Washington State’s largest island is a lush haven teeming with life and natural splendor. Towering evergreens and ancient forests, as well as rugged shorelines and unspoiled beaches, make up this dreamy destination. The island is home to a variety of captivating creatures, including majestic orcas, playful seals, graceful deer, and stunning birds. With so much to explore and witness, let’s set forth on an adventure to discover the largest island in Washington State and the incredible wildlife that inhabits it!
What Is the Largest Island in Washington State?
Whidbey Island, located just 30 miles from Seattle, is the largest island in Washington State. It forms the northern boundary of the Puget Sound and is situated between the I-5 corridor of western Washington and the Olympic Peninsula. Measuring around 40 miles long from north to south, the island is 1.5 to 10 miles wide and covers a total land area of 168.67 square miles. Its picturesque landscape is sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors.
The island known as Whidbey Island was originally named “Tscha-kole-chy” by the Salish people, which translates to “the place of the long, narrow island”. The Coast Salish people also gave it the name “Whulge Island”, a term derived from the Lushootseed language that describes the sound of waves splashing or churning. Today, the island is widely recognized as Whidbey Island, a name honoring Joseph Whidbey. In 1792, Whidbey, a sailing master, joined George Vancouver on the HMS Discovery to explore the island’s waterways.
Whidbey Island, located in Washington State, is home to approximately 69,480 residents according to the 2010 census. The island’s economy heavily relies on tourism, which contributes millions of dollars and supports numerous job opportunities. The taxes generated from the steady influx of visitors play a crucial role in providing essential services such as roads, libraries, and schools for the island’s inhabitants.
What Things Can You Do on Whidbey Island?
Whidbey Island offers an array of exciting activities to cater to every interest, from outdoor enthusiasts to history buffs, art lovers, and shopaholics. However, what sets this island apart is its stunning, diverse landscapes, making it a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers. There is never a shortage of things to do on Whidbey Island.
As you travel towards the northern part of the island, you’ll be enveloped by the serene and tranquil ancient forests, alongside the gentle undulating hills and vast stretches of verdant farmland. However, if you decide to explore the southern region of the island, you’ll come across various untamed and rugged terrains, featuring immaculate beaches, towering cliffs, and concealed inlets waiting to be discovered. Whidbey Island is also a hub for numerous parks such as Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Fort Casey State Park, and Deception Pass State Park.
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
Discover an abundance of stories and history at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, where the legacy of exploration and settlement from the 1800s to present day is meticulously preserved. Immerse yourself in the rustic charm of the historic farms which have been cherished and maintained for generations.
Discover the picturesque seaport town of Coupeville, nestled in Whidbey Island, Washington. This charming town boasts of a rich cultural history and natural beauty that will leave you in awe. As one of the oldest towns in the state, it has a plethora of well-preserved nineteenth-century buildings that are a sight to behold. Indulge in the town’s delectable seafood cuisine, explore unique shops and art galleries, and marvel at the stunning views of Penn Cove. Don’t miss out on the incredible whale-watching tours that will leave you with unforgettable memories. To learn more about the island’s intriguing past, visit the Island County Historical Museum, which houses fascinating historical collections dating back to the Ice Age.
Fort Casey State Park
If you’re looking for a great place to visit on Whidbey Island, Fort Casey State Park within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is definitely worth checking out. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fort Casey, along with Fort Flagler and Fort Worden, formed a protective ring for the Puget Sound known as the “Triangle of Fire”. It’s a fascinating piece of history that you can experience firsthand by visiting this incredible state park.
Fort Casey Historical Park covers a vast area of 999 acres, providing visitors with a plethora of activities to indulge in. From picnicking, boating, diving, fishing, strolling along the beach, bird watching, to hiking, there is something for everyone. Fort Casey State Park is also home to a section of the breathtaking Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. For those seeking an extraordinary underwater adventure, the Keystone Underwater Park at Fort Casey is a must-visit. Here, you can witness the splendor of sea creatures such as octopuses, crabs, sea cucumbers, wolf eels, and much more.
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park, situated on Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island, is a beloved state park in Washington State. Covering 3,854 acres, this stunning park boasts a portion of the PNT, in addition to a plethora of other trails that are perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
If you’re eager to experience the marine wonders of the park, make sure to visit the Rosario Tide Pools where you can embark on a fascinating tour of these unique underwater worlds. Moreover, the park boasts an impressive 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline to explore, in addition to three stunning lakes. If you’re planning an extended stay, there are plenty of campsites available. The park offers a range of enjoyable activities such as bird watching, wildlife viewing, swimming, boating, diving, fishing, crabbing, and even whitewater kayaking. Additionally, the park provides tours, concessions areas, and two amphitheaters for your entertainment.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Whidbey Island?
Whidbey Island offers a wide range of enjoyable activities and attractions that can be enjoyed all year round, thanks to the island’s mild weather. However, certain seasons are better suited for certain activities.
- Weather: If you’re hoping for sunny, warm weather, you’ll want to head to Whidbey Island during the summer months, from June through August.
- Crowds: For those concerned about large crowds, visiting from May to June and September to October are great times when there are fewer people on the island.
- Whale Watching: The best times to see whales or take whale-watching tours on Whidbey Island are during migration seasons, in the spring (April through May) and the fall (September through October).
- Hiking and Camping: The summer months (June through August) are the best time for hiking and camping, particularly if you like warmer weather. However, many trails and campgrounds are also open all year round.
- Culture and Towns: Many visitors come to Whidbey Island to immerse themselves in the charming culture of its historical small towns and villages. However, towns and villages on the island are typically most lively during the summer months. Some even host festivals during the summer or early fall, such as eclectic farmer’s markets and the Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival.
The image is credited to Monika Wieland Shields via Shutterstock.
What Plants Live on Whidbey Island?
Whidbey Island boasts of a mild winter and cool summer climate, with abundant rainfall that paints the perfect Pacific-northwestern paradise. The Island’s flora is reminiscent of the mainland Washington, with towering Douglas firs, sprawling big leaf maples, majestic red alders, fragrant western red cedars, lush Pacific madrones, and western hemlocks reaching up towards the sky, especially in the south of the Island.
Heading: The Transformation of Terrain on Whidbey Island
As you journey to the northern region of Whidbey Island, you’ll notice a significant transformation in the terrain. The once-abundant blue evergreen huckleberries that dominated the south begin to fade away, giving way to towering Oregon-grapes and red huckleberries. The northern part of the island also boasts of showstopping flowers such as the native Pacific rhododendron.
The deciduous Garry oak trees also take center stage on this side of the island, which is the origin of Oak Harbor’s name. Additionally, grand fir trees dominate the northern region of Whidbey Island, accompanied by shore pine and Sitka spruce. The landscape is a sight to behold, and the different flora species contribute to the island’s stunning natural beauty.
In Whidbey Island, spring and summer bring about a beautiful sight as wildflowers bloom all over the area. The fields are filled with a variety of flowers, including bluebells, buttercups, daisies, columbines, and Indian paintbrushes, making it a picturesque view. For those who prefer a more intentional landscaping, Meerkerk Gardens is a great option. It offers 43 acres of natural woodlands and 10 acres of colorful display gardens to explore. Additionally, during the Whidbey Island Garden Tour, many private and stunning gardens are opened to the public, providing visitors with an opportunity to admire their beauty.
Where is Whidbey Island Located on a Map?
Nestled in Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, Washington, lies the breathtaking Whidbey Island. This island boasts a diverse landscape, from its stunning shorelines to its elevated hills and lush farmland. At the island’s northwestern tip, Deception Pass State Park offers sweeping views from its cliffs and forest trails, as well as freshwater lakes for visitors to enjoy.
What Animals Live on Whidbey Island?
Whidbey Island boasts a plethora of lush and vibrant habitats, providing a home to a diverse range of animals. The shoreline of the island runs along the Puget Sound, which is home to various marine animals such as stellar sea lions, harbor seals, and river otters. Whale watching is a popular pastime on the island, and if you take a boat tour, you might spot humpback whales, gray whales, or even orcas. Additionally, the waters surrounding the island are home to thousands of invertebrate species like sea urchins, oysters, clams, sea stars, and crabs.
Whidbey Island’s freshwater shores of its four lakes, namely Goss Lake, Lone Lake, Deer Lake, and Cranberry Lake, offer a diverse habitat to a wide range of animals. Along the lakes’ shores, you can catch a glimpse of various birds such as dabbling ducks, harlequin ducks, oystercatchers, marsh wrens, loons, mergansers, great blue herons, and kingfishers. Apart from the lakes, the island’s numerous fields and woodlands provide a home to hundreds of bird species, including nuthatches, great horned owls, warblers, chickadees, eagles, harriers, woodpeckers, kinglets, and creepers.
On Whidbey Island, you can find a diverse range of mammals, both small and medium-sized. Among them are rabbits, coyotes, and foxes, which are commonly spotted across the island. Particularly in Langley, located on the south end of Whidbey Island, bunnies are a prevalent sight. These cute little creatures were even featured in the Island County Fair for many years and have since multiplied as a result of escaped fair bunnies. Nowadays, bunnies are an ordinary part of life in Langley, happily hopping around the city.
Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the most commonly found large mammals on Whidbey Island, and can be spotted in almost all areas of the island. Although, there is only one bull elk that resides on the island, which is the largest mammal present, standing tall at six feet and weighing a whopping 1,000 pounds!
Bruiser, Whidbey Island’s Only Elk
Bruiser, the sole elk residing on Whidbey Island, swam across Skagit Bay in 2012 and has remained on the island ever since. While it is not uncommon for elk to swim long distances, they typically return home. However, over a decade later, Bruiser continues to inhabit Whidbey Island all by himself!
But don’t fret, as Bruiser doesn’t appear to be bothered by his solitary status. He especially enjoys spending time in the 88-acre Donald Brogman Nature Preserve and Strawberry Point on the north side of the island. This area boasts towering forests, apple trees, and lush vegetation, providing him with an abundance of food without any competition.