While Island County has about 150 miles of shoreline, accessible public beach access is available at 69 locations, according to the 2020 publication of Getting to the Water’s Edge: A field guide to shoreline access, marine life, trails, history and natural history of Island County, Washington. It is published by Soundwater Stewards of Island County, a non-profit formed in 2016.
Whidbey Island was blanketed by 3,000 to 5,000 feet of glacier ice about 20,000 years ago, the guidebook says. When the ice began to melt back about 13,000 years ago, the island’s coastline was formed. Glacial lake beds remained and became today’s prairies of Central Whidbey. Depressions gouged by glacial ice and stone created kettles and deep lakes. Remnants of mastodons and mammoths who once roamed here have been found north of Cama Beach on Camano Island and at Maxwelton Beach.
Part of Soundwater Stewards’ education program includes tips on how to best enjoy our beaches while caring for their well-being while out walking.
Ryan Elting, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust—which stewards a number of Whidbey Island beaches—notes: “…my simple thoughts would be that picking up after your dogs, keeping them leashed, and respecting wildlife by giving them plenty of room are all important – and those apply to all natural areas. Of course, pack-it-in, pack-it out, but also consider carrying a bag on your beach walk and picking-up litter. Leave it better than you found it, and people will see you and catch on!”
Keystone Preserve in Coupeville will be opening to the public in the Spring of 2025, but in the meantime the Whidbey Camano Land Trust is hosting tours which folks can find out about from its website. The property, purchased in 2022, preserves 175 acres of forest, a working farm, and two-thirds of a mile of beach near Coupeville
Visitors are asked to do their part in respecting, and thereby preserving the resources of our island’s beaches. Taking care of our island’s marine habitat, according to the Soundwater Stewards’ guidebook, includes:
- Leaving all living organisms where they were found.
- Walking with care over kelp and eelgrass, which provide habitat and protection from air, sun and predators.
- Kneel quietly by tide pools and try not to walk on them.
- Overturn rocks with care and replace them where you found them. Nearshore crustaceans and other marine life depend on rocks for shelter.
- Touch marine life gently and avoid handling soft-bodied animals. Sea stars’ tube feet can be torn from their bodies if touched.
- Refrain from prodding sea anemones. They store water until the next tide comes to refresh them. They can die if they release their stored water.
- Leave anemones, barnacles, mussels and other sea life attached to their moorings. Prying them loose can kill them.
- Fill any holes you dig. Sand piles can smother the creatures below.
- Leave the beach clean. Bring a bag for litter and carry out your own garbage, along with other trash, especially plastics.
- Prevent pets from harassing wildlife and clean up your pet’s waste and dispose in a trash can.
- Obtain permits for harvesting animals and plants. Practice conservation to ensure future generations can enjoy our beaches and their resources.
Krista Loercher, co-owner with Jeff Jacobsen of Whidbey Island Kayaking since 2014, said it is important for visitors to know: “Our beaches are home to critters and creatures—sand dollars, moon snails, sea cucumbers…it is important to put them back where they were found. Secondly, visitors coming from outside of Washington State need to understand 80 percent of our shoreline is privately owned. Please stick to public areas. I challenge visitors to try leaving our beaches better than you found them. Bring a bag to pick up trash. Pick up dog waste. Take home memories and photos and leave the driftwood, stones and shells. They provide homes and nutrients for other creatures.
To learn more about kayak launch sites, visit Whidbey Island Kayaking’s launch locations which list:
- Possession Beach Waterfront Park, Clinton
- Clinton Beach
- Glendale Beach Preserve, Clinton
- Dave Mackie Park, Clinton
- South Whidbey Harbor/marina, Langley
- Mutiny Bay/Robinson Park, Freeland
- Freeland Park/Holmes Harbor
- Captain Coupe Park, Coupeville
- Mueller Park, Coupeville
Off the beaten path
During the COVID pandemic, folks fled to Island County to seek solace in its natural beauty. As a result, popular visitor areas were impacted by overuse. Sherrye Wyatt, public relations and marketing manager for Embrace Whidbey and Camano Islands (EWCT – formally known as Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism) worked with the group’s creative team to devise an alternative guide, resulting in 24 Trails Off the Beaten Path (which includes some shoreline access points), and is available at local chambers of commerce.
There is also an online component featuring “Two-Minute Trailers” which includes a video of each trail and additional information.
The tourism team forged partnerships with organizations such as Soundwater Stewards, Leave no Trace, Recreate Responsibly and the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to provide messaging advocating trail etiquette. These include the following:
- Stick to the trail
- Read trailhead information
- Follow leash guidelines for pets
- Take only pictures
- Respect private property
- Share the trail
- Park courteously
- Use trails only during daylight hours
- Tell someone where you’re going
- Bring water and sunblock
EWCT also partnered with State of Washington Tourism to join TREAD Map, which is a one-stop, comprehensive recreation mapping app for trail users. Anyone may download the free app for up-to-date rail conditions, current safety information and more. Matt Lyons, executive director of Washington Tourism, says the app is currently being improved and should be up and running after May. 15.
For more information visit this site:
Where to access the shoreline on Whidbey Island:
North Whidbey beaches:
- Deception Pass State Park. Requires a Discover State Park pass or $10 per day parking fee. This is the state’s most popular park, attracting more than 3 million visitors a year. Camping, fresh water lakes, boat ramps, 14 miles of shoreline, picnicking, hiking, kayaking, birding, clamming, crabbing, swimming, scuba diving. Water access at Pass Lake, Bowman Bay, Rosario Head, and Cornet Bay.
- Ala Spit, located on Geck Road. Parking for 10+ vehicles. 1 mile of public beach along an 8-acre spit and 4 acres of upland. Great year-round site for birders. Eelgrass beds and pickle weed grow here. Campsites for kayakers are available. Loads of driftwood. Watch for high tides which can rise quickly, stranding visitors.
- Moran Beach. Located on Powell Road, there is parking for about 10-15 vehicles. A sandy beach. Good for views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic mountain range. Smith Island, a haven for eagles, seals and other wildlife can be seen here.
Oak Harbor beaches
- Oak Harbor City Marina. Parking 50-plus. Bathroom, water, boat ramp, fishing, picnic tables, birding and hiking. Limited beach, but contains a paved footpath.
- Flintstone Park. Street parking. Bathroom, sheltered picnic, walking, fishing birding. Sandy beach with ducks. Seasonal docks for platform fishing.
- Windjammer Park. Parking lot for 50-plus. Bathrooms, picnicking, barbecue, playground, boat launch, hiking, swimming, birding.
- Oak Harbor Heritage and Waterfront Trails. 1900-1998 SW Scenic Heights Street. Parking for 5 in a paved lot, plus one ADA; abundant parking at nearby Windjammer Park. A gravel path leads to Freund Marsh. Trail connects to Windjammer and Flintstone parks.
- Rocky Point Picnic Area. Wide sandy beach, located off of Heller Road at Rocky Point Picnic Area and Archery Range. Property of the U.S. Navy, is open to anyone with a Department of Defense U.S. Uniformed Services ID card. Other visitors may request access by sending a letter to the Base Commanding Officer, 3730 N. Charles Porter Ave., Oak Harbor 98278. Has a vault toilet, picnic tables and beach walking. Joseph Whidbey State Park is half a mile away.
- Joseph Whidbey State Park. Located at the intersection of Swantown and Crosby roads. Requires Discover Pass or a $10/day parking fee. Has vault toilets, picnic areas and offers kayaking, walking, birding and scenic views. Parking for 25-plus vehicles. Water views, sandy beach. A popular sailboarding site. Walk the mile-long loop trail through the forest.
- West Beach Vista. Is located on West Beach Road, the vista is a neighborhood park managed by Island County. With parking limited to nine vehicles, it can fill up quickly. This is a good sunset viewing site. It is also good for kayaking, beach walking, birding and views to the west. Public tideland extends south for 1.85 miles.
Central Whidbey beaches
- Libbey Beach Park. Has limited parking for up to 10 cars, offers pit toilets, picnicking, walking, birding and vistas, features 8 miles of beach to walk. Be mindful of high tides which can leave visitors stranded, or eroding bluffs. Clear day vistas include views of the Olympic Mountains, San Juan Islands, and Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- Fort Ebey State Park. Visiting here requires a Discover Pass to visit or a $10 daily visit fee. Plentiful parking, picnicking, visiting bunkers built as a coastal defense fort in WWII, year-round camping, and walking three miles of shoreline during low tide are some of the park’s attractions. Paragliding, fishing, shellfish harvest, an amphitheater and store are additional amenities.
- Coupeville Wharf & Beach Access. With half a mile of public tidelands, the wharf is wheelchair accessible. Public restrooms. The wharf building hosts a gift store, coffee shop and marine mammal skeletons suspended from the building’s ceiling. Low tides yield views of marine life, including visiting jellyfish during the summer. On-street parking. Managed by the Port of Coupeville.
- Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve is one of Whidbey Island’s most popular places to visit. A Discover Pass or $10 daily fee is required for the 10-plus parking spaces in the lot. Pit toilet, picnicking, kayaking, hiking, fishing, birding, and spectacular vistas of the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker make this site a world-class place to visit. While parallel parking is available along the coastline, spaces can fill up on weekends and during the summer. A fairly steep hike offers vistas of the Olympic Mountains and the backs of soaring Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks. The bluff is one of the few remaining coastal prairies in the state and springtime wildflowers bloom along the trail
- Fort Casey Historical Park. Requires a Discover Pass or $10 daily visitor fee. Visit the Admiralty Head lighthouse. Bunkers constructed in the late 1800s, along with historic weapons are popular sites to visit within the park. Its 999 acres comprise a campground and trails, plus 10,810 feet of shoreline along Admiralty Inlet. Note that US Navy jets may fly over the area day and night. Check the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island flight schedule.
- Driftwood Beach Park. Requires a Discover Pass or $10 daily visitors fee. The park features pit toilets, picnic tables, kayak access, fishing and vistas. This 3/4 acre park is piled with driftwood. A great place to view visiting marine birds. Public beach access is available for a mile and a half along Keystone Spit to the west.
South Whidbey beaches
- Lagoon Point North. Located off Smugglers Cove Road. Take Westcliff Drive to the bottom of the hill and park in a gravel parking area. Note private property signs on either side of the beach. Parking for 10. Public tidelands extend north for 160 feet, and south for 274 feet, below the line of ordinary high tide. This beach is popular for salmon fishing.
- Mutiny Bay Vista. Located off of Bush Point Road at the end of Shore Meadows Road. No bathrooms. Parking is parallel, allowing for about 7 vehicles. Walk down stairs by condominiums. Public access is 295 feet, west below the bluff. Provides a sandy beach. Great birding: Pigeon Guillemots nest here. Keep in mind it’s quite a walk with a kayak down steps.
- Robinson Beach. Is great for sunsets, birding and has great views of the Olympic Mountains. The boat ramp is no longer in use as it has been covered in sand. Located in Freeland on Robinson Road.
- Freeland Park. Located at the head of Holmes Harbor. Parking for 30-plus cars. Amenities include bathrooms, potable water, picnicking, children’s playground, boat launch and views to the north. The park is owned by the Port of South Whidbey and managed by Island County Parks Dept. The park extends up the hill to a picnic shelter and historic Freeland Hall, built in 1907, and available for event rental. Surf smelt, sand lance and herring spawn here.
- Double Bluff Beach. Accessible at the end of Double Bluff Road, parking for this beach can fill up on weekends and during the summer. The lot has 24 spaces, picnic tables and vault toilets. Public tidelands extend two miles to the west. This park is designated off-leash for dogs. Tall sandy bluffs are an interesting geologic feature to the west. A popular site for wind-surfing and driftwood sculptures. It is a flat beach and good for walking at low tide. This is an Island County beach. Respect private property signs.
- Lone Lake. Located on Lone Lake Rd. Two vault toilets. Popular for fishing and birding. Not good for swimming due to toxic algae in the summer. Fish that might be caught include stocked Largemouth Bass, Rainbow Trout, and Brown Bullhead. Owned by Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and managed by South Whidbey Parks and Recreation.
- Goss Lake. Public beach is located on Lakeside Dr. Parking for 8. Good for kayaking and paddle boarding. One vault toilet.This lake offers swimming at its one public beach, and lake temperatures reach up to 76° in the summer. Owned by Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and managed by South Whidbey Parks and Recreation. The lake is stocked annually with Coastal Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout. No gas powered engines permitted. Respect the privacy of the private owners around the lake.
- Langley Seawall Park. This park is accessible via a ramp at the whale park at Anthes and First streets, or by steps below the Village Pizzeria. With Adirondack chairs and picnic tables, this is a popular summer strolling and picnicking site. Open water swimmers often swim here. Gray whales are often seen. Take care walking in low tide. Gray whales excavate ghost shrimp with their fins and leave sinking sand holes which can surprise visitors who walk out among the tide flats and find themselves sinking up to their knees and hips, sometimes losing shoes. Best approach for escape is have someone pull you out or bend over and crawl out with your hands. Great views of Saratoga Passage, Camano Island and the Cascade Mountains.
- South Whidbey Harbor at Langley. Has sometimes open flush toilets, a vault toilet. Parking for 10. Picnicking, fishing, diving, boat launch, birding, swimming, and vistas of the Cascade Mountains. Owned and operated by the Port of South Whidbey, the marina is great for swimming. Be mindful to swim near shore and not out where boats are moored in the marina. Terrific for sighting harbor seals and sea lions. Note: minimum tide level for launching a craft is +6 to +8 feet.
- Dave Mackie Park. On Maxwelton Road, has parking for 50. Offers portable toilets, picnic tables, a playground, beach walking, and terrific views of Olympic Mountains and Kitsap Peninsula. Owned and operated by Island County Parks and Trails. The boat ramp is no longer usable as it has been covered with sand. Fourth of July festivities are held here following the annual parade. The site can be reserved for events.
- Deer Lake. Located on Lake Shore Dr. In Clinton. The lake has parking for 6. Offers a swimming beach, vault toilet, picnicking. Owned by Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Stocked with Rainbow and Coastal Cuthroat Trout, as well as Largemouth Bass. Motorized boats permitted. Annual Trout Derby season is April 22-Oct. 31. For details visit: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/contests/trout-derby. Park facilities are managed by South Whidbey Parks and Recreation.
- Possession Point State Park. On Franklin Road in Clinton. Offers parking for 10. Vault toilet, picnicking, beach walking, fishing. Located on the southern end of Whidbey Island, the beach was once home to the Snohomish people up to the early 1900s. Offers a steep and challenging trail to an overlook of the Seattle skyline. The 25-acre park is administered by South Whidbey State Parks, and requires a Discover Pass or $10 daily parking fee.
- Possession Beach Waterfront Park. Is near the state park on the south end of Whidbey Island. Parking for 30-plus, the park has potable water, restrooms, picnicking, a boat launch, and is good for fishing. According to Getting to the Waters Edge, it has “access to one of the most superb sport fishing areas in Puget Sound. Anglers can catch their limits of lingcod during bottom fish openings.Several species of salmon run off the point.” Owned and operated by the Port of South Whidbey, overnight parking is available for $10 a night for unoccupied vehicles and boat trailers.
- Possession Sound Reserve. Located off of Humphrey Road in Clinton, this new park has been owned and run by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust since 2019. The 45-acre site offers a downhill half-mile walk through glacial marine drift bluffs and forest to a half-mile of public beach access to the north. Residents and migrating orcas are sometimes seen here. No bathroom facilities. Pack trash out. Views of Cascade Mountains, Clinton ferry, coast of Mukilteo. A wild beach with loads of driftwood, cobbles and shells. Be mindful of private property rights.
- Glendale Beach Preserve. Located at the end of Humphrey Road in Clinton. This beach is located at the mouth of Glendale Creek, which is one of two salmon-bearing streams on Whidbey Island. The other is Maxwelton Creek. Picnic tables, vault toilets, parking for about a dozen-plus cars. The park occupies six acres and was purchased by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust in 2014. It features 420 feet of low-bank beach and tidelines including the mouth of Glendale Creek.
- Clinton Beach. Located next to the Clinton ferry terminal, this half-acre beach front site is managed by the Port of South Whidbey. The park is fully ADA accessible. A covered picnic shelter features a living plant roof. Limited parking is available. Matthew Swett of locally based Taproot Architects designed the buildings at the park, which include bronze sculptures by local artists Georgia Gerber, Lynn Swanson and Sharon Spencer.
ADA Accessible Beaches
Maribeth Crandell, Island Transit’s mobility specialist, emailed a note regarding ADA access to some of the island’s shorelines. She also publishes a blog with retired Deception State Park Manager Jack Hartt, called Hiking Close to Home. Visit the site at: https://hikingclosetohome.weebly.com/#/
- Dugualla State Park with a hike to a secluded beaching facing East
- Hastie Lake Beach Park, Oak Harbor
- Oak Harbor Waterfront Park
- Double Bluff, Freeland
- Clinton Beach, Clinton.