-day ($10) Discover Pass to enter the park; both are available online and at automated kiosks at the park.
If you wish to explore the lakes and coastal waterways of the park during your visit, you will also need to purchase a $7 boat permit at one of the stations located inside the park; frequent visitors may opt for an annual Natural Investment Permit for $80. Deception Pass offers five saltwater and two freshwater boat launches, as well as 710 feet of saltwater dock and 450 feet of freshwater dock. Motors are prohibited on Pass Lake, and only electric motors are permitted on Cranberry Lake.
Fishing and shellfish harvesting require additional fees and licenses and are only permitted during designated seasons; more information is available via the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Things to Do at Deception Pass State Park
Whether you’re interested in hiking, birdwatching, boating, photography or simply taking in the splendor of nature, Deception Pass State Park has something for everyone.
The park boasts nearly 40 miles of hiking trails, including a 1.2-mile ADA-accessible scenic trail. Top hikes include:
- Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT): This 1,200-mile odyssey runs from the Pacific shore in Olympic National Park through Montana’s Rocky Mountains and includes a 10-mile stretch through Deception Pass State Park. During your visit to the park, you may encounter backpackers on their quest to complete the entire route.
- Goose Rock Trail: This popular route takes hikers through some of the park’s most spectacular sights, including the highest point on Whidbey Island. The trail starts near the amphitheater at the west end of Cranberry Lake. The broad, well-maintained path climbs for about a mile above North Beach before crossing under the park’s famous bridge. Once you’re past the bridge, head left along the Perimeter Trail, which leads around the side of Goose Rock and back down toward Cornet Bay before ascending again. You’ll pass stands of native madrone trees with their gnarled nests of branches and peeling red bark; they bloom with flowers in spring and orange berries in the fall. You’ll then join the Summit Trail, which leads upward toward “The Balds,” areas of rock scraped bare by receding glaciers thousands of years ago. The trail ultimately takes you to the 484-foot peak of Goose Rock, where you’ll enjoy excellent views of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan Islands and Cranberry Lake. As you descend, you’ll have several trails from which to choose to complete your journey.
- Pass Lake Loop Trail: This tranquil 3.4-mile loop offers plenty of shade and pleasant views. The trailhead is located near the Pass Lake boat launch at the intersection of Highway 20 and Rosario Road. The trail parallels the west side of the lake, taking hikers over a ridge to a small outcropping of rocks that offers a glimpse through the trees of the lake below. The trail then descends to a junction with three other trails, including the Ginnett Trail, which leads north toward Ginnett Hill.
- Rosario Head Trail: This short, easy trail offers fantastic ocean views. The hike starts at the end of Rosario Beach Road, heading south to the left of the story pole carving depicting Ko-Kwal-Alwoot, the Samish Maiden of Deception Pass. The trail continues as a single track path through a brief wooded section before reaching an opening at the midpoint, which offers panoramic views of the water. You may even see bald eagles soaring above you. The trail continues along the perimeter of the beach before returning to the trailhead.
- Lighthouse Point Loop Trail: This moderate 2.6-mile trail begins on Fidalgo Island next to Bowman Bay, leading up a modest cliff before descending to the rocky beach. The trail then circles Lighthouse Point, where you may be treated to the sights of playful seals popping up out of the water and eagles circling overhead. A small beach with a grassy patch offers a nice location for a picnic lunch before you venture back to the trailhead.
With three lakes and dozens of miles of coastline, Deception Pass State Park offers a variety of opportunities for fun on the water.
- Kayaking: If you prefer cruising through calm waters, you might consider a guided kayak tour through Bowman Bay; adventure-seeking paddlers can attempt to navigate the turbulent whitewater stretches of Deception Pass separating Whidbey and Fidalgo islands.
- Swimming: Cranberry Lake is the best location for swimming in the park, although the water remains chilly even in the summer months. A designated swimming area is roped off within the lake.
- Boating and fishing: Both Cranberry Lake and Pass Lake are popular with boaters, although motorboats are prohibited from using Pass Lake and only electric motors are allowed on Cranberry Lake. Potential catches in the lakes include largemouth bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead catfish and planted rainbow and brown trout. Anglers in search of salmon frequent North Beach and West Beach, where Coho Salmon are abundant from mid-summer through early autumn; in odd-numbered years, Pink Salmon migrate through the narrow Deception Pass on their way to the spawning grounds of the Skagit River. Crab fishing for the Dungeness, Red Rock and Tanner varieties is available on select days from early July through early September.
Biking through Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park features three miles of designated mountain biking trails as well as plenty of space for riding on the multi-use trails near Hoypus Forest.
Deception Pass State Park is home to a wide variety of bird and animal species. Along the shoreline, you may encounter seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocky beaches or bobbing in the waves.
Near the wooded trails, you might see foxes and coyotes as well as deer and raccoons. Birdwatchers should bring their binoculars for a chance to spot eagles, hawks, owls and herons as well as other types of fowl. Organized tours are also available, including summer whale-watching tours and marine mammal tours in Deception Pass and Minor Island.
As you stroll along the rugged shore of the Puget Sound, you’ll see tidepools filled with abundant marine life, gnarled limbs of ancient driftwood and a variety of shells to collect as souvenirs of your visit.
Deception Pass State Park features three main campgrounds with more than 300 campsites appropriate for both tents and RVs. Be sure to reserve your spot well ahead of time, especially if you plan to visit during the busy summer months. All three campgrounds include restroom facilities with flush toilets and showers.
- Bowman Bay Campground: This small campground offers just 20 total campsites, making it the most secluded option of the park’s three camping areas. Many of the campsites boast beautiful beach views, while the remainder are just a short walk from the water’s edge. The dense forests surrounding the campground create a private, tranquil environment, and several trailheads are located nearby. Bowman Bay is the best option for tent camping, with only two partial hookups available for small RVs and camper vans.
- Cranberry Lake Campground: With 230 campsites available, Cranberry Lake is by far the largest camping area in Deception Pass State Park. It features a large group camping area with capacity for 50 people as well as 147 sites without hookups and 83 sites with partial hookups. Almost all of the sites enjoy significant shade from the old-growth tree canopy, while a few sites are scattered along the bluffs above the beach and several more are located directly on the lakefront.
- Quarry Pond Campground: As the park’s only year-round campground, Quarry Pond is also best-suited for RV camping, offering 49 sites with partial hookups and seven sites without hookups. Thick woods make this a peaceful setting, and a few prized campsites sit on an elevated bluff to provide lovely views of Quarry Pond.
Additionally, the Cornet Bay Retreat Center is available for group rentals and accommodates up to 200 people in 16 sleeping cabins with bunks. The center offers a fully-equipped kitchen, meeting lodge, sports court, amphitheater and fire circle and central lawn.
Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center
Located near Bowman Bay, the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center commemorates the “Tree Army” established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The CCC put nearly 3 million unemployed men to work building the country’s vast network of state and national parks, including Deception Pass State Park.
The building was originally a bathhouse built by the CCC in the 1930s and was transformed into its current use as a museum in 1987 thanks to the work of Washington State Parks staff and even a few former members of the CCC. Exhibits include photos, artifacts and video from CCC crews across Washington and the country.
Admission is included with park entry, and the center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from mid-May through Labor Day, with group tours and off-season visits available by appointment. The center is free-of-charge and is open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. mid-May through Labor Day.
Exploring Deception Pass State Park with Children
Deception Pass State Park offers a wide range of family-friendly activities.
The Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail is short enough for little legs to handle, with level terrain that winds through various habitats, including sand dunes and stands of large trees covered in lichen. The trail through Deception Pass State Park features multiple opportunities for kids to spot wildlife, including eagles and the occasional whale, and signage throughout the trail provides information about the different ecosystems that call the park home.
The San Juan Islands and Olympic Mountains are also visible along the well-maintained path. At the end of the trail, kids can build sand castles on the beach and play on the playground.
Located at Rosario Beach, the Maiden of Deception Pass State Park story pole depicts the native Samish legend of Ko-Kwal-Alwoot. Parents can read the tale to children before visiting the totem, where they can search and identify various elements of the story carved into the ancient wood.
During the summer months, the Deception Pass State Park Junior Ranger program offers special events and learning opportunities several times a week at the park’s amphitheater. Junior Rangers learn about the region’s history, park safety and the importance of respecting and protecting the natural world, completing various activities to their Junior Ranger badge.
Vendors in Deception Pass State Park
Whether you’re looking for snacks, supplies or a guided adventure, the vendors of Deception Pass State Park have you covered.
The Lake Store: Located off Cranberry Lake Road between the Lower Loop and Forest Loop campgrounds, this general store sells camping gear, apparel, firewood, ice and a variety of beverages, snacks and ice cream. All proceeds from store sales go to the Deception Pass Park Foundation, which supports education, programming and conservation at the park.
Campstuff Coffee: Get your java fix next door to the Lake Store at Camp Stuff Coffee, which offers espresso-based drinks, brewed coffee and Italian sodas during the summer season.
Sisters Snack Company: This recent arrival to the park sells kettle corn from a small stand at West Beach.
Deception Pass Tours: This tour company operates hour-long open-deck boat tours under the park’s famous bridge. Tickets are available at the kiosk on Route 20 in the Deception Pass Bridge parking lot and at the Deception Pass Tours store roughly 1.5 miles north of the bridge on Route 20.
Anacortes Kayak Tours: Located at Bowman, Bay, Anacortes Kayak Tours offers equipment rentals for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding as well as a variety of guided tours. Their 90-minute kayaking excursion is ideal for families and inexperienced paddlers.
Adventure Terra: Experience the park from an entirely different perspective with Adventure Terra, which provides rock-climbing and canopy tree-climbing activities within the park. In addition to solo adventures, the company provides group team-building activities, advanced climbing courses and a kids’ climbing camp.
Weather Conditions at Deception Pass State Park
Not surprisingly, summer is the best time of year to visit Deception Pass State Park, with mild temperatures and minimal precipitation. July and August typically see about five rainy days per month, with average daytime highs in the mid- to upper 70s and lows in the mid-50s.
High temperatures in June and September are generally in the upper 60s, and you can expect eight or nine days of rain. November is Deception Pass State Park’s wettest month, with an average of 17 days of rain alongside high temperatures just below 50. December is the coldest month at Deception Pass, with temperatures hovering just above freezing at night and barely creeping into the 40s during the day.
Deception Pass State Park Fast Facts
- Location: 41229 State Route 20, Oak Harbor, WA 98277
- Hours of operation: 6 a.m. to dusk (summer), 8 a.m. to dusk (winter)
- Fees: Daily ($10) or annual ($30) Discover Pass required to enter the park; additional fees for boating and fishing permits
- Acreage: 3,854 acres on Whidbey and Fidalgo islands
- Shoreline: 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline, 33,900 feet of freshwater shoreline on three lakes
- Trails:2 miles of ADA hiking trails, 38 miles of standard hiking trails, 3 miles of bike trails, 6 miles of equestrian trails
- Pet policy: Leashed pets are permitted in most areas of the park except for a few designated swimming areas and on Kiket Island.