Deception Pass Update — Easy with Amtrak

View looking out across Coronet Bay at Deception Pass State Park at low tide, so you can see muddy flats along the shore. In the near distance are a couple of sail boats, in the mid distance, a forested bit of land jutting out, and in the far distance a snow-capped mountain. I think that is Mt. Baker but I am not sure.
Coronet Bay at low tide, Deception Pass State Park, March 2023

I needed a quick reset so took a short trip up to Deception Pass State Park last week, getting in the last of off-season cabin rates. (Some people are forever young; I am forever thrifty.)

With the return of Amtrak Cascade’s full schedule, this is probably one of the best (longish) day or multi-day transit treks you can do in western Washington. It’s a fairly quick trip if you use Amtrak, or are based in Bellingham or Everett. Deception Pass is a large park with many miles of trails both beach and forest, some of which allow bicycles. Nearby, mostly quiet back roads of north Whidbey Island offer more bicycling. Swimming in Cranberry Lake. Crabbing and fishing (in season). Kayak rentals. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Not up for tent camping? Rent a simple cabin, with nearby access to showers and restrooms.

On my first visit, in March of 2021, I took two days to bicycle to the park, via the Bainbridge Ferry, the Kitsap Peninsula, and the Coupeville Ferry, then via Whidbey’s back roads. Peak-pandemic Amtrak schedules were either non-existent or I didn’t want to be indoors for hours at the time, masked or not, so my itinerary minimized transit, planning just a couple of short bus rides for the return trip.

Amtrak Cascades reverted to its full pre-pandemic schedule in early March, which made this trip a lot quicker and easier than my earlier trip.

A view of my two bags sitting on the sidewalk. One is a medium sized suitcase that can be worn as a backpack and the other is a shoulder bag.
My stuff. I brought too many clothes.


The trip from King Street Station to Deception Pass is about 2.5 hours. That includes a 30-minute layover at Skagit Station, just enough time for a quick trip to the Skagit Food Coop a few blocks away in downtown Mt. Vernon. If you opt to chill in the station, it has all the basics: restroom, water fountain, and some seating (but no longer has a coffee shop).


It is possible to do this trip via public transit in a bunch of different ways (details on a couple of those below). But this Amtrak-based itinerary cuts out at least 2 transfers for those starting south of Everett. You can do these trips Monday-Saturday, though Saturday schedules are more limited — you’ll want to plan your return accordingly if you are doing a day trip, or plan to stay over through Sunday if you are weekending.

From Seattle or points south via Amtrak

  • Amtrak Cascades to Mt. Vernon/Skagit Station. Roundtrip fare ~$30 & up, ~90-minute ride from Seattle; some runs are via buses, which are comfy and have bathrooms on board
  • 30 minute layover at Skagit Station
  • Skagit Transit 40X to March’s Point. $1 each way; leaves at 15 after on the hour; ~ 25-minute ride and little to no layover. Don’t panic that the 40X is scheduled to arrive at the same time the 411W is scheduled to depart, because the 40X typically arrives a few minutes prior than its scheduled arrival time unless there is major traffic disruption. If you’re concerned, ask the driver about it. If in the unlikely event you miss the connection, there’s a coffee shop across the street at March’s Point where you can wait for the next 411W, which runs hourly. Or, if you brought a bike, you have an hour to ride up to the Tommy Thompson Trail and enjoy the ride across Fidalgo Bay and back.
  • Island Transit 411W to Deception Pass State Park/Coronet Bay Road; Fare-free, ~ 10-minute ride. This is the first stop after the bus crosses the bridges over Pass Island between Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island, and is just after the stoplight at Coronet Bay Rd, the main park entrance. Island Transit does not make any stops near the Fidalgo side of the park or the pass (you can walk and hike or bike from the Whidbey side, though).

From Bellingham or Everett

Amtrak won’t save you much time if you’re coming from Bellingham or Everett. County connectors are good options unless you prefer the more cush ride on Amtrak.

  • From Bellingham Station, take the connector route 80X to Skagit Station, then catch the connections as described above. This bus is operated jointly by Skagit Transit and Whatcom Transit Authority, so look for the route number, not the transit agency “livery.” $2, 45-minute ride
  • From Everett Station, take the county connector route 90X to Skagit Station, then catch the connections to Deception Pass as described above. $2, 35-minute ride

If Amtrak feels pricey or you don’t mind a longer journey, below are some fairly direct transit options from Seattle to Mt Vernon/Skagit Station that are considerably cheaper.

From south Seattle, anywhere along the Link 1 line, or UW

From Downtown Seattle and points north without good access to Link

  • King County Metro RapidRide E to Aurora Village Transit Center, then Community Transit SWIFT Blue line to Everett Station, then county connector route 90X to Skagit Station, then catch the connections as described above

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are among the most direct options from the Bellingham, Everett, and Seattle areas.

A view down onto the water of part of Deception Pass, through a few skinny tree trunks along a hiking trail.
A scene from a hike to the Fidalgo side of the park.


My Amtrak (bus) fare was $30 roundtrip from Seattle booked the day before I left, leaving the total roundtrip fare around $35. The 7-minute walk in the rain to catch the route 12 home on my return trip would have been fine had I not overpacked, so I splurged and caught a yellow cab from King Street Station to Capitol Hill, which with a tip came to $13.92.

Train fares often cost more, but vary. (Frustratingly, the Amtrak bus runs skip Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Stanwood, all good hubs to connect to other outdoor adventures.)

NB! Skagit, and Whatcom don’t use ORCA so either bring small bills or download their fare payment apps.


If you want your bicycle with you at Deception Pass — there are some nice back roads near the Whidbey side of the park, and if you don’t mind riding SR 20 for short sections, a bike comes in handy if you don’t want to hike to the Fidalgo side — Amtrak Cascades buses do allow two standard-size bikes to be put in the luggage compartment. You must book that space when you book your ticket. Cascades trains have 10 spaces for standard-size bikes; you also must book ahead. $5 each way per bicycle (bus or train).

For a long time the question of whether bikes needed to be boxed to be stowed in the bus luggage hold was unclear, but as of this writing, I finally feel confident saying that on Amtrak Cascades bus runs, there is no need to box your bike. Folding bikes like Bromptons that meet size requirements (max 34x15x48) can be carried on as part of Amtrak’s baggage allowance and should not require a separate reservation or fee. (I have done this on trains, but not buses, but I would feel comfortable putting the Brompton in the bus’s luggage hold.)

Cyclists could plot a route from Mt Vernon to Deception Pass that takes you through Skagit County farmland, or find someone’s Ride with GPS route to follow, so long as you don’t mind some sections of SR 20 where shoulders narrow. Riding the more direct highway routes from Mt Vernon is not IMHO that great (speaking not from experience but from scouting this as a possible outing). If you can get to Edmonds, a great bike option is to take the ferry to Clinton and ride back roads to Oak Harbor before putting your bike on the bus to Deception Pass on the 411W, or to take the Island Transit 1N from Clinton to Oak Harbor and take back roads to the park. Assuming you’re not up for the near-century ride all the way to the park.

Regrettably, at this time there aren’t any good transit options for non-standard assistive cycles and other non-standard bicycle sizes.

A view out over Bowman Bay at Deception Pass, through some shoreline grass at the water's edge. There is a large rocky outcrop in the water and in front of that, two barely discernable kayakers on the water.
Bowman Bay at Deception Pass State Park, March 2023. Two kayakers on the water in the distance.


There are hiker/biker sites between the Lower Loop and Forest Loops campgrounds, although they tend to be hard to find and don’t offer any prime real estate. Call ahead in the winter, though, because the Quarry Pond campground is the only one open in the off-season, and there are no hiker/biker sites listed on the map. (I think I confirmed verbally back in 2021 that they are available? Best to call ahead.) The most important thing to note about hiker/biker sites is that they do not require a reservation — these sites are first-come, first-served, and, according to a ranger/staff I spoke with in 2021, these sites rarely fill up, even in peak season. They are typically priced lower than standard campsites, too.

If you want a more scenic campsite in the peak season, you can book standard campsites in advance, or book one of the cabins at Quarry Pond. A private resort catering mostly to RVs (and does not allow tents at all) North Whidbey RV Park does have two rental cabins that sleep 4 persons each, with kitchens and full baths. It’s adjacent to the main park entrance near the Quarry Pond campground.


— This is a popular park in peak season (and somewhat in the off season). If you prefer not to use a hiker/biker site, you’ll want to reserve well in advance.

— As noted above, the 411W between March’s Point and the main park entrance at Coronet Bay Road doesn’t make any stops, including flag stops, on the Fidalgo side of the park. You can hike or bike from the Whidbey side. A couple of the hiking trails allow hikers to avoid crossing or walking along SR20 to reach the bridges to the Fidalgo side. However, you’ll need to navigate the narrow bridge walkway as well as short sections along the SR-20 where day trippers park to gawk briefly at the pass. It can get crowded and can require walking through or around the parked cars uncomfortably close to SR-20 traffic. If there are better options, they are not obvious. The only option for cycling to the Fidalgo side is to use SR20, which has zero shoulder along the bridge and requires a left turn onto Rosario Rd. on a section of the highway that has limited visibility.

— Ask for the printed park map at the ranger station park administration office (on SR-20 and reachable on foot via the Quarry Pond campground) it’s super helpful. Usually there are a few in the brochure case outside.

— A small convenience store with gas station is located within walking distance of the Quarry Pond camping area. (This is also the closest place to catch the 411W northbound back to March’s Point).

— If you’re doing a longer stay and need to stock up, the 411W will take you to the many services in Oak Harbor, including two larger grocery stores. Catch this at the same stop you got off at, the main intersection at the park entrance.

— During winter, only the Quarry Pond campground is open.

— There are some seasonal concessions in the park, a coffee stand being perhaps the most important.

— Seasonal canoe, kayak, and standup paddle boarding rentals are available.

— You’ll likely hear and/or see noise from the jets flying out of nearby Whidbey Naval Air Station. During my 2021 visit, these were incredibly loud and fast. This time around, whatever exercises they were up to were markedly less loud.

— The park’s website says there is a mile or two of ADA-standard trails; I believe this is between the Sound and Cranberry Lake. The trails I’ve hiked in the park, other than this one, don’t appear to be above-average accessible in any respect.

— I find the check-in instructions at Quarry Pond confusing. You might call ahead to confirm exactly where to check in. In my case, I was staying at a reserved cabin, and was able to go straight there. But I would have been confused by what to do when camping.

This post was edited to tidy some errors and add information about walking and biking between the Whidbey and Fidalgo sections of the park.

Peek the TOC!

A Preview of the (Draft!) Cover and Table of Contents

Seems time to give folks more of in idea of what to expect from The Transit Trekker Manual. So here’s a draft — and I emphasize draft — of the current working cover concept and the table of contents (TOC).

NB: I will try to include at least one trip in each subregion listed in the TOC, but can’t guarantee that — some regions of Washington state really have near-zero transit service. Read on below the embedded PDF if you’re interested in learning about that and other choices I’m making.


(I’m still on a learning curve for creating accessible PDFs; if you use a screen reader and this embed is not legible, please leave a comment and I’ll follow up with you.)

Why go to the effort of including trips in regions that have poor transit service? Because it’s important to highlight the underserved parts of the state that need deserve better transit for their communities — and to show the possibilities for transit-based recreation.

The division of regions and subregions in the TOC follows only my own logic based on a loose approximation of how I have seen other regional outdoor guide books divide the state up, how I think about the state, and, to some degree, where transit service is and isn’t robust. The TOC is roughly organized to place regions with more transit-based recreation opportunities higher and those with fewer opportunities lower. However, I’m hoping to include a Destination Index that allows folks living beyond the state’s larger population centers to find a list of the easier transit treks near their communities.

One reason I chose to use manual as part of the title in lieu of the other obvious choices —guide or travel guide — is its connotation of practicality. A manual is a book of instructions for how to do use a tool or create some thing. That choice helped me solve the problem of how I would pay for design and branding with a budget of $0: around the time I settled on the idea of this being a manual, I happened to also be reviewing my old Bernina sewing machine’s manual. Although dated, it was still imminently useful, designed to make its contents easy to find and use. Why not go with the plain aesthetic and solve my branding, design, and budget limitations all at the same time?

I work on an iMac and iPad, so I purchased an inexpensive Pages template for a manual that I liked the look of. I’m using that template as my basic book format, customizing as my needs demand. For icons that I don’t have available in my existing software, I’m purchasing very affordable licenses from The Noun Project.

In the next few weeks I hope to post a sample trip guide to give you an much better idea of the kinds of detail The Transit Trekker Manual will include. Check back!

In the meantime, here’s a few asks if you’ve read this far:

  • Share this post with friends and ask them to sign up here to get notified when the manual is ready.
  • Signup here to get notified when the manual is released if you haven’t done so yourself!
  • Share on your social channels — ideally with a sentence or two about why you are interested in the manual, and, if you’re on Twitter, tagging @Transit_Trekker.
  • Leave questions and feedback below or use the contact form here.
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.


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.

UPDATE: Read about more direct transit options for a visit to Deception Pass in this March 2023 post.