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Officially speaking, highway 20 is an east-west road. Even numbers are supposed to be east-west highways. However, in this part of Washington, highway 20 leaves Anacortes and heads south to Widbey Island. Crossing from Fidalgo Island to Widbey Island at Deception Pass, the highway must use two spectacular bridges in order to cross from Fidalgo Island to Pass Island (in the middle of Deception Pass) and then again to Widbey Island after only a brief (200 feet or so) visit to Pass Island.
This area is extremely scenic, and there is a horrific amount of congestion around the bridges because of the sheer number of people trying to get a view of the water from the bridges - it is, by the way, illegal to stop on the bridges or otherwise block traffic, but good luck telling most of the visitors to this area that!
There are several wide spots in the road on the north side of the bridge where it is possible to park your car, and an additional wide spot for parking on Pass Island itself.
Do not try to Cross the Road on Foot! There are a number of problems with trying to do this, and it is very much frowned upon. Instead, at the Deception Pass Bridges, stairways have been constructed to allow people to walk down the stairs and cross under the highway without having to worry about traffic.
If you are able to find a place to park near the bridge, take it! Especially if it is a good day, there will be dozens of people trying to take parking places as close as they can get, so it isn't worthwhile to try to wait for a closer parking place. Just find a place where you can walk, and don't waste your time trying to get 100 feet closer to the bridges. You just have to walk a little bit.
Take time to explore the area a little bit. Pass Island offers several wonderful views, as do both bridges.
For the best view of the bridges, it is necessary to be in a boat in the water. However, for those without this as an option I suggest North Beach (see tip) as it offers the best viewing and photo opportunities of the entire bridge + island + bridge arrangement.
Updated May 27, 2010
Address: Pass Island, in middle of Deception Pass
Despite the large number of sheer drops from the tops of the rocks to the water level, there are also a number of popular beaches in Deception Pass State Park. Facilities depend a great deal on which beach you are visiting. Some of the beaches are remote from facilities, while others have full restrooms and parking lots. Some are much harder to get to.
If you decide to go into the water, be warned that the water here has strong currents in many locations, as well as occasionally having large trees floating just below the surface that have fallen into the water. It isn't an extremely dangerous place to visit the beach, but it does require that visitors use some sense and just be aware of some of the dangers here. The water is usually quite cold.
"West Beach" has good facilities and is close to parking, but it also gets a direct blast of wind of ocean-like wind from the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
"North Beach" faces north, and is partially blocked by the steep hills of the inlet, so doesn't get quite as much sun exposure. Also, "North Beach" has considerable sections that require a little bit of a walk to get to - which means they are farther from some facilities, and also somewhat less crowded on really good peak tourist days.
Both "North Beach" and "West Beach" are reasonably close to the extensive Cranberry Lake campground.
"Rosario Beach" faces southwest and south, with the two sections separated by Rosario Head, which is a rock formation at the end of a very narrow peninsula. The part of this beach that faces the Straight of Juan de Fuca also has ocean-like winds, though it is somewhat sheltered from the Straight of Juan de Fuca by the islands. It is in the northern part of the park on Fidalgo Island. The south facing beach is sheltered and a small boat dock has been built there. There is a large grass picnic area here, which the other two beaches lack. This is also the setting of a Native American story, and a monument at the beach tells the story.
See the specific tips for each beach for more information.
To really understand this tip, you need to see the park detail map, which is available as a PDF on the state parks web site. It is possible to access this map from the page in the link below.
Updated May 27, 2010
The other two major beaches in Deception Pass State Park are North Beach and West Beach. While both of those have reasonably good picnic facilities, neither of them have the open grass area that Rosario Beach has.
The Rosario Beach area is also unique in that it is located on a small peninsula connected to the mainland by a small neck of land. The beach on the Straight of Juan de Fuca side of the neck looks west towards Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands, while the small beach on the south side of the neck looks somewhat towards North Beach and offers a slight view of Deception Pass itself. However, the view of the bridges, where it is possible to see them, isn't quite as good as you will find on North Beach (which is actually south of Rosario Beach).
You will find flush toilets near the parking area, a number of picnic tables, and a boat dock that during low tide is extremely steep and may be difficult to climb for some.
There are several hiking trails that leave from this area, including one that makes a very short loop around the circular end of the peninsula on which the picnic area sits.
This is also the beach on which the statue of The Maiden of Deception Pass has been placed, as this is the beach of the Native American story.
Updated May 27, 2010
In contrast to the neary North Beach, the West Beach area is directly next to a parking lot, and there are a lot of facilities here in terms of picnic tables and several flush toilet facilities. The beach looks directly west towards Vancouver Island and Victoria, though it is some 20 miles (33 km) across the water to Victoria.
West Beach is not sheltered from the sun or from the winds blowing down the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The access to the sun, plus the proximity of the parking lot, makes this the most active beach in Deception Pass State Park.
Among the various other activities here, the frequent wind and open space does seem to make it a reasonably good place for kite flying.
There are several walking trails that lead from here to other parts of the park, including up to the bridges and to North Beach.
Views from West Beach include the Olympic Mountains to the southwest.
Updated May 27, 2010
Of the beaches in Deception Pass State Park, north beach is the coldest as it is sheltered from the sun somewhat by the forest on the south side. It also has the least traditional ocean-type view, as it does not face open water.
On the other hand, North Beach faces Deception Pass itself, and therefore provides the best view in the park of the spectacular bridges that cross the twin passageways that separate Widbey Island from Fidalgo Island.
As North Beach is the farthest from parking areas it is the hardest beach to get to (though really not that difficult - it is only a very short walk from the West Beach parking area) and therefore tends to be the least crowded of the beaches.
Despite the fact this is the most sheltered beach in the park, there are still some very eccentric currents that come out of Deception Pass when the tides are changing, and there is quite a lot of driftwood that has come up on the beach. This provides a fairly nice improvised set of benches, but if you decide you need more than that there are two picnic shelters and tables in the woods past the driftwood.
The nearest restroom facilities are in the west beach parking lot or, after a bit of a hill climb, up by the road at the south side of the Deception Pass bridges.
Updated May 27, 2010
I don't know that much about kayaking, but what I can tell you is that the two narrow passageways formed between Fidalgo Island, Widbey Island and Pass Island have some fairly quick currents in them as the tide changes.
The very heart of Deception Pass therefore seems to be fairly popular with those who are kayakers.
I can't say for certain how much experience it takes to do this, but the shores have an awful lot of rocks on them. At the same time, the central part of the passage appears to have been completely cleared of rocks thanks to the extremely strong currents that push and pull through the narrow passageway, so it may not be such a difficult location in terms of obstacle avoidance.
Among other places, a place in Anacortes called "Anacortes Kayak Tours" offers trips that visit this state park, but they specifically say they do not go into the fast moving waters under the bridges.
Unlike the people in this photograph.....
You use your own discretion in what you do, but I would suggest that the water here is moving fast enough and the tidal currents strange enough that you would want some serious experience before attempting the waters of Deception Pass itself.
Updated Apr 29, 2010
Address: Deception Pass, directly under the bridges
When entering the southern portion of the park, the Cranberry Lake Day Use Area is the first area of the park that you will come to. There is a significant amount of space dedicated to picnic spaces, and there are several covered picnic areas.
At Cranberry Lake itself, which is slightly down the hill from the parking lot, you will find a pier that goes out into the lake. This is mostly used for fishing by visitors, though in theory you could visit the area in a small boat too. However, the entrance to Cranberry Lake from the Straight of Juan de Fuca is not large enough to navigate - and in fact just barely exists as a trace. Therefore, if you wish to take a boat into Cranberry Lake, it must be something that can be carried in by hand.
Restrooms with flush toilets are located at the south end of the parking lot.
The Cranberry Lake Camping Area is slightly down the park road from here.
Updated Apr 27, 2010
Address: Cornet Bay Road & Highway 20
Deception Pass is a channel of water separating Widbey Island and Fidalgo Island, and passing between sheer rock cliffs. Deception Island is in the approximate center of the narrowest point of this passage, and was therefore a convenient point to act as the centerpiece for constructing the bridges of highway 20 between the two islands.
Pass Island is equipped with a wide spot along highway 20 to allow visitors to stop and visit the island - though because it is a very popular location, during many days it will have reached its capacity and be very diffcult to visit by directly pulling off the road here. You will most likely have to park along highway 20 on the north or south side of Deception Pass and cross one of the bridges on foot.
You will find that the island is equipped with a historical marker, an observation deck with a handrail, and stairs connecting walkways on either side of the highway by going under the highway bridge.
You will also find a host of unofficial pathways all over the rock. Some of these can be explored at little risk, while others are along the edge of the rock so that you are attempting to walk on the pieces of rock that everyone else has made loose by walking on.
Therefore, if you decide to venture off the official trails, be really careful when you are walking in the steep sections of the rock because you are likely to get killed if you loose your footing. Preferrably, people would not wander so far from unofficial trails as it does do damage to the plant life that holds the rock together, and does do a bit of damage to the surface of the rock. However, when you arrive here, you will find the possibility of a better view irresistable, and wander out on the rock as well. Just be careful when you do so!
Written Apr 27, 2010
Deception Pass State Park has 38 miles (61 km) of hiking trails to explore including beaches and scenic viewpoints. There are three lakes which are contained within the park boundaries and wildlife can be seen throughout the park mostly waterfowl and sea birds. Some small mammals can be seen and in the waterways many sea mammals as well but the real treat is the landscape.
Updated Jan 12, 2007
The Deception Pass Bridge is one of those very frequently photographed sites in Washington. The bridge made its humble beginnings in 1935. It was built for a cost of $482,000. The bridge became increasingly popular for its scenic setting and in 1982 it became a national historical monument.
The bridge itself has a span of (combined) 1,487 ft (453 m) and is elevated 182 feet (55 m) above the water. Aside from being a long tall bridge it connects Whidbey Island with the rest of Washington.
Updated Jan 12, 2007