It is hard to believe, but in the early 1940s, Washingtonians lived in fear of a foreign invasion. The Japanese Empire already had a foothold in Alaska, and the crippled U.S. Pacific Fleet seemed completely unable to meet the growing threat. So, the military opened a series of forts along the Washington/Oregon/California coastline. In late 1942, Fort Ebey was the last such installation to open. With features like radar-guided guns and camouflage, Fort Ebey was one of the most sophisticated military installations of its time.
Planners chose this place for a fort because its highlands offered a commanding view of the Puget Sound shipping lanes. Today, that same geography makes Fort Ebey State Park a great place to take your RV for the weekend.
Instead of scanning the skies for approaching enemy planes, visitors scan the skies for rare birds. Those World War II soldiers dared not go near the water. But today’s visitors can participate in a number of aquatic activities, like fishing, swimming, and diving. Further inland, there are roughly 25 miles of mixed use hiking trails. And, if the sky is clear, Fort Ebey sunsets are amazing.
In many ways, Fort Ebey State Park is an ideal RV park. Most of the campsites have no hookups, so RVers get a combination of roughing it and all the comforts of home.
Like many islands in this part of Puget Sound, Fort Ebey is rather remote. But that’s one of the nice features of this park. Most people drive their rigs along Highway 20 to reach Fort Ebey State Park. It winds gently through some forests and small towns. Or, you can take the slightly more narrow, and much straighter, West Beach Road. This road cuts through some fairly thick forests and, in a couple of places, has a nice view of the Pacific coastline.
If you need to stock up on RV camping supplies, you probably need to stop at one of the larger towns along Interstate 5. There are a few towns along Highway 20, such as Oak Harbor and Coveland, but they are fairly small. Fort Ebey State Park also has a camp store.
Once you reach the park, there is lots of parking near the gun battery and the beach access point. The RV campsite is near the gun battery. Fort Ebey State Park is open from March 1 to October 31.
The Fort Ebey State Park RV campground includes 50 mostly back-in sites. There are a few pull-through sites as well, but arrive early on weekends, because they go fast. 11 of these sites have electrical and water hookups. The rest are primitive RV sites which are outstanding for people who want to connect with nature. Campground amenities include a large amphitheater, two shower areas, restroom facilities, and a spacious open athletic playing field. There is no dump station. The RV campground is open between March and October but reservations are required between mid-May and mid-September.
If this activity is not on your bucket list, you might want to consider revising your list. Paragliding is very safe and extremely fun. The wind is usually right after a large rainstorm, and there are plenty of them in this part of Washington. Furthermore, the air around the gun battery is very smooth, so piloting is quite easy. Most people take off from the parade lawn across from the battery. Once they are airborne, paragliders have plenty of chances to take in the stunning sites of Puget Sound. There are a number of paragliding clubs nearby, where you can rent equipment and obtain instruction.
Beach fishing is a lot of fun if you have the right equipment. Check with a ranger for conditions. Visitors can harvest seaweed and shellfish with a license. The seaweed harvesting season is between mid-April and mid-May. Or, you can reel in freshwater fish at Lake Pondilla, which is a glacier lake. There are lots of smallmouth bass as well as a few steelhead and trout. Anglers should get good results with baitcasting, fly fishing, or spinning. You can fish from shore, from a dock, or from a boat.
The beach access point is at the north end of the park. The trail leading down from the bluffs is a little steep here and there, but it should be no problem. If you want to swim, that’s cool, but there is no lifeguard on duty. Watch out for riptides and sudden underwater drop-offs. The surfing is good at Fort Ebey State Park. A reef break makes the waves very even and consistent. The swells are usually moderate, so conditions are good for both beginners and more advanced surfer. Additionally, the beach is hardly ever crowded. However, the beach can be a little noisy. Jet pilots from Whidbey Island NAS practice overhead, and sometimes practice carrier landings offshore.
Six-inch guns were sold for scrap a long time ago. But back in the day, their ten-mile range and radar guidance system meant that they could hit pretty much anything this side of Victoria. Most of the old bunker remains and is open for exploration. That includes both the above-ground and underground portions. Bring your flashlight, because it’s pitch dark down there. The bunker is within easy walking distance of the RV campground. Camper facilities include a sheltered picnic area and restrooms.
If you only hike one trail, make sure it’s the Bluff Trail. This path skirts the coastline along the top of the bluff. The trail begins and ends at a picnic area, so you can eat, walk, and eat. Sounds like a good day to us. Hugh’s Delight, Emile’s Ridge, the Main Line, and The Tunnel all run through the thick forests in the park’s interior. The Pacific Northwest Trail is a scenic pathway which overlooks both the ocean and Lake Pondilla. Most of the Fort Ebey State Park trails are mixed-use trails which accommodate both hikers and mountain bikers.
There are lots of animals on land, sea, and air. Many land animals like this area because of the kettles, or depressions, which retreating glaciers left eons ago. Look for a variety of wildlife, including coyotes, deer, and chipmunks, in the park’s interior. On the beach, there are lots of crabs and other little critters. Local birds include woodpeckers, owls, ravens, ducks, and eagles. About 60 pairs of bald eagles nest in and around Whidbey Island. In the water, there are seals, whales, and other wildlife.