It's a typical February day here in western Washington, with a bruised gray sky, occasional spits of rain, and lush green undergrowth curling upward in the healthy forest we're hiking. As outdoors-loving Northwesterners know, you can't let a rainy forecast keep you inside.
While snow lingers high in the Cascades and Olympics, equally beautiful destinations entice hikers in the Pacific Northwest foothills and lowlands. At Deception Pass State Park on the edge of the Salish Sea, we trek through old growth forest, skip stones along cobbled beaches, and scramble across rocky bald outcrops with panoramic views on this winter day.
We planned to start hiking at the North Beach parking lot here at the northern tip of Whidbey Island, but the road is closed for the winter about a quarter mile into the park. No worries, we just park right outside the gate and walk another quarter mile or so down the road past some grand old growth trees.
Although it's a holiday weekend, after we hike up from the beach, under the Deception Pass Bridge, and continue eastward on the Perimeter Loop Trail, we only see one other group for the first 90 minutes of hiking. For the most heavily visited park in the state, with over 2 million visitors annually, this is sweet.
I've always felt that there's something wild and untamed about Deception Pass and the surrounding forests and cliffs. We're absorbing this essence as we hike (mostly) in silence. Now this is a way to really notice your surroundings.
When the trail drops down close to the bay east of the pass, we take a break at a clearing in the trees and sit for a few minutes.
I get temporarily disoriented and think we're heading up to the Goose Rock summit at the next cutoff to the right, but the trail ultimately drops back down to the water's edge. So we continue.
However, we get our first glimpse of Cornet Bay.
When we reach the junction to Goose Rock summit, it's clearly signed. I've been here before but coming from the other direction on the Discovery Trail.
From here the trail switchbacks upward for .8 mile, at first gently, then more steeply. Partway up we pass through a grove of wild rhododendrons in the forest understory. In a few months these rhodies will be magnificent with big pink flower clusters, and the meadows around the Goose Rock summit will be full of delicate native wildflowers.
(Check out what it's like to hike here during wildflower season.)
At the top of Goose Rock, we sit on a rock bald for a few minutes and watch a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead in the breezy sky. We've been hearing their high-pitched cries echoing above us in the forest.
[Note: If you hike here on a damp/wet day, the rocks can be slick. I slipped and landed on my bum coming down a rock.]
While you can see miles here westward up the Strait of Juan de Fuca and south to the Olympic Mountains, the electric power lines don't add to the scenic beauty. But it's prohibited to scramble beyond them onto the fragile meadows.
From here it's down through more rich forest about a half mile to Deception Pass Bridge. And as long as we're here, we have to walk across the historic bridge for the spectacular views.
I'll admit to a little knot in my stomach when looking down, especially since the bridge is being buffeted in the wind.
No kayakers down there today in the pass. For sea kayakers, this is comparable to a double-black diamond run on the slopes.
To extend our hike, we drop back down to North Beach and walk along the beach as far as we can to the far western point. Lots of good, flat skipping stones are scattered along here, although our tossing efforts are just so-so.
When we've gone as far as we can go and turn back into the woods for the return trail, we pass through an unusual patch of forest cloaked in hanging moss. It reminds me of a scene out of a Grimms' fairy tale or something equally bewitching.
Some walk back on the beach, but we're switching to the trail that winds along and above the beach in the woods.
With various stops along the way, a bathroom break at the bridge parking lot, and a detour to Pass Island in the middle of the two-bridge span, we arrive back at the car a little over 4 hours after we started. I figure we covered 4 to 5 miles.
I can't explain exactly why, but I always feel a touch exhilarated after spending time around Deception Pass. Perhaps it's that brush with the untamed, the combination of sea-tinged air and verdant green forest. Whatever, I bet you'll feel the same too.
After Hike Eats
Instead of driving back to Seattle via Interstate 5 through Mount Vernon (our route here), we head south along the spine of Whidbey Island on Highway 20, which is much more scenic. Plus we'll take a ferry back to the mainland, which is always a treat IMO.
When we get to Langley on south Whidbey for chow, we've arrived at 3 pm, in between lunch and dinner. Fortunately Primo Bistro is open for happy hour starting at 3, and it's packed. We manage to snag seats at the bar and enjoy a tasty meal of appetizers and salads. Highly recommend!
When You Go
You'll need a Discover Pass to park at Deception Pass State Park, which is about a 90-minute drive north of Seattle. Here is a map of the park, where you'll see Goose Rock. This hike was one of the almost-monthly silent meditation hikes with Blue Heron Zen Community. Everyone is welcome to join. Check their calendar page for upcoming hikes.