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Let's go camping

The summer camping season on Whidbey starts this Memorial Day weekend and all the parks on the island expect to be completely filled up with tents and recreational vehicles.

The trend will likely continue all summer long, at least on weekends, until the last of the happy campers go home after Labor Day.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find a camping stop on Whidbey Island, especially on weekdays. Campers can reserve spots up to nine months ahead of time at three of the state parks on the island through the reservation system at 1-888-CAMPOUT.

This is especially important at Deception Pass State Park, which is the most visited state park in Washington. Bill Overby, the park manager at Deception Pass State Park, said the park’s wide variety of camping opportunities attract campers from all over the country and beyond. There’s three group sites and 256 individual spots, including five camping sites on Hope Island that can only be reached by boat.

Rick and Joni Graves of Anacortes, along with step-son Mitchell Barbarovic, are camping at Deception Pass this weekend. Rick made reservations all the way back in December, and at that time he was told there weren’t many sites left for this Memorial Day.

While forecasts call for rain over the weekend, they aren’t going to let it ruin their camping fun, especially since they brought their camper along.

“We can laugh at the rain, being of the Washingtonians we are,” Rick said.

The park also rents out larger facilities at its Environmental Learning Center on Cornet Bay Road. Church groups, family reunion, youth groups and others — up to 80 people — can stay in the lodge and rustic cabins for just $2.78 per person each day.

But for those who are looking for a more secluded, quieter camping experience, there are other choices on the island.

Fort Ebey State Park, located off of Libbey Road, has very private camp sites among fir trees and salal at the top of a tall bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The large, clean sites have the basic picnic table and fire pit, plus there’s a modern rest room with showers.

Park Ranger Sharon Soelter said many experienced campers reserve spots at Fort Ebey and then make day trips to Deception Pass or nearby Fort Casey. Others come for the spectacular view, beach combing or the 28 miles of trails between the park and the adjoining Kettles trail.

“It’s more of a family camping ground,” Soelter said. “We rarely get any noise problems here.”

Fort Casey State Park, which is in Central Whidbey at the end of Engle Road, offers the perfect camping experience for folks who like to listen to the roar of ocean waves as they sleep. The 35 camp sites are right on the beach next to the Keystone ferry terminal. The camp site doesn’t take reservations, so it’s first-come, first-served.

“There’s few trees, it’s open to the sun and right on the beach,” Park Ranger Brett Bayne said. “Some people really like it, others don’t.”

There’s a lot for campers to do at Fort Casey. People can explore the fort, take pictures of the historic lighthouse, visit the interpretive center within the lighthouse, scuba dive at the nearby underwater park, or comb the beaches.

Just south of Coupeville is the only county park that offers camping facilities. The Rhododendron Park, which is off Highway 20 near the county transfer station, has 10 camp sites settled among fir trees. While it’s not a very well known camping spot, County Parks Superintendent Lee McFarland said it will probably fill up, like all the other parks on the island, this weekend.

The park offers hiking trails, a baseball field and the “native rhododendrons are in full bloom,” McFarland said, plus it’s well situated in the middle of the island for tourists’ ease.

On South Whidbey, off Smuggler’s Cove Road, is South Whidbey Island State Park, a 347-acre camping park with 4,500 feet saltwater shoreline on Admiralty Inlet. The park has 45 tent spaces, nine utility spaces, a group space that can accommodate up to 100 people.

The popular camp site is set in a rare old-growth forest and the sites are secluded by forest undergrowth. The park has tidelands for crabbing and clamming, fishing and breathtaking views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains.

Here’s some more information about camping spots on Whidbey:

* Deception Pass State Park has 256 camping sites, three group camps and opportunities for groups to camp at the Environmental Learning Center. The group sites accommodate from 35 to 65 people. About 85 of the regular camping sites have electrical and water hook-ups for RVs. The largest camping site is at Cranberry Lake on the Whidbey Island side of the park. The site has a modern bathroom with showers and a 24-hour concession stand. There’s also 16 sites at Bowman Bay and five on Hope Island. Camp sites are $14 a night or $22 with hook-ups.

* Oak Harbor City Beach Park has a RV park with 55 serviced and 30 non-serviced sites.

* Fort Ebey State Park has 50 camping sites, including four sites with water and electric hook-ups. There’s a modern rest room with showers. The sites cost $16 or $22 for ones with hook-ups.

* Fort Casey State park has 35 camp sites that are available only on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are no hook-ups, but there’s a bathroom with showers. Sites cost $16 a night.

* Island County Rhododendron Park has 10 camp sites available only on a first-come, first-serve basis. There’s a rest room, water, trash pickup, plus free fire wood when available. Sites cost $8 a night.

* South Whidbey Island State Park has 45 tent spaces, a group space, nine utility spaces, one dump station, two rest rooms and four showers. During the summer, standard campsite cost $16, utility campsites cost $22 and primitive sites are $7 a night.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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