Shh…Don’t tell anyone.
Arrive on any non-summer-visitor-rush day at Rosario Beach and you will likely be alone. I know, right? Unfortunately, most folks must visit during the summer months, which are also awesome, as long as you don’t mind sharing. And I don’t.
First, the tide pools, which are also known as the Urchin Rocks (although I’ve rarely observed urchins there). En route, stop at the kiosk (you’ll pass it and the new restroom facilities on your way). Check out the sketch on the back side to see examples of creatures you might encounter during low tide. The informational sign shows several that I have yet to find, including octopuses.
Then follow the path towards the water and head to the rocks on the right. During the summer, a Beach Watcher will likely greet you. She is there to remind you to tread carefully on the rocks, which are covered with mostly small, often delicate creatures, and follow the rope path along the rocks to minimize damage to living things. Pay attention to the waters and the skies and you will likely see birds, especially herons, osprey, bald eagles, common flickers, oyster catchers, hummingbirds and Harlequin ducks, depending on the time of year.
Within the tidepools and on the Urchin Rocks, expect to see, at a minimum, barnacles, hermit crabs, chitons, mussels, snails, and absolutely, positively: aggregating anemones! The UPS Slater Museum of Natural History site says, “This [the aggregating] and some other anemones are tinged green because of commensal algae called zoochlorellae that grow within them. These algae photosynthesize, and some of the organic compounds they produce are transferred to the host anemone, providing some of its nutrition. This anemone functions something like a plant in the intertidal zone! The species reproduces asexually by budding off small individuals, which then grow to maturity. When you see a mass of these anemones, they are a clone, all individuals genetically alike because of this. But when two of these colonies develop next to one another, they engage in what could be called ‘clone wars.’ They have special tentacles around the rim, and those on the edge of the colony deploy them against the adjacent colony and force it back, so there is always a clear separation between the colonies.” Occasionally, you may see sculpins, tubeworms and nudibranchs. If the tide is low enough to expose the bases of the larger rocks, kneel down to find bright orange (with brown highlights) burrowing sea cucumbers and painted anemones.
Opposite the Urchin Rocks, you’ll find Sharpe Cove, complete with a small dock. Carefully lift rocks at low tide to see small crabs and other creatures. Be a good beach steward and just as carefully return rocks to their original positions before you go. I once saw (and, I’d like to think…ahem…rescued from beaching itself) a Lion’s Mane jellyfish!
During high tide, there is less to do in Sharpe Cove, so be sure to check out the carved wooden statue of the Maiden of Deception Pass and read the legend about her on the informational sign. There is an excellent video as well.
Finally, spend some time hiking either along the north side (which is rocky), central or south side trail to Rosario Head. From BBC GCSE, “Headlands are formed when the sea attacks a section of coast with alternating bands of hard and soft rock.(P) The bands of soft rock, such as sand and clay, erode more quickly than those of more resistant rock, such as chalk. This leaves a section of land jutting out into the sea called a headland. The areas where the soft rock has eroded away, next to the headland, are called bays.” From Rosario Head, you can see West Beach, Deception Island, Northwest Island, Gull Rocks and Coffin Rocks.
When you’ve had enough of the view (plan for this to take a while) and return to the large grassy field beyond the strip of land between the two bays on your way back to the parking lot, to the right you’ll see the trailhead for the half mile long Bowman Bay/Rosario Beach Trail that runs between these two areas of Deception Pass State Park, which I highly recommend. Of all the areas of Deception Pass State Park, Rosario may seem substandard compared to West Beach, North Beach, Cranberry Lake, Bowman Bay and Cornet Bay…but it’s not. There is a lot to explore even during a high tide (and tons more at low tide) with the bonus of a nice restroom and plenty of parking.
Fun Fact: A significant scene from the movie Captain Fantastic starring Viggo Mortenson was filmed at Rosario Head in September of 2014, “A father living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest with his six young kids tries to assimilate back into society.” Here’s proof (Deception Island is in the background).