Whidbey Island, Washington is known for its picturesque coastline and pastoral setting. It’s true that Whidbey, located north of Seattle, offers abundant farm stands and a healthy agri-tourism trade, but many families –including mine!– had no idea how many beautiful, exciting state parks fill this small island! We recommend coming to stay at least three days in order to experience most of them.
Fort Casey State Park:
If you arrive via Washington State Ferry at Coupeville, you’ll notice Fort Casey State Park right away. This large park sits on the island’s west coast, and centers on the region’s military history. There are numerous batteries (created for defense but never used) lining the coast line, which contributed to the ‘triangle of defense’ offered by Fort Casey, Fort Worden (across the water in Port Townsend, WA) and Fort Flagler.
What to do here: Families will want to check out the batteries and commanders’ station, but should also visit the beach access and Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The light sits at Red Bluffs, and during day time hours in season, visitors can go inside and even climb the spiral stairs to the light. From here (and elsewhere in the park), kids can watch the ferries come and go from the landing.
Campground: Yes! It’s right next to the ferry landing (which can be a good thing or a bad thing…).
Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve encompasses the entirety of the town of Coupeville, Ebey’s Prairie, and Fort Ebey State Park. It marks the homestead and founding location of the Ebey family, and protects the historical significance of this entire section of the island. Fort Ebey includes coastline, hiking trails, and more batteries.
What to do here: At Fort Ebey, play on the beach! This section of protected coastline offers up oversized driftwood perfect for building a beachside hut or fort of one’s own, and the picnic areas are protected from wind and surf. The bluff-side trail is one mile long, and takes families from the beach to the batteries overlooking it. It’s worth getting back in the car to check out Jacob Ebey’s House. The house is open seasonally, but the adjacent cemetery is worthy of a visit in its own right. Families can overlook the prairie, and step inside one of the many ‘blockhouses’ the Ebeys built as protection from Native American conflict.
Campgrounds: Camping is available on the beach (in a protected forested area) at Fort Ebey, and on the prairie at Rhododendron Park (near the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station).
Deception Pass State Park:
On the north tail of the island, Deception Pass State Park may be the most well-known. This breathtakingly beautiful park focuses around the Deception Pass bridge. Hiking trails are abundant, and the park hosts a busy marina with sightseeing vessels doing business.
What to do here: Park at the visitor’s center (stand) on the south side of the bridge, and hike down to North Beach (.2 mile). From here, families will get a great view of the bridge before they cross it. It’s also fun to see the many fishing boats in the current that flows quickly here. Additional hiking trails take you further afield, or you can opt to cross the bridge. Cross either on foot using the pedestrian walkway (an exciting experience!) or drive. Head to the marina dock on the other side, and take a Deception Pass Tours boat out on the water. This 45 minute tour in a catamaran Island Whaler takes you under the bridge and past the challenging water that churns there to the bay. During our tour, we saw porpoises and harbor seals, and many tour groups see whales. Tours are priced right at $24.95, and don’t last too long for young kids.
Campgrounds: campsites range from forested to open, on or near the water. Like the rest of the park, they’re gorgeous!
South Whidbey Island State Park:
South Whidbey Island State Park is smaller and quieter, and feature shoreline and forested areas. Primarily, it serves as a campground. Families get great views of the Olympic mountains!
What to do here: This state park is popular for clamming, but there’s also about three miles of hiking trails, fishing, and swimming.
Campgrounds: There are 46 tent camping spaces at South Whidbey. Of note: families may hear air traffic from the nearby naval base.
While enjoying any Washington State park, you’ll need a Discover Pass. Passes are $10 per day, or just $30 for a year!