Deception Pass State Park
Nearly equal distance between Vancouver and Seattle, Deception Pass is Washington’s most popular state park, and for very good reason. The park preserves a gorgeous section of the coast with several spots to take in incredible views over the San Juan Islands, the soaring snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Peninsula and Canada’s Vancouver Island.
The state park spans the southern tip of Fidalgo island, and the northern tip of Whidby island and connected by the famous Deception Pass Bridge. Below the bridge, the rushing waters connect Washington’s Puget Sound with the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Both islands are accessible from the mainland by car making it very easy to visit these beautiful islands.
Our top recommendations for a weekend trip to Deception Pass State Park:
Walk across the Deception Pass Bridge
You can’t visit Deception Pass without making the drive over its namesake double-arched bridge. As soon as you do, you will notice it appears a right of passage to double back and walk across the bridge along the narrow walkway on either side, stopping for a photo (and to peer down at the rushing waters over 180 feet below). The south side of the bridge has a small parking lot which is usually full, so many people park along the highway shoulder on either side of the bridge. It should be common sense here, but seriously - hang on to your hat, your little ones and furry friends!
Camp at one of the state park campgrounds
There are two campgrounds in the park on either side of the bridge. Both are in amazing locations so if you can get a spot at either you’ve lucked out. Bowman Bay Campground on the north side of the park sits in a stunning bay where you can launch small boats, kayaks, canoes and SUP boards to paddle around the protected waters and explore the surrounding coves. There is also a large picnic area with plenty of picnic tables, bbq grills, even a couple fire pits right above the sand. The larger Cranberry Lake Campground on the south side of the park is located near the long, sandy, driftwood strewn West Beach and Cranberry Lake, good for fishing and swimming.
Picnic at West Beach
Enjoying a picnic at West Beach is so easy because you can park a few meters from a picnic table that is a few meters from the water’s edge. Throw down your lawn chairs and you can lose yourself in paradise for a couple hours. This spot makes for an especially nice dinner while the sun sets over islands in the horizon.
Hike the Rosario Head/Lighthouse Point Trail
For an incredible couple of hours, hike the combined loops out to Rosario Head and Lighthouse Point. This 4mi/6.5km trail takes you along a stunning coastline trail with amazing vistas at every turn. For anyone that has been to Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand, this trail feels like a shorter (yet equally scenic) Pacific Northwest version. In other words, it’s magnificent. We recommend starting at the Rosario Beach parking lot, making the short 0.25 mile loop around Rosario Head as a lovely little intro, then making your way over to Bowman Bay. After dropping down into the bay, walk across the beach to the Lighthouse Point Trail and make your way along the trail around the peninsula. We recommend skipping the Lottie Point loop as at the time of writing, sections of this trail had grown over with some questionable narrow ledges and little to no views.
Get out on the water
Change your point of view and admire the coast from out on the water. If you don’t have your own boat or kayak, you can rent kayaks in Bowman Bay or book a kayak tour with an outfitter in Anacortes. If you paddle out on your own, be sure to avoid the pass under the bridge as the current between the islands is very strong. Other nice places for a paddle are Cranberry Lake and Pass Lake. For a more thrilling experience, hop on a hour long jet boat tour and roar underneath the bridge. Jet boat tickets can be purchased in the parking lot at the south end of the bridge.
Sunset at Sares Head lookout
Although any of the above mentioned places would be fantastic to watch the sunset from (West Beach is a particularly nice one from your lawn chair!), Sares Head is an amazing spot to watch the sunset over the outlying islands with panoramic views of the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver Island and San Juan islands. The lookout lies between Deception Pass State Park and Anacortes, making it a handy spot to end the day if you are staying in Anacortes. To access the lookout, park at Sharpe Park Montegomery Duban Headlands. This small gravel lot is the starting point for a number of trails. From the lot, head into the forest and follow the sign-posts for the Sares Head trail for about 15 minutes until the trees open up and you reach a rocky bluff. A bench will notify you that you’ve reached the end. We recommend heading out 60 to 90 minutes before sunset, taking a picnic and watching the sky turn from gold to pastel. Don’t forget flashlights if you intend to stay until dark.
Nearby places to check out:
Take a scenic drive along Chuckanut Drive/State Highway 11.
Stroll the streets and vintage shops of the charming towns of Anacortes and smaller Oak Harbour.
Explore the historical WWII Fort Ebey State Park