Our family has been camping and crabbing at Deception Pass for decades. Deception Pass State Park is the most frequently visited park in the state and offers not only great campgrounds, but miles of walking and hiking pathways, a long beachfront, a freshwater lake and towering old evergreen trees. The park is actually located on two islands, Whidbey and Fidalgo, connected by the Deception Pass Bridge.
Crabbing season opens in nearby Cornet Bay every July 4th weekend and usually delivers a vacation full of fresh Dungeness crab, cooked and cleaned at our campground and devoured sitting around the campfire. It is a tradition that has continued as our family has grown and is now the centerpiece of our summer.
Occasionally we’ve braved sleeping in a tent, but most of the time we’ve borrowed a friend’s RV or rented one on Outdoorsy. That’s a website similar to Airbnb where you can rent RVs, trailers, and other outdoor vehicles from private individuals.
In years past we have also rented a boat from Boatsetter; this is a great option for those who love boating once or twice a year but don’t want the hassle of owning a boat.
Last summer we switched things up a bit and traded in a campground for a beachfront home in La Conner. Our family frequently uses Airbnb and similar booking sites both stateside and overseas for family vacations. There are plenty of benefits to staying in a home versus a hotel (or campground) including all the comforts of a full kitchen and comfy beds with great linens.
The house we chose was gorgeously decorated and outfitted with plush towels and tons of extras that made the long weekend feel far more luxurious than camping. The kids could walk down a shaded path to the water and explore the wonders of the rocky beach as the tide came and went. Crabs, sea cucumbers, starfish, eels, sea urchins, mussels and more studded the rock-strewn beach. We spent hours exploring this wonderland.
In this day and age, it is more important than ever to get our kids out of the house and into nature to use their hands discovering and learning. Learning how to pick up a crab without getting pinched, discovering the brilliant hues of purple and red starfish, being startled by clams squirting water from beneath the sand, and swinging from a rope swing out over the water are precious memories of my own childhood that our three children now know firsthand.
La Conner is a storybook town, located on a canal leading to Puget Sound. The downtown area hosts beautiful old buildings carefully preserved and full of fun shops including several ice cream stores, artwork, clothing and loads of great restaurants. It is about a 20-minute drive from Deception Pass and was a fun new home base this summer.
Instead of long hikes under the shade of vast evergreens, we met up with friends and walked along La Conner’s downtown sidewalks, tucking into stores filled with interesting artwork and sampling ice cream from three different shops. We ate fresh mussels and drank local microbrews while sitting in the sun along the canal and watching seagulls dip and spin.
La Conner is widely known as the epicenter of the annual spring Tulip Festival in April and is busy with boaters and vacationers in the summer. Nearby, people load onto the ferry at Anacortes and embark to the San Juan Islands, another majestic place to spend summer holidays.
We rely on my father’s boating and crabbing expertise each summer to go crabbing in Cornet Bay. The kids are all old enough now to have their own crabbing licenses and we pile onto the boat with empty coolers and crab pots and bait to test our skills. The current is famously and dangerously fast in the area and so after we drop our crab pots, we usually keep a close eye on the kids.
As our boat gently sways in the bay, we watch seals pop up and scan the area and bald eagles dive for fish then eat them on the rocky shore. I’ve never spotted a whale in all the years I’ve spent crabbing on my dad’s boat, but I know others have. It is a hearty joke in our family: my desperation to see whales or bears during our family exploits.
Our oldest pulls at least one crab pot a day. Once on board, he gingerly reaches into the pot and grabs each crab one by one. He has learned the difference between a male and female Dungeness crab and where to measure them so we only take those that are big enough. We throw back a lot of crabs and pray they will be large enough to keep next season — then carefully mark down our keepers on our crab records (later to be turned in to the state Fish and Wildlife Department). Each summer my dad gets more elaborate with how to mark the crab pot buoys — we’ve used any combination of neon pool noodles, flags and empty laundry detergent tubs.
This summer when we had our fill of crab and the beach, we cleaned up and headed to the Anacortes Art Festival. We wandered up and down the streets of Anacortes for hours and delighted in free activities for the kids, fun artwork for our home, crafts, food and treats. Our kids got their faces painted and had balloon hats made and went home exhausted with full tummies.
Next year we will go back to camping at Deception Pass, sleeping in a rented RV, smelling like campfire and allowing the kids to go days without showers. But sometime we will also go back to La Conner and the comforts of a home rental on the beach. I love the magic of these summer traditions, but I also know there is room for change and trying new things.
Maybe one summer we will rent a bigger boat and head out to explore the San Juan Islands, catching a bounty of Dungeness crab along the way and starting new traditions in new places.