View of Deception Pass at the north end of Whidbey Island. A saltwater pass, dark blue, is bounded on two sides by coniferous forested cliffs. The sky above is pastel blue with distant gray and white clouds on the horizon.

A Transit Trek to Deception Pass

Twitter mutual @Danielhep just did a transit trek from Seattle to Deception Pass State Park, one of the most popular of Washington’s state parks.

Deception Pass is also reachable as a Transit Trek for folks living in Kingston, Port Townsend, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Everett, Mt. Vernon, and Bellingham (I’m sure I’ve overlooked some nearby cities; this is just the off-the-top of my head list).

I had never been to Deception Pass until last March, when, stubbornly determined to fix that despite very few direct options to get to Whidbey Island — especially with the suspension of the one morning Sounder trip and all Amtrak Cascades rail service north of Seattle — I plotted a multi-modal, multi-day bike-bus-ferry route to the park, staying at Kitsap Memorial State Park and in Port Townsend en route. I found some fantastic and mostly chill backroads in Kitsap and Jefferson counties not too bothered by car traffic. I acclimated to more highway shoulder riding, never my first choice, but Kitsap County is a place where building some tolerance for that extends your reach. I also tried some things I probably won’t do again unless absolutely necessary, like cycling across the Hood Canal Bridge. I learned that riding Center Road is not at all as bad as I thought it would be — the shoulders are wide and the traffic, while fast-ish, was less aggressive than I’ve found it to be on similar roads.  This last discovery is a boon for one of the bicycle tours I’m eyeing, as Center Road is part of the recommended detour for riding the largest gap in the eastern section of the Olympic Discovery Trail. Now that I’ve sampled it, it feels quite a bit less intimidating.

And, I learned which supposedly bike-friendly roads on Whidbey are not really — thankfully just a couple of absurd intersections where crossing Highway 20 was required. It was March, there was wind, and a little rain, and it was chilly. A lot of the riding I did was to compensate for the less-than-convenient transit schedules but I was also pretty happy to do it.

For Seattle-based trekkers who need to stick to transit, though, new service from Jefferson Transit will make a variation on my trip much easier: the route 14 Kingston Express. Beginning two days ago until March 31 the ride is free and for the next month there’s a promotion offering free transfers: “Passengers riding the #14 Kingston Express with the Kingston Ferry Terminal as their final destination will receive one transfer pass that will allow them to ride the Kitsap Transit Kingston Fast Ferry.”

I don’t recall if Clallam Transit’s Straight Shot launched with a similar promotion, but I think it is a smart idea and I’m curious to see how it goes. Less exciting is the Kingston Express’s $8 fare, mostly because there is no other direct route between Kingston and Port Townsend and that is a steep cost for transit-reliant local folks. It also makes the cost of bringing kids less competitive with driving if a family already owns a car. (It’s also a bummer that despite their routes overlapping along a section of SR 104, The Straight Shot doesn’t make at stop at Gateway Visitors Center, which would open up some great possibilities for transit treks to the Olympic Peninsula.) The $8 fare is offset a little by the fact that Island Transit service is completely free. It’s offset a lot by leaving the stress of driving to professionals on the three bus rides and enjoying the hydrotherapeutic effects of two ferry rides. 

Note that the Island Transit schedules this route depends on run Monday-Friday only (see below for a possible Saturday option). Ditto for the Kingston Fast Ferry; folks bringing bicycles will have more transit flexibility on weekends. I routed me and my e-bike mostly on backroads for the approximately 25 or 30 mile ride from Keystone on Whidbey to Deception Pass, and recommend it. 

Also note that once Amtrak Cascades resumes rail service north of Seattle, taking Amtrak to Mukilteo to catch the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry might make the Amtrak option quicker than what I’m about to detail here. Preparations are underway but as of this writing, Amtrak has not set a hard date for resuming that service. 

 

Here’s How

 

A handmade wooden sign post next to a flat wooded trail in coniferous forest directs hikers to different desinations.

This Way to Discovery 

From Seattle:

— Catch the 7:55 a.m. Kitsap Transit Fast Ferry to Kingston arriving at 8:34 a.m. (If you stress about making connections like I do, you could take the 6:15 a.m. departure and hangout with a book at Over The Moon Coffee Roasters nearby, or amble around town? However, it’s much more common for bus drivers in smaller transit systems to wait for ferry arrivals that are running a little late, so the 8 to 10-minute gap between the ferry arrival in Kingston and the bus departure is probably plenty.)

— A short distance from the ferry terminal catch the 8:42 a.m. Jefferson Transit route 14 Kingston Express (or possibly 8:45 a.m.; the schedule contradicts itself so I’m assuming the least forgiving version of the schedule). The Kingston Express arrives at Port Townsend’s Haines Place Park and Ride at 9:57 a.m

— From Haines Place, it’s about a mile walk to the ferry terminal along Water Street, the town’s main drag. You could also take the 11A Shuttle if the timing works out.

This schedule gives you about an hour’s layover in town, just enough time for a brief but unrushed pitstop at the Food Co-op, en route to the ferry terminal, to stock up on eats and drinks, including some really decent quality 750 ml box “bottles” of wine, and local foods. Membership is not required to shop there. 

— Arrive at the ferry terminal in time to board for the 11 a.m. departure to Keystone/Coupeville.

As of this writing, ongoing crew shortages may affect ferry service, so check before you plan your trip. Tidal conditions periodically reduce service on this route, too, usually posted well in advance.

If crew shortages or your own pure desire leave you with time to spare in Port Townsend, pick up some coffee — Better Living Through Coffee just off Water Street sets the standard, and has tasty savory and sweet snacks and light meals within a short walk to the ferry terminal. There are several used bookstores near the terminal, and plenty of tasty, casual dining spots on or near Water Street.

— Disembarking at Keystone, promptly catch the 11:35 a.m. Island Transit Route 6 northbound to Oak Harbor.

If you’ve brought a bicycle with you, you could ride into Coupeville proper and catch the 1N to Oak Harbor. Engle Road was a fine bicycle route (see the Island County bike map link below) toward Coupeville on my trip, though I was eager to get to the park and didn’t head all the way into town.

— In Oak Harbor, catch the next  411W heading toward March’s Point, getting off at Deception Pass at Seabolts. Or,  with bike, plot a route on the Island’s backroads. The Island County Bike Map is a good one. You can request a paper copy here. Overall, I found avoiding Highway 20 when possible and avoiding the yellow sections offered me a lovely ride. Next time, I will avoid the parts of Oak Harbor nearest Ault Field, and definitely avoid the intersection of West Ault Field Road at Highway 20.  West Beach Road could get a little hectic along the more developed parts. I can’t speak to summer conditions, and my visit spanned midweek in March. I’d expect a lot more bicycle and car traffic in nicer weather and high season.

Enjoy.  

The park is large and beautiful with many hiking trails and options for boating and fishing as well as camping and simple but cozy cabins (reserve in advance via the state parks website). In other words, you can plan to stay overnight. Or nights!  

Daniel visited Deception Pass as a day trip. That might be a bit much if you’re traveling with smaller kids. 

Other destinations reachable via this route in Port Townsend are Fort Worden Historical State Park, the Olympic Discovery Trail (noting the recommended detour referenced above to avoid a tricky section of Highway 20), and Fort Townsend Historical State Park, to name just a few. On the Whidbey side, you can step off the Keystone/Coupeville ferry and make a left directly into Fort Casey State Park, which offers beachside camping as well as nearby transit access that will get you close to Coupeville or to points farther north and south.

You can get to Whidbey Island and Deception Pass on a Saturday from Seattle by finding a way to Edmonds on a Saturday, possibly Amtrak Cascades once it resumes service north of Seattle. From Edmonds, take the WSDOT ferry to Kingston, timing things to catch the Kingston Express and then the ferry to Coupeville/Keystone. Then catch the Island Transit 1N to Oak Harbor (which DOES stop at the Keystone/Coupeville Ferry on Saturdays), and transferring to the Island Transit 411W at Oak Harbor and get off at Seabold’s at Deception Pass. Note the more limited Saturday schedules Island Transit.

A more direct weekday option may be possible for cyclists: If you’re happy to bicycle a bit on Whidbey, you could take the first afternoon run of the Sounder to Mukilteo, ferry to Clinton, and then catch the last 1N heading to Oak Harbor, and ride from there to Deception Pass. (Both Sounder stops at Mukilteo arrive too late to catch the an earlier 1N that would connect you with the 411W that would take you to Deception Pass. I believe pre-pandemic there were earlier schedules, so stay tuned. If and when eariler service is added to Mukilteo, this would be a nice and relatively direct way to Deception Pass.)

Alert: Deception Pass is situated near Whidbey Naval Air Station. You will likely hear jets, and they are not infrequently very loud. Check the park website above for special updates about times of heavier jet activity. I’m pretty sensitive to this kind of noise, and while these interuptions were not pleasant, it won’t dissuade me from returning to Deception Pass. 

More variations are possible, of course, in addition to what I have outlined here. It’s also possible to hop back on Island Transit at Deception Pass and take the Anacortes ferry to the San Juans, some of which have bus service in the high season. But those are posts for another time.

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