This article outlines a fantastic day trip itinerary taking in the beautiful nature of the Salish Sea — from Seattle to Deception Pass. The itinerary includes things to do in Anacortes
Table of contents — Seattle to Deception Pass including things to do in Anacortes
- A local’s way — an early morning road trip
- Deception Pass State Park
- Things to do in Anacortes
- Washington Park in Anacortes
- La Conner
- Interactive Map
- If you go — planning considerations
A local’s trip from Seattle to Deception Pass, including Anacortes
It’s easy to drive in any direction from Seattle to take in natural beauty and wonder, but the northern escape route on Interstate 5 has to be one of the best. On this particular morning I’m on the road early, moving at a quick pace through the suburban gauntlet of mass transit construction, drab concrete dividers and a spaghetti-like flow of merging lanes, exits, HOV fast passes and blinking traffic notifications. It doesn’t take too long before the ratio of green to concrete increases and my car eagerly approaches Everett, WA with anticipation that open spaces are fast approaching. It’s around 6am on this June morning, and the sun, already making claim to the clear sky, casts an optimistic glow over the valley below. Mist rises up from a vast array of farming fields, marsh land and pockets of industrial action, and I already feel freed from the social distancing pressures of the city I love.
Another half an hour passes by and the road turns flat as the wide Skagit Valley comes into view. Broad fields of Spring crops push up a myriad of green hues. Rolling mounds lead to higher foothills that almost disappear into the morning fog — the mountains peeking out every now and again as if preparing behind stage for the main attraction later in the day. Towards the water, mist bubbles up from the rivers and the scene of nature overwhelms the senses. This 20 mile stretch of Interstate 5 is one of the three most stunning drives from the California border to British Columbia and I’m thankful it’s so close to Seattle (stay tuned for that post another day).
I’m just starting a fantastic day trip from Seattle that will take me to the dramatic cliffs of Deception Pass, nature gateway of Anacortes, and pioneer town quaintness of La Conner, WA.
Deception Pass State Park
It’s only seven in the morning and so my usual stop in La Conner for breakfast goodness isn’t an option, and I push onward to the quiet early morning sequence of hiking several trails at the spectacular state park. However, Calico Bakery in La Conner (opens at 8AM) is a great morning stop along the way to get grub. The scenery is beautiful and I talk about the cute pioneer town towards the end of this itinerary.
Around 7:30am I cross the 1930’s-era bridge — high above the famed narrow stretch of water separating Whidbey Island from Hidalgo Island. Pulling into the viewpoint parking area just after the bridge is easy this time of day, and I park my car and display my Discovery Pass in the window. I’ve walked out on the narrow sidewalk to peer down to the water several times before, so this morning I opt to skip this harrowing experience (but it’s worth it!) and push on with hiking.
There are a handful of approaches to experiencing Deception Pass State Park, and the list below orders them by general popularity. I start at the Bridge Viewpoint and focus on bullets 4, 5 and 6 today.
- Bridge viewpoint and pedestrian access — the quintessential experience walking along the narrow pedestrian sidewalk to peer over the railing to the churning water way below.
- North Beach — accessible from both the viewpoint parking and the main park parking. Outstanding angles of the bridge from below.j
- West Beach and Amphitheater — Easy to reach spaces for enjoying the beach and scenery.
- Goose Rock Summit and perimeter trail — hike up to the ‘bald’ peak and around the eastern lobe of the park.
- Bowman Bay — on the northern part of the park with two spectacular hikes to Lottie Bay (views of the bridge) and Lighthouse Point (bridge and Olympic Mountain views.)
- Rosario Beach — peaceful set of beaches with ample spacing for picnics and short easy hikes.
Over the next few hours I hike up to Goose Rock to gaze out at the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains and reposition my car two more times on the north side of the bridge (and park) whilst exploring Bowman Bay and Rosario Beach areas. I run into a deer on the trail towards Lighthouse Point and watch the sway of the giant kelp affixed to the floor of the Puget Sound with the exhale of low-tide water. Rosario Beach brings delight as I join a 6 and 8 year old on a floating dock to witness sea otters frolicking in the shallow aqua water as seaweed washes ashore.
By 11:30, the park is coming to life, as if the changing tide is bringing a new flow of visitors to the array of beaches and water attractions. It’s time for me to move on, and I make my sights on lunch in nearby Anacortes, Washington.
Things to do in Anacortes, Washington
To me, Anacortes was an area with Washington’s main oil refinery (close to ships arriving from Alaska with crude oil) and the place to catch the Washington State Ferry system to the breathtaking San Juan Islands. Today is a day to push my expectations and I take a more scenic approach to town, following Rosario Drive which leads to Marine Road — both following the water.
Downtown Anacortes is very quaint, with a Main Street cluster of turn of the 20th century stately buildings and commerce that appears to be awakening from a two month quarantine pause. Several places display their goods outside, as if to push the envelope on the updated social distancing guidelines and I locate Dad’s Diner which was suggested to me by a local friend in the area. Like many restaurants now working to embrace ever-changing guidelines, there is an awkward dance between ordering online and simply talking to the friendly man at the barricaded doorway. But the yummy spicy breakfast tacos are worth any additional steps. Two deer stop traffic in the main avenue as I walk to my car to relocate to a park setting to enjoy my meal.
Washington Park and other Anacortes parks offer stunning views in all directions
The day is brilliant — sunny with fresh blue skies and scenery popping up seemingly from all angles. I head up to Cap Sante to eat my tacos on a large ‘bald’ cap to the hill while gazing at Mount Baker, rising above a broad maritime-scape of large seagoing vessels, sailboats, and yachts out for a joyride. Today there is no problem parking, but, with only space for about 8 cars, things could get tight on a weekend.
Crossing town is easy and I make a quick stop at The Store for some delicious baked goods and coffee. This store also has a huge wine selection and other nibbles making for great picnic fare. Opting for back roads to avoid the uninspiring slog of ferry traffic, I wind back out to Marine Road and make my way to Washington Park.
Where Cap Sante focuses east to Mount Baker, Washington Park looks west toward the San Juans and places south. The drive around loop is open for cars most of the week, but closed to foot traffic on weekends. Since it’s Wednesday (and I’ve already hiked 8 miles), I’m in for a treat, and my Volvo winds around the curving roadway framed in with thickets of native brush. Green Point is a great stopping place, as well as another ‘bald’ viewpoint farther along with a unique reddish rock color.
La Conner, Washington — a perfect stop on a day trip from Seattle to Deception Pass
One of the most scenic drives of the day takes place from Washington Park to La Conner via southbound Marine Road which cuts through to Highway 20. The views of the bay open up and flow to peaceful country roads that wind around still lakes in amongst farmland.
La Conner, Washington is named after one of the town founders, Lousia Conner, and harkens back to pioneer days. The Swinomish Tribe is just on the other side of the Skagit River Delta, and I enjoy the waterfront park with the three event spaces created under giant traditional hats. Rainbow Bridge is another interesting attraction — the pink hue the color of salmon heading up the channel to spawn.
This town swells up during the famous Skagit Valley tulip season in April each year, but La Conner is fun year-round. I wrote a complete article about this area, so for more details check out, La Conner, Washington — the best of Skagit Valley.
Return home refreshed from a nature escape day-trip from Seattle to Deception Pass, including things to do in Anacortes
The final path winding through what is a collage of brightly colored tulips in spring is still stunning in a more understated way now. Mount Baker is prominently on display, afternoon sun shining on her face while farm life continues in the fertile valley. I connect again with Interstate 5 and sample a chocolate covered macaroon procured in Anacortes earlier in the day as my SUV locks in for home.
The sweet, texture-rich macaroon procured at The Store in Anacortes offers the perfect analogy for the day — rich texture, wet with salt and sugar, topped with a delightful chocolate edge. Refreshing and optimistic — I head home.
Interactive Map of a day-trip from Seattle to Deception Pass, including things to do in Anacortes
While my personal trip on this gorgeous May day lasts 12 hours, including hiking and eating, the actual drive time to cover all these spots is just under 4 hours and the best routing, taking into account of scenery and other considerations is noted in blue on the Google Map below — restaurants and other attractions marked in red. Of course, it’s encouraged to customize for meals, hiking stamina and overall day-trip endurance and it’s not out of the question to drop anchor at a local lodge to create a fun overnight getaway.
If you go — planning tips and considerations for Seattle to Deception Pass, including things to do in Anacortes
While my personal trip on this gorgeous May day lasts 12 hours, including hiking and eating, the actual drive time to cover all these spots is just under 4 hours and the best routing, taking into account of scenery and other considerations is noted in blue on the Google Map below — restaurants that serve takeout and other attractions marked in red. Of course, it’s encouraged to customize for meals, hiking stamina and overall day-trip endurance and it’s not out of the question to drop anchor at a local lodge to create a fun overnight getaway. For more information on some options you can read my recent article, 8 of the best things to do on Whidbey Island.
Weather and planning in the Pacific Northwest
If living anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, you know that the weather can always be wet west of the Cascade Mountains any time of year. Early in the morning it was cold enough to require a hat and coat but by the time I was wandering through the cowboy avenue of La Conner all I wore was a tee-shirt and jeans. It’s best to bring several different layers of clothing to match the micro-climates and time of year. The Pacific Northwest doesn’t present with obvious heat and beach-like conditions, but the sun still has power, especially in the summer. Be mindful of the rays and be sure to wear sunscreen and take plenty of water if planning longer hikes.
For meal planning, it might also be a good idea to have a cooler bag available to store snacks and drinks for picnic areas, in addition to water. Picnics are a great option to enjoy a meal surrounded by glorious nature. This itinerary also passes by enough options for provisions along the way, and more specific information is shown on the interactive map above.
As for fees, while there isn’t a direct cost to enter the State Parks mentioned here, a Discovery Pass is required to use the parking areas. The pass is $30 for the year where you buy fishing and hunting licenses or $10 day-pass at the particular parking site — which usually accepts credit cards. I also always have some petty cash available, preferably in $5 increments, to pay city and county parking fees if/when they arise.
Day trip from Seattle “pro tip” — get an early start to the day
Maybe you don’t need to leave at 6AM like me, but the earlier the better to head from Seattle to Deception Pass, for three reasons:
- Traffic is much lighter, making it very easy to quickly leave the metro area.
- Crowds start to thicken at about 11AM, especially with popular destinations like the Deception Pass Bridge — where the narrow sidewalk causes a tourist log-jam.
- When starting later in the day, I find that it’s easier to run out of energy without experiencing all the greatness of Deception Pass and Anacortes.