I’m easing my kayak gently into a small cove near Deception Pass when suddenly my peripheral vision catches something moving on the rocks a few feet to the left. With a quick side stroke, I turn just in time to see the tail end of a river otter as it slips into the clear green water with a little splash.
“Did you see that?” I say to Julie, right behind me.
Just then the otter surfaces briefly, dives under Julie’s kayak, and comes up for air on the other side. We get a glimpse of its slick wet coat glistening in the September sun before the otter disappears underwater and swims quickly away like a small furry torpedo.
Kayaking with otters is just one of the reasons I love to paddle around Deception Pass at the tippy north end of Whidbey Island, Washington. I’m not quite brave enough to play in the strong currents and eddies in Deception Pass, which is like skiing a double black diamond run. But there’s plenty enough gorgeous scenery to make a satisfying and scenic few hours or day of kayaking.
I like to put in at Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island, which is part of Deception Pass State Park north of the historic Deception Pass Bridge. Bowman Bay is a beautiful moon-shaped, protected bay where you can park within 20 feet of the sandy, pebbled beach. You don’t find a much better place to launch a kayak in these parts.
We start by paddling north along the bay and then heading up island, skirting the rocky shoreline through bull kelp forests swaying in the gentle current.
If the water is pretty calm, it’s fun to explore some small coves and arches along the rock faces. Since this side of Whidbey and Fidalgo is exposed to strong currents coming southeast down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it can get exciting here with big swells and waves. Not so today though.
After an hour or so of paddling north, we turn around and head south toward Deception Pass. A big bald eagle cruises past overhead, throwing a shadow over us for a second. We pass some snorkelers near a rocky outcrop.
When we near the entrance to Deception Pass, we ease up to a small beach and take a break. Kayaking out of Bowman Bay offers numerous small coves and beaches where you can stop and grab lunch or just relax for a bit.
On this lovely early fall day, even the seagulls seem to be having a good time hanging out in the sunshine.
We kayak back to Bowman Bay after being out about 3 hours, nosing in and out of a few coves before gliding back to the beach. Hauling kayaks up from the beach and back onto the car is a heavy load, but it's easy because I'm buoyed by the hours of sunshine in my kayak in this lovely place.
When You Go
From Seattle, it’s about a 60-minute drive north up I-5, then west on State Route 20 towards Anacortes at Exit 230 in Burlington. Take a left 11 miles from I-5 at the stoplight to stay on SR 20 and go south about 7 miles to Deception Pass State Park. The turnoff to Bowman Bay is on the right just north of the historic Deception Pass Bridge. There is a nominal fee to park. If you reserve months in advance, you can camp at Bowman Bay. Campsites fill up early for the whole summer and early fall.