The Puget Sound Islands region is perhaps the most beautiful place to visit in entire United States. The Strait of Juan de Fuca pipes in from the Pacific Ocean between Vancouver Island and the Washington Peninsula, creating beautiful islands of unusual shapes and a series of shipping port towns. The entire region is backdropped by the stunning Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges. It’s easy to see why everyone on earth is moving here.
This three-day adventure will focus on exploring the pastoral islands and quaint towns that bring peace to an increasingly trafficked region. There will be breath-taking scenery. Dramatic sunsets behind mountains across the water will paint your perfect evenings. Any visit to the Puget Sound is incomplete without a ferry ride. And you will see tulips, lots and lots of tulips.
After reading about the Puget Sound Islands, be sure to check out our Washington State Three Day Weekend Part 1: The Blue Lake Rhino and Channeled Scablands.
Fri 07 AM: Drive to Mt. Vernon (60 mi).
Fri 09 AM: Visit the tulips (4H).
Fri 13 PM: Drive to La Conner (10 mi). Spend the day in town.
Sat 09 AM: Drive to Deception Pass (15 mi) through Whitney.
Sat 10 AM: Explore Deception Pass. Cliffside lunch.
Sat 04 PM: Drive to Ft. Casey (10 mi). Ferry to Port Townsend.
Sat 18 PM: Sunset at Ft. Worden (2 mi). Lighthouse and battery.
Sun 09 AM: Explore Port Townsend.
Sun 12 PM: Drive to Paulsbo (35 mi).
Sun 16 PM: Drive to Bainbridge Island (25 mi). Ferry to Seattle.
Total Miles: 170
Travel Time: 5 HOURS
Only 60 miles north of Seattle, the Skagit Valley is one of the most stunning locales in the state of Washington. Skagit is home to hundreds of miles of trails, bicycle routes, and kayaking waterways, all amongst a dream-like setting. Sensational, snowy peaks tower over the foothills to the east. Islands and rivers border farmland to the west. Do you like to watch birds? They say Skagit is an excellent place to do it. Do you like to gamble at the casino? There are six within 30 miles.
April is the month to see the tulips. There are two primary tulip farms from which to choose: Roozengaarde comes highly regarded and is easy to find. Tulip Town is fantastic as well. You can’t go wrong with either one (map).
The Skagit Valley is a fantastic place to visit no matter what time of year.
Located six miles SE of Roozengaarde, La Conner is a quaint town on the cut that separates Fidalgo Island — the first of our Puget Sound Islands — from the mainland. For years, La Conner has been an overnight getaway destination for Washingtonian bike riders and romantics. The town offers a unique blend of interesting shops, art galleries, and waterfront restaurants. Dinner overlooking the river is highly recommended, and you will have several options. Rooms fill months in advance here. Book ahead of time if you wish to stay in La Conner.
If you have extra time or La Conner doesn’t float your boat, Mt. Vernon is a cool, old town. From Historic Barn Tours to Sloppy Wine Tours, farmer’s markets to Korean BBQ, craft stores to thrift stores to bakeries, Mt. Vernon has plenty of action for an afternoon. If the lodging is booked up in La Conner, Mt. Vernon is a good second choice ten miles away.
After grabbing a pastry at the Calico Cupboard Old Town Café, set out on a gorgeous drive toward Deception Pass, your first taste of Puget Sound Islands. There are two ways to get there from La Conner: 1. Take Reservation Rd. across the Swinomish Indian Reservation; 2. Take La Conner Whitney Road to Whitney. Both routes join in the WA-20 Highway, which will take you west toward DP. We recommend the Whitney route, as it is much more scenic.
At Sharpe’s Corner, Highway 20 splits. Take the roundabout all the way around and turn onto Highway 20 West. About six miles south from the roundabout is Deception Pass.
Deception Pass is a straight that separates Fidalgo Island from Whidbey Island. The strait is called “Deception Pass” because George Vancouver initially thought Whidbey Island was a peninsula. He was deceived, but then he figured it out. Pretty lame story, huh? The waterway is spanned by twin bridges, one from Fidalgo to Pass Island, the other from Pass to Whidbey Island. Of all the Puget Sound Islands, we love Whidbey Island the most.
There are several features that make Deception Pass worthy of our attention. It goes without saying that we are talking about tree-covered islands with beaches covered in hiking trails and surrounded by water. The water itself is unusual and dramatic, as tidal flow between the islands moves swiftly, leading to whirlpools and eddies. The bridge that spans the three islands is 177’ tall and has foot traffic walkways on both sides. The view from atop the bridge is breathtaking, if not unnerving. We strongly recommend walking across the bridge.
Parking is available on all three islands. We recommend using the large parking lot on the west side of the road on Whidbey Island.
There are several things to do here and really, you can’t go wrong.
1. Walk across the bridge. This is a no-brainer. Unless you have a fear of heights.
2. Hike around on Fidalgo Island. Bowman’s Bay is just north of the bridge and has lots of trails. Rosario Beach sits just above Bowman’s Bay, and has tidal pools, island views, and a great trail that loops around Rosario Head.
3. Explore the beach below the bridge on the Whidbey side.
4. Cliffside lunch on Pass Island or Fidalgo Island. We found a terrific ledge on the west side of Pass Island just beneath the bridge. Best seat in the house.
5. Climb around on Pass Island. There are stairs that take you beneath the bridge.
Deception Pass is a fantastic place to spend the morning and afternoon.
The town of Oak Harbor and Ft. Ebey State Park are two places you can stop on your way to the ferry docks at Fort Casey. Oak Harbor, Washington is the largest town on the island. It has the usual town fares, some decent restaurants, and a nice park on the water called Windjammer Park. If you have small children, Windjammer Park is a great place to swim, throw the football, shoot some hoops, find crabs on the beach, and more. The newest renovation installed a splash park with a pirate ship, which is kind of a big deal. Never mind that the sewer treatment plant is next door.
Ft. Ebey State Park has expansive island views and a military battery system (which is always a good time). The cliffside hiking is easy and beautiful. We strongly recommend a visit if you didn’t get enough eye candy at Deception Pass. Ft. Ebey Campground is about 2.5 miles off of Highway 20 between Oak Harbor and Coupeville.
Like Fort Ebey, Fort Casey is a military heritage site. The ferry dock is next door if you need to kill time between boat rides. Ft. Casey has a lighthouse, batteries, and some cannons to explore.
Click here for the Port Townsend / Coupeville ferry schedule. At the time of this writing, the ferries leave @ 1:15 pm, 2:25, 4:15, 6:00, 7:30, 9:10.
Port Townsend is the only destination from the Fort Casey terminal, making an easy thing simple. The ferry lands right at the strip in PT, which is fantastic for pedestrians.
Assuming you haven’t been walking from Seattle until now, you’ll need to find parking if you want to look around or buy stuff.
Fort Worden is the best military relic in the state of Washington. It can be found two miles north of Port Townsend on Cherry St. The State Park is situated at the tip of the peninsula — the primary access point for the Puget Sound, Deception Pass being th — an important perspective for military defense of the region.
Among the many things to do at Fort Worden are: Visit the lighthouse, the Artillery Museum, and the Marine Science Center; a large battery system (fantastic for flashlight hide-and-seek); a very nice beach to hunt crabs or spy otters and seals. The grounds are large w/ fields and trails and barracks. The camping is recommended. The old military housing is available for rent, too.
Fort Worden is a real treasure in western Washington and one of our favorite places to camp. If you’re a view hunter and hankering for a championship sunset, this peninsula is always in the playoffs.
For nightlife head back to the bars and restaurants of Port Townsend. Just remember it is Port Townsend and not Los Angeles. There are an assortment of hotels along the waterfront ranging between $100-200/night. We do not recommend the Manresa Castle Hotel for lodging.
We do strongly recommend Waterfront Pizza. You can buy a slice just off the sidewalk, or head upstairs and gobble the whole pie.
Spend the morning sniffing the artsy Port Townsend waterfront. You can’t beat the island views on a sunny day. The Saturday Farmers Market is convivial (and a touch weird), and goes from 9am-1pm. If you are here on Sunday, the market moves south ten miles to the small town of Chimacum from 10am-2pm.
Around noon head 35-miles south for the town of Paulsbo, Washington. Along the way you will drive across the Hood Canal floating bridge. Bangor Trident Naval Base is nearby and the nuclear Trident Submarines run through this large canal. As you drive over the bridge, ponder the devastating nuclear weapon perhaps lurking below you in the ocean water.
Paulsbo is a charming Nordic town full of breweries, bakeries, and hanging flower pots. Front Street is easy to stroll with its painted walls and inviting storefronts. There are myriad restaurants and the waterfront park is funky. This is a popular destination for Seattle day trippers — you can visit Norway and save $1300.
Check out this cooler of strange seafood.
And the Beer… Not that we drink. Impressive, tho.
When you’ve had enough swords and steins, head to Bainbridge Island via the State Highway 305 NE. This road will take you directly to the WSDOT ferry terminal. Bainbridge, our final Puget Sound Island of the weekend, is known for expensive homes and ferry commutes to Seattle.
If you find yourself with some extra time at the ferry dock, walk five minutes around the corner to the capricious town of Winslow, Washington. While there are no painted walls or viking ships to pose beside, Winslow has plenty of bookstores, galleries, wineries, delis, and gift shops. It also possesses the greatest market in the entire region, Town and Country Markets Inc. We repeatedly lose our minds in this market, and wind up buying packets of seeds and trowels, and fancy salads from the deli. It’s hard to explain what happens here. It must be run by witches.
The ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, Washington is a must-do if you’re visiting the Puget Sound Islands. It is a visceral experience and the views are immensely gorgeous. Be sure to get out of your car and stand on the decks to feel the wind blow. Check out the view on all sides. Bring some bread with you to feed the gulls — they like to fly along the boats. From the ocean, Seattle is damn good-looking city. If you have any time left over, the ferry terminal is at the Seattle Waterfront.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this preview of our magnificent Puget Sound Islands and Peninsulas. If you’re looking for other things to do in Washington State, be sure to check out our 20 Best Things to Do in Washington State. Thanks for reading!
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