Explore, hike and camp in beautiful Deception Pass State Park
by REBECCA BAILEY
Photographs by CURT GIVEN/GIVEN PHOTOGRAPHY
I was standing on top of a small hill overlooking the Puget Sound just north of Deception Pass. The scene was magnificent. Pinkish clouds on the horizon to the north framed by douglas firs growing along the edge of the hill. Islands and headlands in the foreground. Cushy sea-foam lichen, pine cones and moss under my feet.
We left home early that morning betting on a a nice day outside, despite the soggy odds of early spring in the Pacific Northwest. The weather improved by the mile as we drove for about an hour to Deception Pass State Park, which spans Whidbey and Fidalgo islands just off the mainland of Washington State.
It's not only one of the most scenic spots in the state, it's geographically iconic with all of the water, islands and mountains that can be seen from the park boundaries.
We were on the Lighthouse point trail, which is accessed from the Bowman Bay area of the park.
I was hiking with my nature photographer significant other. A two-mile hike for us often takes four hours instead of one.
It's the best. It gives me time to get really good field notes. I always discover something new. And I leave feeling accomplished, fulfilled even. A by-product of spending that kind of time in nature.
The 2-mile trail loops around a small island. It's accessed from the Bowman Bay picnic area with a short steep path that leads through a forest then across a beach to a hilly island in the Puget Sound.
Once on the island, the main trail loops around the perimeter. Many smaller loop and viewpoint trails spur off. The island is small enough that you really can't get lost, but you might hit a dead end like my daughter and I did last summer.
On that day, we were exploring one of the spur trails on the north slope of the island thinking it might be a loop. It was super steep and led us right down to the bay. We could see the shore, but swimming back was not an option. So we laughed, hiked back up the path and eventually found our way to the main trail.
A typical northwest coastal forest of douglas fir, hemlock, and western red cedar cover the island. Cinnamon-barked madronas and other wind-sculpted trees add and artful flair to the overall vegetation. The forest is so pretty, it's worth exploring a few detours to see what you might find.
The edge of the island opens to scenic views. Snow-capped Olympic mountains and Agate Pass to the west and other islands and headlands to the north. Peer over the side to see small coves and beaches, orangish jelly-fish and big kelp beds.
I saw groups of cormorants crammed on the tops of rocks jutting up through the water. I watched as these dark, long-necked marine birds flew, skimming the water, looking for roosting spots on rocks, and maneuvering gracefully into tight quarters.
Diving ducks such as bufflehead, surf scoter, and goldeneye were swimming near the shore. The goldeneye is a good duck to practice your bird identifying skills. It's mostly black and white with a distinct gold eye. Easy enough. These ducks dive for small aquatic animals, fish and vegetation and some of them eat while underwater.
Oyster catchers were flying about. Their black bodies and bright orange beaks making them easy to see when landing on the rocky shoreline.
We also saw a loon and heard its, "haunting wail," as described by David Sibley, author of "The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior." It made me shiver and thank the universe.
You can find signs of woodpeckers in the island's wooded areas. Watch for their drilled holes in trees and snags. These industrious birds excavate the wood for insects and nesting holes.
Throughout the hike, I could hear the call of a red-breasted nuthatch, but never did see it. This songbird's distinct call is described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as, "tiny tin horns being honked in the treetops." Like woodpeckers, these small birds climb on trees, excavating holes for food. However, they can move up and down tree trunks as compared to woodpeckers, which only move up.
An immature bald eagle soared and circled overhead landing on a nearby tree.
Near the end of our hike we were delighted by seven harbor seals swimming and bobbing close to the shore. Curious by nature, they often poked their heads up to check us out.
Seals and sea lions live in the Salish Sea that surrounds this island. You can tell the difference by their ears. Seals have tiny slits for ears and sea lions have tiny flaps. To learn more, read my post, What's the Difference Between a Seal and Sea Lion.
Overall, this park is a beautiful place to visit year-round. And it has many other forest and bluff hikes. Each interesting in its own way.
Deception Pass State Park also offers a variety of outdoor recreation options. Campgrounds, day use picnic areas, tide pools, sheltered bays for kayaking and a cool little museum with a film that features the history of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) at Bowman Bay are among them.
For more information and maps of Deception Pass State park go to the Washngton State Parks and Recreation site.