Get in the know before you go: Deception Pass Park Foundation hosts the downloadable map as an alternative to purchasing one at the main entrance for about two dollars. Since there are three distinct areas (Bowman Bay, Cornet Bay and Goose Rock), consider printing them out before you arrive. The map’s key contains numbers, but the trails are named, so be sure to print it too. For background information on the park and the Civilian Conservation Corps, check out retired former park manager Jack Hartt’s books Exploring Deception Pass or Two Hands and a Shovel.
Be Prepared: Although most of the main trails are well marked, some sections (especially through the Goose Rock area) can be confusing. Download one of the apps on your phone beforehand (I’ve tried and liked GAIA GPS) so you can see where you are in real time, just in case. Access from the north to one of my favorite trails, the Discover Trail from North Beach Trail, about a quarter mile from the Bridge, is unmarked.
Check the Tides: Hiking on DPSP trails is unaffected by the tides: however, during low tides, you can beachcomb at Cornet Bay and along the western part of Bowman Bay. Plus, you can get to a couple of cool places, like the tiny island off of Lighthouse Point trail and the beach with views of Canoe Pass. The Rosario Tide pools and the big rock at the northwest part of the West Beach parking lot are other, more obvious places. During any tide height, walk the main dock and the boat launch docks at Cornet Bay for a chance to see cool sea creatures.
Pre-bird through e-Bird:
The list of bird species that hang out at DPSP is long. Current data about what birders are seeing is available at eBird.
Get off the beaten path: In my experience, the North Beach Trail, which runs between the Bridge and West Beach, attracts a lot of hikers, in spite of the fact that it’s one of the more technical (in terms of roots and rocks) park trails. I prefer two nearby, less-traveled, equally scenic trails: Bowman Bay/Rosario Beach Trail and the Lighthouse Point Loop, both which I’d access from the Bowman Bay parking lot.
Tour it by sea: From April through October, Deception Pass Tours offers hour-long boat trips starting at the Cornet Bay dock that take passengers around Cornet Bay, under the Canoe and Deception Pass bridges and to the Bowman Bay area (the route varies based on weather conditions). A naturalist guide provides an excellent overview of the park’s layout by sea, as well as historical facts about the area and views of and information about local wildlife. Note: participants are asked to wait for boat tours just off of the dock, but up until 15 minutes before your scheduled tour, there’s no reason not to walk the dock, see what’s going on with the crabbers and fisherman, and check out the sea creatures. Book your tour online, at 5596 SR 20, or at the kiosk in the parking lot just south of the Deception Pass Bridge.
Arrive a Discover Pass, or deal with the in-person hassle: There are several places to obtain an Annual Discover Pass at DPSP, including the main gate (Welcome Center) on the west side of Highway 20, which is open 365 days a year from 9:00 am to 11:00 am. There are credit-card-accepting automatic pay stations at Cornet Bay next to the boat launch and at the parking lot just south of the Deception Pass Bridge near the kiosk. You may also purchase a One-Day pass at the same automatic pay station. If you have a cash or check, you may pay your One-Day pass fare at any unstaffed pay stations (one or more is located in each parking lot shown on the Park map) or but an Annual or One-Day Pass at several local vendor locations outside the park, which include a surcharge. Your best, most time-efficient bet is to obtain an Annual Discover Pass ahead of time (there is no surcharge if purchased with your vehicle license renewal) or arrive with ten bucks cash for the One-Day Pass. The fine for not displaying the pass is $99. Parking along Highway 20 north of the Deception Pass Bridge is free. About twelve days a year are designated State Park Free Days.
Zoom without a view: Avoid the crowds by traveling on the less popular, just as pretty trails. Cornet Bay boasts over ten miles of trails that are spectacularly quiet and scenic. What you gain in solitude will make up for what you might miss in the vista-views available along the more crowded park trails. Pass Lake Loop, Ginnett Trail, Tursi Trail (with views of The Rock made famous by Morris Graves), and the six miles of trails at Dugualla State Park (part of DPSP) are also less frequented.
It isn’t the only (trail) show in town: There are several beautiful areas to hike not far from the park, including: the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (50 miles of trails), Fort Ebey State Park/Kettles Recreation Area Trails (35 miles of trails), Ebey’s Landing (a 3.5 mi round trip with the best water view around), Washington Park (2.25 mi paved that is vehicle-free until 10:00 am, 4 mi of mostly single track trails), Sharpe Park and Joseph Whidbey State Park.
Don’t let the sound (of freedom) get you down: Jet noise from flight operations at NAS Whidbey is a regular occurrence, which you can be better prepared for by checking the schedule.