• A Washington state park gem: Deception Pass

    Visitors can find more adventure beyond the bridge
  • OAK HARBOR, Wash. — If you know only the landmark green bridge at Deception Pass State Park, you don't know this park.
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  • OAK HARBOR, Wash. — If you know only the landmark green bridge at Deception Pass State Park, you don't know this park.
    What awaits visitors here is so much more than snapping photos from the overlooks at the bridge that spans the green slash of saltwater as it rips through the pass, with currents that can exceed 8 knots.
    That's fun, but don't stop there. Deception Pass State Park is the poor man's San Juan Island getaway, with all the glory of those island landscapes, without the ferry wait and costs. It's all here: 400- to 600-year-old trees. Glorious beaches, primo picnic areas, tide pools, rocky headlands and sweeping views to the farthest horizon.
    No wonder as he walks the park, "It gets better" is a favorite saying of park ranger Jack Hartt. Because every time he turns a corner, it does.
    Strewn across both ends of the bridge at Deception Pass at the tips of Whidbey and Fidalgo islands, the park covers more than 4,000 acres and 10 islands — one of them with a rentable cabin.
    To be sure, this is not a park for everyone. Some won't like the jet noise, rumbling from the Naval Air Station at Whidbey Island.
    And for some, the summer high season is just too busy. On a summer night the park turns into the second-largest city on Whidbey Island, with some 2,000 visitors camped out. The park gets more than 2 million visitors a year — making it one of Washington's most popular, and far more frequently visited than North Cascades or Mount Rainier national parks.
    But for its ease of access, and wide range of things to do, it's been a favorite for many Washington families for generations. "It's home away from home," said Jane Stauffer, of Conway, Skagit County, set up with her husband, Mike, and two grandchildren in their campsite at the Cranberry Lake Campground on a recent spring day. With the red-check oilcloth on the picnic table, strings of lights and even a hummingbird feeder on the awning of the RV, they had brought all the comforts.
    Madison, the family dog, was tucked into her bed on a folding chair by the fire ring with its cheery blaze, a blanket snugged around her shoulders. At 16, "She's been coming here a long time," said Jane, joining two generations of their family now on Deception Pass vacations.
    "You can drive here so quickly, you aren't in the car so long, and then there is so much to do," Jane said. "We spend a lot of time on the beach looking for treasures, fly kites, and then there are the beautiful sunsets."
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