During our recently completed stay at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island we had been quite fortunate to string together three full weeks at this popular spot on relatively late notice. We had done so by using our well tested “method” of checking for cancellation-based openings daily, which has brought us success at Bahia Honda, Wekiva Springs, Sigsbee Key West, Travis Air Force Base, and many other locations. It does not always yield an opening, of course, and this time luck was not with us; after our windshield repairs in Mt. Vernon were complete we headed back to Cliffside, but only for two days, unable to extend into the weekend during this, the summer high season.
There are not a lot of RV park options on the island, and those that do exist are mostly full (and quite pricey) during the summer months. Though willing to rough it and only requiring a two day stay, we could not even avail ourselves of “parking lot camping” at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel: like many high population or touristy areas, the few “almost big box” stores on the island do not allow overnight parking. Fortunately, we had done our research during that previous three week stay and found a little discussed county park in the nearby town of Coupeville, already a favorite of ours due in no little part to the Penn Cove Mussels.
Because of the dearth of information available online (RV and campground review sites had very limited and occasionally incorrect information) we had physically scoped out the place in our Geo Tracker earlier in the month. This reconnaissance revealed that Rhododendron Park, located on 37 wooded acres, has 15 sites along a bisected loop of sometimes narrow dirt roads. There is no onsite management, security, ranger, or camp host. All sites are “first come, first serv” and “unserviced” dry camping, i.e., no electrical, water, or sewage connections. The narrow roads and tree canopy likely act as a natural size limiter, but there is no posted official maximum RV length. Though not mentioned on the county website, signs in the park itself list a seven day stay limit. Finally, the website mentions that only three of the sites are suitable for an RV (versus a tent), and this probably refers to the three sites along the center paved strip, no signs in this unmanned park forbid an actual RV at any of the other sites, several of which were, in fact, occupied by various sized RVs during our scouting venture.
Almost all of these factors worked in our favor: the “first come first serve” basis and limited length of stay allowance meant that a few sites might still be available, while the dry camping, narrow roads, and heavy tree canopy would discourage a significant segment of the RV community, and thus limit our competition for a weekend spot. Which is pretty much how it worked out: though we arrived on a Saturday, there were still a handful of sites available, and we ended up with a fantastic, large, oddly shaped, heavily wooded, dreamland faerie site in a park next to a quaint seaside town on a fantastic island. Hard to ask for better than that. Oh right, it was only $15 a night.
Given the beauty, price, and availability of the park along with our tolerance and equipment for dry camping, we elected to stay for the maximum one week. This would temporarily eliminate the battle for a spot at the naval station, cost less than half as much, give us a bit of variation in our summer environment, and provide an esoteric, unusual benefit related to our newfound weekly Lions Club market as well: we could time our RV moves between campgrounds to coincide with the market, meaning one less painful haul of stuff in a cram packed little car to the market and back, and the convenience of our home on site for the duration of the event. As a comfort factor, this is not to be underestimated.
The previous Saturday we had participated in this relatively new and modest market to test the waters, and enjoyed just enough success to lure us back, particularly since we lacked any other options. I realize that sounds a bit negative, something south of “damned by faint praise,” but I don’t really mean it that way. It comes down to how much trouble are you willing to go through for limited and uncertain returns? In our early days the previous week’s earnings would have locked us in for a month of Saturdays, but the intervening years have taught us a lot about event selection and thus raised our expectations, though we are still adjusting those to the latest COVID reality. Which is a long way towards saying that the additional benefit of the RV move coordinated with market day made us more comfortable with the cost benefit calculation. Need a break? There’s our house. Want some coffee? Breakfast? A cat? Also in the house.
Once settled in, we really took to this park and Coupeville. Though of modest size and close to town, the 37 wooded acres feels larger and further from full civilization than it truly is. The trees create a natural sound barrier, removing road and neighbor noise, particularly with only fifteen campsites and surprisingly limited day use. Partially market paths, some of them well-trod, others close to overgrown, meander through the property. A score of geocaches are hidden on or near the trails, with more along the nearby bike paths.
The proximity of Coupeville allowed us to explore it a bit beyond the two blocks of waterfront cafes and shops. We found wonderful chocolate croissants and other baked goodness at Little Red Hen, and craft brew with next door pizza at Penn Cove Brew. The big town of Oak Harbor was only half an hour down the road if we needed supplies, special shops, or annual check up and rabies vaccination, as one of us did. This was a great week on Whidbey Island, and we will happily include Rhododendron Park in our plans during future visits.
Next up: a monthly report and our two final weeks on Whidbey Island.