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Oak Harbor, Washington, United States

Deception Pass Bridge

Swirling Fog / Rushing Tides

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Length: 2.7 miles / 4.3 km
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: Overview: Looking for a safe harbor? Smooth waters? So was Captain James Vancouver in June of 1798. So he sent Ship’s Master Joseph Whidbey with a crew in a small boat around the northeastern tip of what was later named Whidbey Island to search for the inner waterway to Port Gardener. Deceived as to the nature of this passage, he wrote on his chart “Deception Pass,” and the name stuck.

Today the pass is a beautiful and exotic passage for all manner of water craft as they make their way from the many marinas along the island coast to the larger waters of Puget Sound. Whether its flood tide, ebb tide, or slack tide, you can locate yourself on one of the primary viewing points of the passage and ponder the interaction of the skipper, the ship and the sea.

To reach Deception Pass by land drive west/south on Hwy 20 from I-5, or north from Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. Coming from the south you’ll see a sign for Deception Pass State Park. Turn left into the park and follow the signs to Little North Beach …. After you’ve spent some time on the beach watching the currents and tide, head back out to the main road and continue north. Just across the main bridge, you’ll encounter a parking area on the right. This is Canoe Island. From here you can walk across either bridge, or you can explore the island under the main bridge and down into the passage. Further north, on the mainland side of the bridge is another parking area with another fantastic view of the passage.

Tips: 1. The currents along the beach in the state park are strong and wild (tides run at speeds up to 7 miles per hour). Be careful.

2. If you’re planning to climb around on Canoe Island, wear good shoes. There are many paths that crisscross the island, some rocky and near steep drop offs, some narrow and tangled with tree roots.

Points of Interest


Deception Pass Beach

Little North Beach is only 1/10th of a mile from the parking lot. Take your time as you walk down this wooded path to the rocky beach. Marvel at the 200ft tall Redwood Trees. Revel in the massive Cedar trunks that support the fragrant roof to this pillared chamber. When you finally stroll out onto the beach, investigate the 40 ft long, 3 ft diameter, “driftwood” trunks strewn along the high tide line the length of the cove. We then stood for a long time contemplating the way the tide (the afternoon flood, in our case) and the currents played with the random pieces of kelp and wood caught in its edges. In the late afternoon, the lowering sun plays along the tops of the waves and the high arches of the bridges connecting the mainland with Whidbey Island. However, this is a place of sound as well as sight: the tide races in like a river cascading down a mountain range in Colorado. Every boat that passes beneath the bridge creates its own counterpoint to this urgent flow. If you’re here at low tide, you can walk around Gun Point (western end of the beach) to the rest of North Beach.

Bridgehead Monument

Arched bridges have their own special beauty. Watching them in the swirling mists of morning fog is eerily compelling and surreal. Before this bridge was completed in 1935 by the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the only way to reach Whidbey Island was by ferry. When the bridge was opened 700 cars crossed in the first hour. Today an average of 15,000 cars cross every day. You can cross it safely on foot by using the new pedestrian walkways on either side of the bridge. Or you can climb down to its foundation and stare through the maze of girders that support this 976 ft long arch. While you’re in the shadow of the arch, use your eyes and ears to “watch” the parade of boats as they traverse the waters of the passage and navigate the eddies of the mist.

Canoe Island Point

The base of the north and south bridges rest on Canoe Island, which splits the currents of Deception Pass. A third of a mile long, 520 feet wide, and only 200 feet from shoreline to summit, the island looks more like someone’s left shoe than a canoe. You can reach the eastern point of the island by walking down any of several paths that explorers such as you have worn over the years. Along with the ubiquitous pine and fir trees, take time to examine the Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii), sometimes referred to by its Latin first name. Madrone is an evergreen, but looks like a very large Manzanita, having smooth red bark. Its hard wood makes a wonderful cooking fire, imparting a zesty taste to whatever you grill above it. On the eastern tip of the Island, you’ll be able to see well down the straits past Miller Bay, on the left, past Hoypus Point, on the right, deep into Simik Bay. Around the northern tip of Whidbey Island boats of all shapes and sizes line up and motor past your perfect observation point.

North Bridgehead

On the west side of Hwy 20, just north of the Canoe Pass span of the bridge, you’ll find another parking area. This gives you access both to the shoreline west of the bridge and to an elevated view of the entire bridge span. From here you’ll be able to see/photograph the entire structure. The Canoe Pass span is 511 feet long and required 460 tons of steel for its construction; the Deception Pass span is 976 feet long, using 1130 tons of steel.
Pictures in this guide taken by: dougknighton

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About the Author

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Retired Air Force Chaplain who began military life as an Airborne Ranger. Evidently I didn't get enough...

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