Deception Pass Deja Vu
[Whidbey Island, July 16, 2018]
After a long day exploring the North Cascades, we were happy to have a very fluid itinerary. Our only imperative was to get to Port Angeles, WA, on the Olympic Peninsula. We had a ferry reservation for 4:15 pm but other than that, the day was wide open.
Since we had plenty of time, we decided to try to find another Washington location for the 2002 movie The Ring. A cabin in the movie was supposed to be located in Bellingham, just 30 minutes north of where we were. At the address listed online, we found Camp Firwood, a summer camp for kids. However, all of the cabins had been redone since the movie had been filmed. Slightly disappointed, we drove a bit around the neighborhood, which was situated on Lake Whatcom and quite pretty.
I had seen signs for Chuckanut Drive on the way here, which sounded familiar. I double-checked my guidebook, and realized it’s one of the best scenic drives in the state. Its northern terminus was just west of Bellingham, so we decided to do the drive rather than come back down Interstate 5.
Chuckanut Drive, also known as State Route 11, is 21 miles long. It was built as part of the now defunct Pacific Highway that once ran along the coast from California to Canada. Squeezed between Puget sound on one side and Chuckanut Mountain on the other, the road twists and turns in the woods before reaching flat and open farmland to the south.
There are a few scenic turnouts where you can enjoy views across Puget sound to the San Juan Islands.
We also drove by Larabee State Park, an excellent spot for camping, fishing and boating. The park is named after the Bellingham businessman who owned the waterfront property. He deeded it to the state when Washington’s governor at the time proposed the creation of a park to him. The park was established in 1915.
There are quite a few spots to grab something to eat along Chuckanut Drive. It was before 11 am when we did the drive, so we weren’t hungry and most places hadn’t even opened yet. If your visit coincides with lunch- or dinner-time, this Seattle Time article should be on your reading list.
We didn’t do the full 21 miles Chuckanut Drive, because doing so would have taken us back to Burlington, which is the opposite direction of Fidalgo and Whidbey islands, where we were headed next.
I’ve mentioned various islands off the coast of Washington by now, so perhaps it’s time for a map so we can all get our bearings. Fidalgo island and Whidbey island are the ones we were headed to that day. Those are the same islands I ran on during my Ragnar Northwest passage race. To the Northwest are the San Juan islands, and even farther West is Victoria, BC, where we were headed a few days later.
The San Juan archipelago consists of hundreds of islands, but only four are accessible via the Washington State Ferry system. The system runs ten routes serving 20 terminals located around Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands. These ten routes are part of the state highway system. With 22 vessels, the agency maintains the largest fleet of ferries in the United States. You can see some of the routes in dotted blue lines on the map above.
Route 20, the same route we were on yesterday through the Cascades, also runs through Fidalgo and Whidbey island. Two bridges collectively known as Deception pass bridge connect these two islands.I had already gone over the bridge with my teammates on day 2 of our Ragnar race, but this was the first time B was on it. He was really excited to see it since it was featured in The Ring. Deception pass was named by explorer George Vancouver. He initially thought it was an inlet and named it Port Gardner; when he realized it was a tidal passage, he changed its name to Deception pass.
It was hard to get good photos of the bridge and the pass, especially in the middle of the day. There are overlooks, but the angles weren’t ideal. On the south side, there is a small parking area with trails that take you down to the beach. We only went down a little bit to try and get decent views of the bridge’s undercarriage.
We continued south to Oak Harbor, on Whidbey island. It was time for lunch at this point, so we stopped at a place called Seabolt’s Smokehouse. It was right off route 20 and it had outdoor seating, which we took advantage of.
While munching on our appetizers, a restaurant worker came out to take a live crab out of a locker full of water. Myself and a bunch of kids from another table went over to check out the action. The kids rooted for the crabs, to no avail.
As we were enjoying our fish and chips sampler (cod, salmon, halibut) on the patio, the exhaustion and stress from our Ragnar race and the intense hike the day before started to melt away.
Oak Harbor was founded as a seaport in the 1850s. It is home to the Whidbey island naval air station, which to this day is the largest naval air base in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this, Oak Harbor feels more like suburban America rather than an a quaint island town. If you are looking for the latter, fear not. Coupeville, just down the road, has you covered.
Coupeville was founded in 1852 and is the second oldest town in Washington. It’s named after Thomas Coupe, who popularized Deception pass as a naval passage when he sailed his fully rigged, three-masted vessel through in 1852. Ships had been avoiding the pass before then due to the strong tidal currents. Only 2,000 or so people call this town their home, which I assume is why it’s retained its 19th century charm.
The town’s wharf is now a home for a display of marine mammal skeletons, a gift shop, a cafe and basic boating services.
Coupeville is in the middle of Whidbey island, which is sometimes referred as the waist because it’s also the narrowest part. This part of the island is home to Penn cove, a calm inlet famous for producing the famous Penn Cove mussels.
While strolling up and down the main street, we encountered the cutest little coffee shop, Knead and Feed. It was the perfect stop for an afternoon pick-me-up before we caught the ferry over to the Olympic peninsula. We had great views of Penn Cove from there.
The ferry ride from Coupeville to Port Townsend was about an hour. We got there early, so we had time to walk around and enjoy the beautiful day. We had a reservation, which I highly recommend for any ferry route that takes one. This does force you to plan in advance but also ensures you will be able to sail at your desired time.
We arrived at our final destination, Port Angeles, around 6 pm. We were starving, so we walked down a place called Downriggers on the Water, where I inhaled a plate of pasta. We barely had anything to eat the day before. We got to our hotel so late after hiking Maple Pass that our dinner consisted of left over snacks from my Ragnar race and boiled eggs we had helped ourselves to from the breakfast buffet that morning. The dinner at Downriggers was our first real meal in a couple of days, and we enjoyed it immensely as the sun was starting to set on the peninsula.