If you’ve been circling around the Olympic Peninsula, and you want to get back to the Washington “mainland”, you have two options: either take the long route down to Olympia, then drive back up to Seattle, or take the automobile/passenger ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island.
This is not the first time I had taken a car for a ride on a ferry. The first time was near St. Louis, when I crossed the Mississippi River to Calhoun County, Illinois. That ferry was mighty small — and probably only held a dozen cars, on a single deck — some of which got soaked by splashes from the river. The ferry across Puget Sound to Whidbey Island is much different. The boats are big — as you can see — and there’s plenty of space for dozens of cars, in a perfectly dry environment.
I will explain what it’s like to ride the ferry in just a moment. But first, I’d suggest you watch the Drivelapse video, which is probably worth at least 1,000 words.
The ferry is simply an extension of Washington Highway 20 — the same road you took to get into Port Townsend. Once you get to Whidbey Island (Coupeville), you can take WA-20 across Deception Pass (via a bridge), and then on to I-5, and on across the state.
As of 2011, the fare for a car and driver was under $9, and an additional adult passenger was $3. Unless the ferries are unusually busy, you shouldn’t need to make a reservation. Just pull into the waiting area, a few minutes before its departure time (listed online, or find it by calling 511), then drive onto the boat when you’re waved in.
Once onboard the ferry, you can leave your car in the boat’s cavernous belly, and walk up a flight of stairs to two levels of seating. There’s a snack bar, but it’s more fun to head up to the upper level, outside, and take in the sights…
… as the ferry pulls away from the docks at Port Townsend. The crossing takes about 30 minutes…
… and I would argue that late evening, just before sunset, is the nicest time to make the crossing. You’ll likely enjoy a beautiful sunset over Puget Sound.
And, you’ll likely have the outdoor deck to yourself, since it can get quite windy and chilly up here. I decided to ignore the elements and run around, shooting video and still pictures, despite the blustery conditions. I didn’t realize until later that I had an audience, as everyone inside looked out the windows at the crazy person getting blown around outside.
Fort Casey State Historical Park
While the ferry is technically referred to as the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry, the town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island is a few miles away from the landing. Historic Fort Casey is much closer — the turnoff to enter the park is only about a half-mile after you’ve driven off the ferry. There’s plenty to see here, but I only grabbed a quick photo of the park’s lighthouse.
I spent the night in Oak Harbor, at the Acorn Inn. Not only was it the least expensive hotel room of my trip, it was also the nicest. The newly refinished room could serve as a prototype, for the big chain hotels to follow when remodeling.