Whipping Through Whidbey Island, WA
As with every first-time experience we were all a bit nervous. Would we fit? Would “the beast” get sea-sick? Do they really know what they’re doing when they pack everyone like sardines on those things? I mean after all, we were putting our precious home on a boat and in the hands of complete strangers to cross a half-hour stretch of ocean. Not exactly an expedition mind you, but enough to give us the jitters.
In the end, of course, there was really nothing to worry about.
We drove the easy 4 miles to the ferry crossing at Port Townsend with ~45 minutes to spare before our reserved** 12:30 ferry time. We parked “the beast” in the appointed lane and waited like excited children for the boat. The operators squeezed us in with barely 5 inches to spare, the big boat cast off and we were sailing!!! As an added bonus we’d been placed at the very front of the ferry so we had a wide-open ocean view for the passage. Feet on the dashboard, blue seas ahead….
Yeah, it was pretty sweet!
Our destination was the island of Whidbey. A lanky 55 miles (89 km) long stretch of land, it forms the northern boundary of the Puget Sound and is home to a massive Naval Air Station. This not-so-little island packs in alot of history from the original Native American tribes who inhabited the shores to the “modern” exploration of the Island in 1792 by George Vancouver. The Island boasts several impressive forts, cute, historic towns, no less than 5 State Parks and….wait for it….a lighthouse!!!
Sadly this was just going to be a pass-through drive for us. After a month of runaway freedom travelling the OP we were gearing up for our new workamping gig on Orcas Island starting Aug 1st. So, we had just 2 small days to pack it in and see what we could. We squeezed (and I really mean squeezed…egads it was tight) into our site at Deception Pass State Park and went exploring. It was not more than a touch, but this is what we saw:
Deception Pass Bridge
Probably one of the most iconic landmarks on Whidbey Island is the 180-foot high Deception Pass Bridge that joins Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island in the north. Opened in 1935 and spanning 976-feet across a narrow gorge with water that rushes dangerously through the pass below it’s an impressive sight and a massive tourist draw. We hiked with pooch the short 2 miles from our campsite to the bridge on a clear day and stood gawking like all the other tourists for 20 minutes before we headed back. Yup, it’s cool.
NOTE/ Deception Pass Bridge and Deception Pass State Park are all entirely dog-friendly including ~40-miles of trails in the surrounding area. State Park fees are $10/day or $30 for an annual pass.
Admiralty Head Lighthouse
For those who know us you’ll know by now that where there’s a lighthouse, there’s Wheelingit and this little baby was one of our biggest reasons for stopping here. The beautifully restored Spanish-style building sits around half-way down the Island as a navigation point marking the eastern end of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Originally lit in 1861, it was re-built in 1903 and served the area until 1922. The lighthouse shares its spot with Fort Casey and long stretches of pretty beach. We spent a good hour at the structure, most of which I used trying to persuade the volunteer coordinator to implement an RV hosting program (you never know…)
NOTE/ Admiralty Head Lighthouse is open for tours 11-4PM daily in summer. Dogs are allowed everywhere in the State Park except for inside the lighthouse. State Park entry fee is $10/day or $30 for an annual pass.
Founded in 1852 this little spot on the East shore of Whidbey is the second oldest town in the State of Washington. The historic downtown waterfront sports old wooden buildings, cute little shops, a great ice cream spot (Kapaw’s), several little eateries and even a lavender farm (just up the hill). It’ll take you about 15 minutes to walk the downtown or a little longer if you follow the historic homes walking tour. It’s a cute little outing and well worth the trip to see.
Brews & Fish In Anacortes
Anacortes is actually not part of Whidbey at all (being on the northern Island of Fidalgo), but we couldn’t resist a brew-tasting at Anacortes Brewery or the lure of delectable smoked fish at SeaBear Smokehouse, both only ~10 miles from our park. The food at the first was decent (standard fare), but the beer was excellent especially their Pilsner, Imperial Stout and the totally unique Klosterbier. The smoked fish at the second…yummy!
NOTE/ Anacortes Brewery has a very pleasant outdoor seating area that is dog-friendly.
And that folks, is about all we managed. Oh yeah we DID squeeze in a delectable lunch with a lovely blog reader who lives on the Island (mange tak C!), but sadly didn’t make it out to see the artsy town of Langley nor the huge hiking area around Fort Ebey nor even the many wineries (oh, woe is us). Soooo much left to see and do, but time is up and work calls. By the time you read this “the beast” will have sailed another ocean, climbed another mountain and (hopefully) be set-up in her new workamping site at the top of Mount Constitution. And yeah, you bet we’re excited!!
**For those of you considering the ferry trip from Port Townsend to Coupeville, pets are allowed on the crossing and may be taken out of cars/RVs, but only onto the car-deck area. If you’re coming across in a big rig in summer it’s highly recommended to BOOK ahead so you can be sure you’ll get a spot.
- Whidbey Island – General info on visiting Whidbey HERE.
- Admiralty Head Lighthouse – Info on the Lighthouse HERE.
- Deception Pass Bridge – Info HERE.
- Coupeville – Info on the town HERE and the self-guided historic homes walking tour HERE.
- Washington State Ferries – Link to ferry schedule and online booking HERE.
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Luke Alexander says
I highly recommend the Pioneer Trails RV Park on Hwy. 20, just before you turn to go into Anacortes. Deep in the tall trees and just a delightful place to stay. Super big sites.
What a pretty park! Might be a tad above our usual budget, but it looks like it’s worth the splurge. One to keep in our back pocket for next time.
We’ve been on the on island and volunteering at the smaller of the state parks here, South Whidbey, since May 1st….love it here.
Spent the winter at Ft Flagler, 30min from Port Townsend.
You should see how many eagles come out when they are doing up the hay…it is gorgeous!
Been cool to see you guys posting about an area that we are currently enjoying. =)
We might have walked just past you yesterday! The friend we had lunch with is in the southern part of the Island and we stopped over at South Whidbey for a post-lunch hike to the beach before we went home. Drove through the loops too. Lovely little campground with a much more relaxed feel than crazy Deception Pass up north.
I knew you would make it! I did forget to mention the reservations! Hope you had read about them ahead of time… But hey, I’m talking to a planner!
We spent at least a week in lovely Anacortes our first visit to WA and have so many great memories of it and all the surrounding area!
Looking forward to your island stories!
Two days was not NEARLY enough on the Island, but at least we got a good taste. There’s alot going on in Whidbey. I didn’t even really understand how large the Island was until we got there. Wineries, art, hikes…who knew?
Jan Miller says
I took my sea kayaking test almost under that bridge by canoe island. Have a niece that lives on Whidbey at Oak Harbor. Have taken that ferry ride many a times, once even when we were the last run to cross as waters were so rough I was turning green and not with envy either. We were also at the front and I wasn’t sure if vehicle was going to stay put one minute looking at sky and next at the water.
Whoah…you went under the bridge! I’m impressed. That water seemed pretty crazy under there. Must have been a wild ride.
Very, very happy the seas were not rough when we rode the ferry. I get sea sick at the drop of a hat.
Whidbey Island is one of the best kept secrets in the PNW…we live full time on Mutiny Bay. With all of the problems the Washington State Ferry (WSF) has been having keeping their ferries running….you were lucky to make it across to Whidbey 😉
Enjoy Orcas…another great Island up here in the Great NW!
Well I guess we were lucky that our ferry ride went so smoothly then! We just got onto Orcas today and that ferry ride also went well. A bit delayed and a bit more squeezed than the last one, but it worked.
You live in a beautiful place!
Another interesting fact about Whidbey…we live in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mts and get 1/2 the amount of rain that Seattle gets….shhhhh…but don’t tell anyone 😉
my weather web site: http://www.mutinybayweather.com
You know Paul mentioned that to me yesterday. I noticed the island felt surprisingly dry. We had around an hour or so of fog in the mornings, but then perfect sun and dry the rest of the day. Interesting fact. I’ll keep it secret 😉
Thank you for writing about my home from 1984 – 1994. Like Jim said, it is one of the best kept secrets in the PNW.
Another local! At least for 10 years. I must say the island was a sweet little surprise.
John and Pam Wright says
Boy, you are squeezed in there for sure. What a fun two days though and now you have a reason to return to finish seeing all you missed:)
It was definitely tight in there, although believe it or not our 2nd ferry (the one we took yesterday) was even tighter! I think our side mirror was only a few inches from the hull.
Further Ferry info:
– Ferries run often, usually every 30 mins. And it takes about that time to cross. Out of peak season there should be no problem crossing quickly with no reservation!
– The fare depends on various factors (RV Height, RV Length, number of passengers, and so on) so it takes a bit of adding up to calculate! Check the ferry website.
– Pets cost extra, including cats (go figure!) (We, ahem, forgot to declare ours…)
– A weird thing to watch for if making the crossing west (Coupeville to Port Townsend): The road-signs bring you westbound along the 20 to Keystone Harbor. As you approach the ferry port on your left, DON’T try to turn left into the port as we did (they get real p***ed off!) but look out for an obscure road-sign telling you to drive on past and away, drive north for 1/2 mile to a triangular road junction where you turn around then come back southwards down the road so you can turn right for the port entrance booths!
– If you want to photograph your beast coming off the ferry, it is possible for someone to run off ahead on foot before you drive off, but there’s ‘nowhere’ to stop further on so you need to be quick to take your pics then run on to catch your RV as it, ahem, pauses near the assembly car park for vehicles going the other way, a little further on!
Good tips all. Not sure why I didn’t notice they charged per pet. We only mentioned the dog, so I guess our kitties snuck in for free. The ferry guy was actually very accommodating. We measure just over 60-feet hooked up, but he only charged us the 60-feet and under fee. This saved us some good $$.
Steve Hall says
I would appreciate it if you would email me or post what the fee for the ferry was, ballpark is ok.My rig is about the same as yours and we might make that trip in the fall.
Posted it in the comments below, but I’ll repeat here. It cost ~$86 total. We are just *over* 60-feet hooked up, but the ferry guy only charged us for the 60-feet and under price.
You can access costs for other sizes here:
John G says
Our daughter and her husband live in Anacortes and yes the beer is very good. We will be there in late Aug. and early Sept. Not sure if we will go to Orcas but Friday Harbor with a crab and wine lunch might be in the cards.
Sounds like a fabulous trip! Your daughter lives in a gorgeous place.
We’ve been to that ice cream parlor in Coupeville. A “single” is three scoops!
It’s gooooooood ice cream. Yum, yum!
If you have time in the travel schedule, La Conner is also just cuter than a bug. I hope you took pictures of the drive up Mt. Constitution!
Yup I took pics! Not sure I managed to capture how steep that road is, but it sure was an event getting up. I’m impressed by the hard core cyclists that bike it!
Tom TORRELLA says
Nice to see Whidbey Island. Is that “Sound of Freedom” sign still posted Ault Field & SR20? I was stationed there in early 80’s at NAS working on EA-6B’s in VAQ-133 and part-time on a farm in Dugualla Bay Area (phone bills!) Loved Deception Pass Bridge and the state park. Crazy how boats make their way up the fast current into Skagit Bay. Great memories!
You know I didn’t notice. There were a lot of signs around petitioning to keep the air field open, but I didn’t see that one. Cool little piece of history.
Metamorphosis Lisa says
That is one very pretty lighthouse! Looks like Whidbey Island needs to go on The List of places to see!
Yup another great WA destination..and we didn’t even see half of it!
Box Canyon Mark from Lovely Ouray, Colorado says
I was so taken by Whidbey I was looking for a realtor. Anacortes and Coupeville stole my heart. Of course it was late august, the perfect time to be there. I never picked and ate so many berries in my life :)) We took our bikes on the ferry to San Juan Island and rode the perimeter from Friday Harbor…a long exhausting day but worth every strain.
Box Canyon Mark
I can certainly see how this place would speak to you. We didn’t have nearly enough time here. The southern part of the Island was even more laid-back and spoke to us even more. We’ve gotta come back.
We’re thinking we may trip over to Friday a Harbor while we’re in Orcas. There’s a lighthouse on the island, don’t you know 🙂
If money was no object, I would live in the San Juan Islands. Also, Admiralty Head Lighthouse looks beautiful. I’ve added it ..to my “must see” list!!
It’s really, really pretty out here. We made the final drive yesterday and have arrived at our workamping site already. The while move took about 8 hours, but it was worth it for our new view. Gorgeous!
Great to see you’ve made 2 ferry portages successfully. I hope they were fun and scenic.
As mentioned by another poster, do visit La Conner if you can. It’s close and always a good time. You’ll have an easy time googling it for info.
Also while in the area, if you have a day or two, check out Hwy 20 over the North Cascades for some the finest mountain scenery around.
I’m starting to see ripe wild blackberries now too. Don’t miss an opportunity to pick some. 🙂
Yup we’ve been munching away on blackberries already. Found our first early ripened bushes at Port Townsend. We’re on the lookout!
I haven’t been to the Islands in decades. Maybe if good weather holds this fall when I head to the PNW.
I must admit we couldn’t have asked for better weather while we were here. Perfect sunny 70-degree days. The best of an ideal PNW summer!
According to Google maps, Point Hudson Marina to the ferry doc is 0.9 miles. Why do you say it’s a 4 mile drive?
We had to drive a tad further to turn “the beast” around (no left-hand turn allowed from that direction on Water Street onto the ferry terminal). It may not have been exactly 4 miles, but it was longer than the exact distance from the point.
So glad you found the back-side beach by the bridge…No crowds, lots of space and sweet views!
Yup, that was definitely the way to go. We actually ended up hiking around 5 mikes total since we took a loop back via Goose Point. Didn’t see anyone else on those trails.
I am reliving our trip to The PNW through you while reading your posts! We vacationed on Orcas for a week. I left a huge part of my heart out there and can’t wait to get back there, hopefully as a permanent resident!! While on Orcas Island, take a hike through Moran State park. Or hike Obstruction Pass State Park and then stop at Buck Bay fresh Seafood and get the most amazing, succulent oysters and clams harvested right there across the street in Buck Bay!. We stopped on Main Street across from the hotel and found purple starfish in the water! They are beautiful!! Another great stop is The Olga Cafe! Great food and a wonderful little gift shop full of local handmade items. I purchased a beautiful hand carved Madrona wood bowl! I hope you get to check a few of these things out. Also, back in Anacortes, check out The Calico Cupboard for breakfast in Old Town. The Smoked Salmon Scramble is amazingly good and a local favorite and The Donut House makes the best donuts and apple fritters !! Both were recommended to us from locals, so you know it’s a sure bet for great food! Enjoy your time exploring!!
Fabulous, fabulous tips! Since we’ll be in Orcas for 3 weeks we’ll be trying them all!
What incredible scenery! Terry said that if your RV site was really tight, there is no way he would attempt it! Love the quaint little towns, that lovely bridge and adorable little lighthouse. We cannot wait to explore WA.
Yeah, this is actually the first park we’ve been to in a while that I do NOT recommend for big rigs. In fact we won’t camp there again. It’s just far too tight. Review will be up soon.
Jodee Gravel says
Wow, I must be your only reader who hasn’t been there already :-). Glad to see the Beast’s “maiden voyage” was uneventful – certainly a snug fit! Another beautiful place with interesting history. Hard to believe it’s already time for the Orcas gig. Looking forward to seeing your new office :-).
I can already tell you our new office is sweeeeeet! We’re going to love it here.
Andy Patterson says
Enjoy your time on the San Juan Islands. You could easily spend months hopping from island to island, but you may also want to consider the numerous Gulf Islands on the Canadian side, which are also well served by ferries.
I didn’t realize there are over 150 islands in the San Juan’s (up to 400 if you count the rocks & other bits that stick up). Amazing! We’re going to have our sightseeing cut out for us.
Caryl Kirk says
YOU MADE IT!! I’m sure you will give us all the $$ rundown soon…that is always my concern. I’m sure the ferry is pretty costly, so Rob and I thought we would settle on the mainland when we finally make it and go back and forth with the jeep.
Your pics are amazing as ALWAYS!! I’ve been waiting for this part of your trip for a long time…seem from the very inception. I love Washington from what I’ve seen and want to spend an entire summer up there.
Things are getting settled here…but it has taken its toll. Seems we go 2 steps forward and 3 back at times, but now it appears we may be out of here by late August, early September. We will probably still have to do local stuff til spring back at least some of this will be behind us.
Living your dream inside our own!!
Sure. The Port Townsend ferry ended up being very reasonable ~$86 total costs. Since they charged us for 60-feet only it ended up being about the same price as if we’d driven through unhooked (car and RV separately). The ferry to Orcas is a different beast which I’ll detail in an upcoming post.
Here’s the link to Port Townsend ferry info:
Thanks so much for your continuing travelogue of WA. Though I lived in the Seattle area for several decades I haven’t been to the islands in a long, long time so it’s extra fun to read and experience it through a newbies eyes. And now that I moved to the SW I miss the greens and blues up there so much I hope to get back there before too much more time goes by.
I also second the reader suggestion above that you should absolutely make time in your travels to cruise the North Cascades Hwy. Hwy 20 starts in Anacortes (the park HQ is in Sedro Wooley) and experience the North American Alps all the way over to Winthrop and Twisp then turn south to spend time at Lake Chelan (the deepest lake in N America) and head back to Western WA via hwy 2 and Leavenworth. One of the great loop drives in the US. Can you say mountain and valley heaven?!
I’ll have to add that drive to a future trip. We’ll be going from here directly down to Cape Blanco, OR for our Sept/Oct hosting so sadly won’t have any extra time after we leave the Island. It sounds like a fabulous drive.
I spent my teens and early 20s in Washington, but there is so much I did not get the chance to see, including Whidbey Island. Thanks so much for showing it to me and for giving me an even better reason than visiting my family for making the trip. 😀
Glad I could give ya a glimpse. Wish we could have spent more time there ourselves.
I walked that bridge on Deception Pass! We stayed at Fidalgo Bay and we had good time there but short, too short that we did not even know about that brewery in Anacortes.
Those ferry boats that carry RVs seemed to know what they are doing even if they really squeezed you as tightly as possible. Isn’t it fun to ride on the RV on water 🙂
Yup, now that we’ve done TWO ferry rides we feel alot more relaxed about the whole deal. It really wasn’t much to worry about in the end.
We are looking forward to seeing photos and hearing all about this new “work” gig!
It’s a-coming….and I can already tell you this. The spot is Sweeeeeet!
Whoa! That would give me a heart attack putting our big rig (precious home)on a ferry. Now I know it can be done safely with no issues. You’ve put wind in my sails.
Lots of big rigs pass through these ferry rides, especially over the summer. There were 2-3 rigs coming off the ferry when it arrived and 2 of us went on when it left. It was still exciting for us!!
Nina, although we have spent a fair amount of time in the San Juans and OP, it’s been a long time since returning. We can only dream (and plan) that we will be on the road in about 2 1/2 years. Never made it to Whidby in the past.
Reading about your Orcas hosting, to be followed by Cape Blanco, Oregon hosting, can you comment on how these opportunities came about and the ease or difficulties of getting these types of positions?
Thank you. I can only hope that you realize how many of us you are touching. Until we can “escape”, we’re LIVING vicariously thru you. And we’re having a wonderful time.:)
Sure. I actually have a 3-part series on volunteer hosting in my “volunteering” tab here:
I suggest you start there since it will probably answer many of your questions including where to find jobs, what questions to ask, details to consider etc.
As for how easy they are to get? Most people apply 1-2 seasons ahead for where they want to go, but there are typically last-minute opportunities that crop up too (due to cancellations etc.). We applied for our summer jobs in Jan of this year.
Vivian van Dijk says
This year’s journey is just the best reading!! I have really enjoyed your Oregon and Washington entries. I am learning so much about this state – and all the places we now want to see. We own a rig about like yours, and are long-time followers of your blog – even met you guys once in Anza Borrego some years ago. We have lived in Washington for ten years. We usually spend part of the winter months in the Southwest deserts around Anza and Yuma. Reading about your journeys, and in some cases following in your footsteps – Valley of Fire in Nevada for one – I’ve really been interested in your lighthouse travels. AND your daring. I’m not too sure how I’d react to some of the tiny little spaces you guys sometimes find yourselves in or some of your roads. I’m still working up the courage to suggest the Olympic Peninsula. We’ve driven with a smaller rig up to Sequim the Seattle way. Best of luck to you guys this summer. I’m looking forward to your posts.
To be honest the OP was a really easy drive. I wouldn’t be worried at all to do it in any-sized rig. The ONLY really tight/curvy section we did was the Strait of Juan de Fuca Hwy (112) from Neah Bay to Port Angeles. That’s not one for newbies! But Hwy 101 was fine the entire way -> no problem at all. For campsites just stick to the larger campgrounds (e.g. Hobuck Beach Resort) and you’ll be fine.
There is a state campground at Fort Casey right where the Port Townsend ferry docks that is nothing special, but for the view. We were camping up at LaConner last week, and the little jewel we found was Bay View State Park (listed under Burlington, WA on rvparkreviews). Worth taking a look if you are back in the area again. Enjoy your time in the San Juans!
Great tip for La Conner! Cheers for sharing it. We are going back through Whidbey after our stay here on Orcas and have decided to try out Fort Casey for a night, so we’ll get to check that out too.