Day tripping through Puget Sound

Thirty-five miles north of Seattle is Mukilteo, a classic coastal town where you can get a latte and buy fish bait in the same cafe. Add a small lighthouse, a decent seafood restaurant called Arnies and the ability to ferry over to Whidbey Island, and you realize you’re at the golden crossroads of Washington State and Puget Sound.

After getting a look at the lighthouse, walking the rocky beach and stopping at Mukilteo Landing for fish and chips, prawns and chips or halibut and chips, go back up the hill to wait in line for the ferry. The line will feel like it’s 10 miles long, but be patient. The line goes quickly and you usually sit in your car no more than 15 minutes.

Once aboard the ferry, go up top for a view of Clinton, the town just three miles across the harbor where you will set foot on Whidbey Island from the ship. You can even grab another latte in the coffee shop onboard if you need a pick-me-up for the drive north. Just don’t expect to linger long. The mother whale ship moves faster than you would think, putting you on land in less than 10 minutes.

When we hit Whidbey Island we cruised through several towns with the destination of Greenbank Farm on our radar. The brochure promised dark red fields of loganberrys and old barns from 1904. What we found were fields out of season and a parking lot full of tourists visiting the wine and cheese shop, and having a piece of pie at the on site cafe. If you need a place to tire your children out, Greenbank has acres of open paths where kids can run. If you are looking for the quiet, natural side of the Pacific Northwest, keep moving.

Driving past yellow hay fields and only-one-stoplight towns, Whidbey Island suddenly felt familiar. While not exact, the landscape had the look and feel of Prince Edward Island, especially from a peak when you could spot the sea in the distance. I wanted to see more.

Past the halfway point of the island we came upon Fort Casey or Camp Casey as it is commonly known today, a restored Army camp built in 1890 to protect the entrance to Puget Sound. Each year Camp Casey hosts a kite flying festival on its expansive grounds, which is now part of Fort Casey State park. In addition to World War II canons and bunkers, Admiralty Head Lighthouse is a sparkling white structure that graces the grounds, guiding ships nearly 20 years prior to Fort Casey’s development.

While Camp Casey and the lighthouse grounds were perfectly lovely on the warm 72 degree day we were there, I couldn’t wait for the Big Kahuna – the place that I wanted to visit the most during this day trip. And we had to get moving because the sun was starting to dip. Car packed back up, windows down, we drove toward Deception Pass.

If you are driving north from Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island and want to see the Deception Pass Bridge, I’ll save you a little pain. Take a left into Deception Pass State Park. We weren’t sure where we would have the best view and got lucky by guessing. Drive down to the beach parking lot, grab your camera and anything else you want to take because once you see this, you won’t want to return for awhile.

Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? I just stood on the beach for about 30 minutes, watching children play and old men fish. The photograph at the top of this post is also from Deception Pass, snapped as the sun was setting. More than a quarter of a mile long, the bridge is even more thrilling once you are driving over it.

Our day was ending and we wound up blowing through Fidalgo Island much too quickly. I can actually see this being a better day trip entrance, driving from Seattle to Fidalgo Island first, and then passing south into Whidbey, strictly for the views of Fidalgo alone.

But this was our day trip, and there were definite missteps. You have to take it as it comes. I’m always looking for the “untouched” in my travels, but I’ve come to realize that is hard to find. There is a gift shop attached to pretty much anything remotely interesting along the way. I have to remind myself of the old adage that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Do I think travelers should see Puget Sound if they have the chance? You betcha. Even with the gift shops and tourists, it’s still a beautiful place, with raw and wonderful views. Make it your own journey.