Hiking · Local Adventures

Local Adventures: Sand Dunes Trail

When I was 16, and we had moved to rural Whidbey Island the first trail I hiked in Deception Pass State Park (and of all of the Island) was the Sand Dunes Trail, which starts at the parking lot for West Beach & Cranberry Lake swimming area, at the bottom of the park. I am sure I didn’t see the beauty and rolled my eyes a lot. There wasn’t a lot to do out there in those days. And hiking was a few years away from becoming enjoyable. I was firmly in the “smoking and looking like a hoodlum” stage.

Bonus: You get to see a photo of me at 16! Taken at Deception Pass SP.

I walked it one more time in my 20’s, but then never came back. In that period of my life when short nature/interpretive trails became shameful to do. As if they didn’t count or matter – when they truly do. I’ve found the past few years I find a lot of joy in the short trails, as I walk them with our boys.

I woke up on New Years Day, and the power went out a few minutes later. Poof. We had had a good windstorm on New Years Eve, and it turned out a rotten tree took out the power line a few properties down from us at 6:30 am. Sitting in a cooling, and dark house is beyond boring, so I got the guys up and we took off North up the island to Deception Pass State Park, which sits at the Northern end of Whidbey Island (we live about 38 miles from the park, as we are on the southern end).

Many others had the same idea – being that it was First Day Hike and Washington State Parks were free….. and we had blue skies (though with strong winds and high waves. Everything on us was coated in salt off of the ocean).

The trail starts with a crossing of an open dune area, and goes into the coastal forest, where you get a break from the winds. The forest is pretty though and calming. Witch’s Beard hangs off of many of the trees densely in this area.

Be sure to take the short side trail to the wetland overlook and see the wetland back part of Cranberry Lake to the right.

To the left Cranberry Lake is more visible, however it is a wetland under the deck.

After leaving the overlook, the trail comes out into the dune area (which are flat dunes, not the big ones many think of as “sand dunes”). To the left not far away is the edge of NAS Whidbey, the Navy base on Whidbey. It was quiet though on the holiday, with no planes over us.

The trail leads up to the water and crosses over from the dunes (which are covered in the grass that grows on dunes). The San Juan Islands are in the distance, with Lopez in the front.

Alistaire and Walker at the water’s edge.

Sitka Spruce.

Looking up the beach towards Fidalgo Island in the middle (the Rosario area), with Deception Island in the front.

Kirk and Alistaire ahead of us, walking back on the paved sections.

Sand dunes protecting the inland areas from the winds off of the water.

The side path to visit the ancient tree. It had been 30 years since I had walked by and visited.

Do you see the man sitting, with arms in the air, legs held up? This Douglass Fir is thought to be over 850 years old and sits between the open water, dunes and the lake behind it.

Feeling the smooth bark, from so many hands having touched it.

How many New Year’s sunrises has this tree watched over? How many were so cold, in deep snows? How many were like the last decade here, as the winters stay relatively warm?

We finished the hike, looking across to the San Juan Islands and dreaming of spring trips, when the ferry ride doesn’t leave you green.

We drive over to West Beach. The lower road, by the amphitheater is the only one open in winter (the upper road is closed). The beach is out of the reach of the sun much of the time in winter, but the views of Deception Pass bridge don’t lack. The left side looks odd, but that is due to a year long project of painting and repairs going on. Deception Pass SP is the most visited state park in Washington State, seeing over 2 million visitors a year now, so quiet pockets are well appreciated to find. The bridge is always crowded however.

On the way out we stopped at East Cranberry Lake (up near the park entrance). Alistaire and I walked down to the lake and out onto the fishing dock to look across the lake.


Washington Sate Parks require a Discover Pass or day use pass, except for a few days a year when entry is free. Dogs are allowed on the Sand Dunes Trail. It is jogger stroller friendly on the main loop, which is paved. Public bathrooms are near the trailhead.


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