A weekend at Washington Park in Anacortes
Apparently our new hangout is Anacortes. We’ve now had several trips up, all for different reasons and love it. We just returned from another awesome trip, this time specifically camping and spending the weekend at Washington Park in Anacortes. We’d visiting the Park once before and it was fun, but this time we dedicated our weekend to enjoying the many wonders of Washington Park.
If you’re heading to the San Juan Islands, you catch the ferry in Anacortes. Just two minutes or so past the ferry terminal is Washington Park. It’s a pretty cool place and fully maintained by the City of Anacortes. It’s ideal for a day of hanging out or so much more. Is it weird to spend the weekend at a city park? Surprisingly, no. Here’s why!
What you'll find...
Camping in Washington Park
When we first put a July trip to Anacortes on our summer schedule, we weren’t really sure where to stay. We’d stayed at the Majestic Inn of Anacortes previously and loved it, but we also really wanted to find some camping close by. We had checked out Deception Pass to see if it was available, but it was sold out months in advance… Where else? Oh, Washington Park has a HUGE campground.
When we first found out that there was camping at Washington Park, we were surprised and skeptical. I was picturing myself setting up a tent and building a campfire with people walking around, kind of like we were in the middle of their neighborhood, but it was actually wonderful.
True, it wasn’t the most quiet camping experience ever, but that’s okay. Camping at Washington Park seems to be a favorite weekend activity for a bunch of local people, so there were lots of visitors to surrounding sites, making it a bit more high-traffic than we’re used to. Still, not bad though.
We had a large campsite which was nice, even though it was very uneven. We were close to actual restrooms and a clean water source (A+ for that) and we were walking distance to the playground and beach. Seriously, camping in a city park is kind of genius.
Tip: like with any car-camping location, you’ll want to book your site as far in advance as you’re able. We booked two months in advance and got the last spot in the whole campground. As soon as camping is on your schedule BOOK YOUR SITE. Fort Casey State Park also has great camping, but it’s about 40 minutes away from the town of Anacortes.
Another cool feature for the Washington Park campground since it’s a part of a city park is the paying system. We were able to book and pay for our campsite online, but if you’re there in the campground you can pay with an automated kiosk. This is also where you pay for day use, boat launch fees and where you can buy firewood tickets… because a City of Anacortes employee will actually drive through the campground delivering firewood to those who need it. I wish every campground did that!
Fun idea: if you’ve got younger kids that need to go to bed early, do a daytime campfire or start one before it’s dark so the little people can enjoy the fire too.
Um, we made friends. Yes, Oliver (our oldest) named the deer that hung out in our campsite Honey and Rosie. Yeah, Washington Park is mostly forest so you’d expect to see deer and other wildlife, but these deer were exceptionally bold and you can tell that they’re used to human interaction. At one point, we saw Rosie the Deer ripping into a bag of marshmallows in another campsite. Not cool.
Tip: no matter where you’re camping, make your food difficult for animals to get to. We wrote about this regarding wildlife in Yellowstone and again with camping at Salt Creek near Olympic National Park. Animals LOVE human food, but it’s very bad for them. Don’t contribute to the problem.
Playing in Washington Park
We love a good playground. Who doesn’t? Since we’d visited Washington Park before, we knew that there was a good sized playground a huge open field to enjoy. When we told the kids we were camping at Washington Park in Anacortes, Oliver immediately said “We’re camping at the playground with the beach?!” Yeah, it’s a pretty awesome spot.
We enjoyed lots of visits to the playground and had a great picnic on the huge lawn. The view from our picnic site was of kids playing and ferries heading to the San Juan Islands. It was kind of a perfect weekend!
Tip: if you don’t have one, you need to get a nice picnic blanket that is slick on one side. Ours is fleece on the sitting side and vinyl on the underside. Grass and sand don’t still to it and it’s easy to clean. It’s kid-equipment gold.
Beaches and wonderful places. Sand… is nice in the moment and a pain later. The beach at Washington Park is mostly rocks and pebbles with only a small bit of sand, which when you’re camping is just what you need. The rocks and beautiful, colorful and perfect for skipping.
There is ample play space for digging around or just lounging, and there are plenty of kids to play with. Our first visit to the beach at Washington Park brought a bunch of new little-kid-friends and then this visit was much more chill, with it being more of the four of us playing together.
The water is chilly, but was much better on this trip than the last. It’s still not full-body swimming, but is fine for splashing and wading. Yeah, swimming in Washington is most kept to shallow lakes and swimming pools (even though I did dip in both the lake and river in Cle Elum last week…)
There are cooking shelters at Sunset Beach if you’re having a large BBQ or family gathering, but they do need to be reserved in advance. We’ve been to Washington Park in Anacortes twice now and each time every single picnic shelter has been crazy busy and fully utilized. They’re plenty big for either sheltered parties or cooking, but yeah, reserve them in advance through the Washington Park website.
The sights at Washington Park
The main area most visitors experience at Washington Park in Anacortes is the boat launch area and Sunset Beach. That’s where we spent the majority of our time too. There is a wonderful scenic drive though which takes you around the outside of the huge forested portion of the park. With hiking trails, scenic view points and more beaches, you could easily opt for a day away from the crowds just taking in the Puget Sound and its perfect beauty.
And sunset. Washington Park is the westernmost part of Anacortes, so its sunsets are amazing and all water and islands. We love sunsets in the Pacific Northwest and taking some time before bed to enjoy watching the colors change above the San Juan Islands is well worth the time. Have a fire at the beach or bring a blanket, but make sure to catch the colors!
Tip: there are a bunch of structured fire pits at Sunset Beach, so get there early to be able to have your sunset campfire.
As if we hadn’t given enough reasons to make Anacortes a weekend getaway, our camping weekend is one more. Washington Park is a wonderful spot and has us looking for similar spots to check out new towns. We’ve camped at Fort Worden in Port Townsend before but nothing else so urban. If you have any ideas for similar camping situations, tell us! We’ll make the trek to be able to play tourist and get into nature with camping. Where should we go next?
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”