The largest of five islands comprising Washington’s Island County, Whidbey is located in the northern reaches of the deep-water trough of Puget Sound off the coast of Skagit and Snohomish counties. It is 47 miles by road from the town of Clinton in south Whidbey to Deception Pass at the northern tip.
If you approached Whidbey from the south, you’re probably already relaxed after the scenic 20-minute ferry ride from Mukilteo, north of Seattle, to Clinton, Whidbey’s cozy, southernmost community. Clinton’s recreational pier, located alongside the ferry dock, is a favorite place for boaters, fishermen, and scuba divers. Notice the great weather—Whidbey is situated in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and has a reputation for being in a “banana belt.”
Possession Point, at the southernmost tip of the island, is home to red rock and Dungeness crab. Beachcombing and bird-watching are favorite activities in this peaceful sanctuary. Listen to the seagulls squawk ki-aa as they dip and dive for food, drop clams on the beach and then swoop to the ground to feast on the meat exposed by the broken shells.
Small Town Charm
Driving north on Highway 525, you’ll approach the beautiful seaside town of Langley overlooking Saratoga Passage. Langley’s small-town character and charm draw discriminating shoppers to antique shops, galleries, and quaint fashion boutiques. Be sure to take in First Street Park, sit on a bench, and enjoy an ice-cream cone. Along the waterfront street, look for a popular Langley landmark, a bronze sculpture created by Langley’s Georgia Gerber that shows a boy leaning on a park railing with his dog at his feet. Also while in Langley, take time to visit South Whidbey Historical Museum, located on Camano Avenue, and discover the island’s absorbing history.
As you move north through the rural community of Bayview, you will pass Useless Bay and its pristine beaches, nine-acre Lone Lake and its good fishing and boating, and quiet Goss Lake with good fishing and no motorboating.
Venturing farther north, you arrive at the unincorporated community of Freeland, where less than a mile of land separates Holmes Harbor on one side from Mutiny Bay on the other. This off-the-highway delight boasts a spectacular view of the snowcapped Olympic Mountains to the west and rugged Mt. Baker in the Cascades to the northeast. Drop down to the waterfront and visit Freeland Park. It’s a great place for a picnic and to listen to waves lapping the gently sloping beach and to the rattle of millions of tiny rocks as the water rushes over them. This is a family oriented park with playground equipment and boat launching facilities.
About seven miles northwest of Freeland on Smugglers Cove Road is South Whidbey State Park. Situated on a bluff, it covers 347 acres of land forested with old-growth virgin Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock. The park has 46 non-hookup campsites and eight utility spaces. Hot showers, modern restrooms and a dump station are available.
Approaching central Whidbey’s narrowest point, you’ll see the rural hamlet of Greenbank. While in the vicinity, consider visiting Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, a wondrous place in the spring with ten acres of rhododendron forest.
Again heading north on Highway 525, signs are posted for the Keystone ferry, which sails across Puget Sound to Port Townsend. Notice that Highway 525 runs from Clinton up the center of Whidbey and then becomes Highway 20 between Greenbank and Coupeville.
Fort Casey State Park, west on Route 113 from Highway 20, is the site of the first lighthouse in the area. Fort Casey, formerly a coastal defense installation guarding the entrance to Puget Sound, is now a State Historical Monument with bunkers, gun emplacements, and the old lighthouse, which now serves as a museum. It’s a good idea to take flashlights for the self-guided interpretive walk through the old bunkers and gun emplacements. Fort Casey has 35 basic campsites with modern restrooms, a saltwater boat launch, and picnic areas.
Keystone Spit, part of Fort Casey State Park, features a marine wildlife reserve and scuba diving park. Because of strong currents and tides, divers are reminded that their skills should be at least intermediate level, but they will find an abundance of fish and colorful sea life. Restrooms with hot and cold showers are available, plus picnic tables and a boat launch.
Back on Highway 20, you’re in for a 19th century treat when you reach the old seaport of Coupeville, the second oldest town in the state and the Island County seat. Take your time in Coupeville—there’s a lot to see and do. Stroll out on the Coupeville Wharf; bird watching is popular here with the majestic crane, noisy mallard ducks, and quavering-voiced loons. You might even glimpse a soaring bald eagle, once considered an endangered species, now taking up permanent residence on Whidbey in increasing numbers. Jaunt down Front Street and visit the Block House with its war canoes and historical information.
Eight miles south of Oak Harbor, turn west on Libby Road and take a short detour to Fort Ebey State Park. The newest state park on the island, Fort Ebey is also of particular interest to history buffs. The fort, built in the early 1940s, has batteries and bunkers still in place. Fort Ebey has 40 standard and ten hookup campsites, picnic sites, and miles of trails along the bluff and through the woods. Views abound with three miles of shoreline on Admiralty Inlet, the Olympic Mountain range, and 1,000 feet of freshwater frontage on Lake Pondilla.
On the east side of the island, in the crook of Whidbey, is Penn Cove, home of the famous Penn Cove Mussels, a floating $1 million business. The farm consists of 140 miles of underwater twine to which mussels attach themselves and grow in the plankton-rich waters of Penn Cove.
Back on Highway 20, at San de Fuca, proceed to Oak Harbor, largest of Whidbey’s cities. Originally settled by the Irish and Dutch, Oak Harbor flourished as a small country town, and then mushroomed in 1941 when the U.S. Navy arrived to build the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Oak Harbor has large shopping areas, restaurants, lodging, and recreational facilities.
Returning to Highway 20, you’re on your way to Washington’s popular Decep-tion Pass State Park, boasting 167 standard and 143 utility campsites. Hikers are rewarded with many varied and beautiful woodland and ridge trails. Be sure to pick up a trail guide from the ranger station for your hiking enjoyment and safety. Visitors to the park have their choice of lakes or saltwater beaches for boating, fishing and swimming.
One of the scenic wonders of northwest Washington, spectacular Deception Pass Bridge, is now a historical monument. The bridge is actually two spans that extend over Canoe Pass and Deception Pass, linking Whidbey to Fidalgo Island. Take time to park your rig and take a walk across the bridge. You’ll see why the scene is a photographer’s delight. At the narrow 200-yard channel at Pass Island, churning water and brave boats rush through the mighty current.
On the Bowman Beach side of the park, north across Deception Pass Bridge, be sure to visit the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) interpretive center, operated by former CCC enrollees. In l933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the program designed to preserve natural resources around the country and provide work and education for 250,000 of the country’s young men. Typifying the style of architecture and construction used by CCC’s, the center shows vintage photographs and film footage of crews at work, tools, and other camp artifacts. The project’s log-and-stone guard rails along the roads and highway are still standing, along with many stone buildings.
Beautiful Whidbey Island offers a multitude of recreational activities and spectacular sights—more than you can absorb in one day. When you visit, plan to stay at one of the parks and use it as a home base while you take in Whidbey, the Longest Island.
Mary E. Trimble is a writer who lives in Camano Island, Washington.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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