Sometimes, you just need a beach day. Even in the winter months, I can get a creeping urge to smell salty air and listen to crashing waves. Whidbey Island has just what the doctor ordered when it comes to sand, waves, and even some history. Make a full day of it with a trip to Ebey's Landing and Fort Casey.
Ebey's Landing is a unique combination for the western half of Washington state, with its rolling prairies cascading into sea bluffs and gray sandy tidelands. Starting at the Prairie Overlook, you can stop in at the original homestead of Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, now a visitor’s center. Or, alternately, you can park in the Ebey's Landing State Park lot to access the beach from there. Ascend a staircase to the Bluff Trail, a rolling two mile walk along the cliffs above the beach and Perego's Lagoon. The trail is steep in places, gaining elevation as the bluff moves from prairie fields to coastal forests. In the summer, the bluff trail is breathtaking—wind turning the emerald green grasslands white, contrasted to the bright blue of the sea and sky. We visited on a cool, foggy afternoon in October.
At the wayside end of the Bluff Trail, scramble down to the beach to enjoy the two mile walk back. It's best to go during low tide, when there is available beach to walk back on. Otherwise, prepare to cobble over a rocky shoreline which can be tough on the ankles at times. This stretch is good for beach combing, with plenty of interesting rocks and shells to examine. Perego's Lagoon is nestled between the cliffs and tideline, and is a saltwater lagoon and marsh where many shorebirds make their home. Continue along the beach back to the parking lot, or head back up the bluff to the Prairie Overlook.
A short drive from Ebey's Landing is Fort Casey, a former point in Washington state's “Triangle of Fire” constructed to protect from sea invasions. The fort's construction began in 1897, and finished in 1901, but the fort's ammunition batteries became almost immediately obsolete. The fort was activated again during WWII. Now, the empty ammunition batteries and the Admiralty Head lighthouse are part of the state park.
Bring a flashlight to explore the dark maze of tunnels in the complex, and climb up into turrets to get a lay of the land. The park is great to explore with kids and history buffs, or those who like to stroll along the ramparts to gaze out on the sea.
There are miles of trails out here, including a conservation loop giving the pros and cons of various forms of composting. The park can easily take up a full day of exploration, but you can see the majority of it in a few short hours as well. One thing not to miss is the Admiralty Head Lighthouse—check ahead and to see if visiting hours are available. If not, still take the time to walk around the building with its white stucco walls and red roof, standing out against the Pacific Northwest’s' often gray skies. If you're lucky, you may even spot a few deer grazing on the lighthouse lawn.
For additional information on Ebey's Landing and Fort Casey, check out the following:
National Park Service
Washington Trails Association
Washington State Parks