On the Road: Mukilteo Lighthouse Park

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Type

Trip

Location

Mukilteo

Special Features

Lighthouse
Beach
Beach Fire Pits
View of Mt. Baker

Entrance

From the Mukilteo Speedway turn left on Front Street in front of the ferry dock.
Turn left at parking sign with arrow.

Introduction

Two properties that were originally separate comprise what is today’s Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. The properties, a Coast Guard light station and a state park, were combined in 2004 to create the current city park.

The Mukilteo Light Station was built in 1906. The lighthouse is a bit unusual because it’s constructed from wood (fir). Most lighthouses of the era were built with bricks or concrete.

In 1939 ownership of the light station was transferred from the U.S. Lighthouse Service to the U.S. Coast Guard. And then in 2001 ownership was again transferred, this time from the Coast Guard to the City of Mukilteo.

The light station is situated on what used to be a hooked spit, which was next to tideland. At some point the tideland was filled in, and in 1951 Mukilteo State Park was established as a day use beach on the property. In 2003 the State of Washington deeded the state park to the City of Mukilteo.

Once the city had ownership of the sister properties, a comprehensive site plan was developed in 2004 for what is now one park, Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. Numerous improvements were made, including parking, the beach walk, benches, picnic tables, and playground.

The public art pieces installed on the grounds as part of the upgrades are by two Tulalip Tribe members. The art is intended to acknowledge the importance of this location to the native people who lived here for more than 1000 years before the arrival of the first European in 1860.

The park today bears only a passing resemblance to the kinda afterthought of a state park I remember from my teen years, which was basically a gravel parking lot, boat ramp, and picnic tables at the beach. While the improvements have made the grounds into a beautiful, modern park that would make any city proud, the drawback is that the nicer park attracts even more visitors, leading to sometimes severe crowding in the summer. Alas, the price of success.

For the last twelve or so years my family has been going to Arnies in Mukilteo for Thanksgiving dinner. The restaurant has great views and they put on a really nice three-course holiday feast. In the last two years I arrived early enough to spend time at Lighthouse Park before chowing down on turkey.

It’s often stormy at Thanksgiving, but this year the weather gods seemed to know I was planning this preview and granted me an incredibly beautiful day.

The park is an easy 45 minute drive from north Seattle.

Preview

The park is located a couple blocks south of the Mukilteo ferry dock. (The ferry goes to Whidbey Island.) So if you want to make a real day of it, you can walk on to the ferry for a short cruise on Puget Sound as part of your seaside outing. If you prefer to remain a landlubber, from within the park you can watch the ferries arrive and depart.

Of course, the crown jewel of the park is the lighthouse. The buildings of the light station have been nicely preserved and are very photogenic. The station grounds are open to the public during all park hours. If a gate is closed, it’s all right to open it and go through. (See lighthouse section below for more details.)

Behind the lighthouse is one bench and a garden retaining wall at sitting height if you need to take a load off while in that area of the park.

Outside the white picket fence which surrounds the light station are a couple more benches and a picnic table near the boat launch.

Beyond the boat launch the public beach stretches a ways to the south. The beach is a typical Puget Sound gravel beach, with lots of driftwood to sit on and photograph.

Access to the beach is easy, with no steps or embankments, and is close to parking if you’re lucky enough to get one of the beachside spots. The beach is one of the most accessible in Snohomish County, which helps contribute to the park’s popularity.

A level, paved beach walk runs the length of the park from the light station to the south end of the beach. There are a few picnic tables right next to the parking, and benches are set at fairly regular intervals along the path allowing for rest stops and comfortable places from which to enjoy the scenic splendor.

The park has six cement fire pits along the beach for cookouts. The fire pits are all on a first-come-first-served basis as far as I know. Fires are only allowed in the designated pits and you must bring your own wood. It is illegal to collect wood, including driftwood, on public land.

Towards the south end of the park there are bathrooms, three picnic shelters, several picnic tables in the open, and a children’s playground. (There are also bathrooms at the northwest corner of the parking lot closer to the lighthouse.)

The only things that keep Mukilteo Park from scoring a perfect 10 are: Whidbey Island rudely blocks out the Olympic Mountains, and you have to pay for parking. A gorgeous view of Mt. Baker helps make up for the Olympics thing though.

Mukilteo Lighthouse Park is an incredibly beautiful place to spend an hour or a day. It’s the kind of park that is wonderful to visit in any kind of weather, at any time of year. Though I do recommend avoiding summer visits if at all possible.

Lighthouse and Giftshop

There are 26 lighthouses in the state of Washington, but only six of them are open to the public. The Mukilteo lighthouse is one of them. The station is listed on the Washington State Heritage Register and on the National Register of Historic Places.

The light was automated in 1979, but Coast Guard families continued to live in the station houses until 1996. Today, no one lives on the property but the light is still in operation, visible up to 12 miles on a clear day. Ever since the station was transferred to the city, volunteers with the Mukilteo Historical Society have maintained the lighthouse. They also serve as docents and run the gift shop.

While the lighthouse grounds are open to the public during all park hours, entrance into the lighthouse itself is limited. The lighthouse interior is only open on weekends and holidays from April through September. The hours are noon to 5 pm. Admission is free, but donations are happily accepted.

The hours of operation for the giftshop are the same as for the lighthouse.

Tours for groups and organizations can be arranged for other times.

There are 36 steps up to the top of the lighthouse, and you are allowed to go outside on the small deck surrounding the light.

The metal triangle in the lighthouse yard was used to alert townspeople to fire at the station or a shipwreck. Feel free to give it a ring while you’re there.

Other Area Activities

If you’re coming to Mukilteo from farther away than Everett or Lynnwood, you might want to make the park one part of a larger outing to justify the distance and time it takes to get there. Here are a few ideas:

Mukilteo Walking Tour

I don’t know much about the tour, but the park is stop #1 on it. There is a sign on the path between the parking lot and lighthouse (near the bathrooms) that has a dispenser for brochures showing the route and discussing the stops. There is an audio guide available online which provides more information about each stop than what is printed in the brochure.

Cruise Across Possession Sound

The ferry that travels from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island takes about fifteen minutes to make the crossing. This makes for a nice little voyage without having to make a major time commitment. You can often watch sea lions and harbor porpoises from the ferry deck. The link below provides information about the fee to walk on, the schedule, and other useful info.

Future of Flight

This is a very popular tour at the nearby Boeing airplane factory. (Link is below.)

Dining

If you didn’t plan a picnic as part of your outing and are in the mood for a seafood repast after spending time on the shore of the Salish Sea, two venerable Mukilteo restaurants offering great service and great views are conveniently located nearby.

Ivar’s is right beside the ferry dock. In addition to the full service restaurant they have a fish bar for inexpensive and easy takeout.

Arnies is just up the hill from there, across the train tracks on 2nd.

Both restaurants have been Mukilteo fixtures for several decades. They are a bit pricey for those on a tight budget, but if you don’t mind a limited menu the restaurants’ lounges offer reasonably priced fare, especially during happy hour. (3 – 6 pm I think.)

 

Things to Know

Hours

6:30 am – 10 pm

Seating

Lots of benches and picnic tables. Also driftwood logs.

Bathrooms

One at northwest corner of parking lot, across from the lighthouse.
One near the picnic shelters and playground, next to beach.

Parking

There is a fee for parking.

On sunny weekends in warmer months, and often on weekdays in summer, demand for parking usually far outstrips capacity. (If you use satellite view on the map linked below you can see the trains of cars looking for parking.)

So in the spring of 2015 the city made the Mukilteo Lighthouse lot, and a couple nearby streets, metered parking to try and ease the situation. The purpose is to get people to not stay as long (or maybe not even come at all), and for visitors to help pay for the upkeep expenses associated with the park.

Mukilteo residents can get a pass from the city for free parking, since their taxes already help pay for the park.

Parking fees are charged all hours and days that the park is open.

Parking is paid at machines located around the lot and on the streets. The machines take cards or coins, no paper money. The meter ticket is displayed on your dashboard. There is a four hour maximum.

From May through September the rate is $2 an hour.

From October through April the rate is $1 an hour.

The parking lot is actually quite large, with space for close to 300 cars, so off-season it’s normally pretty easy to find parking.

In the middle of the lot are a couple rows of double-length slots for boat trailers for those using the boat launch.

There is a far section of the lot that isn’t obvious right away that goes around behind the picnic shelters and is close to the playground.

In addition to the lot there are a few spaces of street parking on Front Street right by the lighthouse. You usually need lucky timing (or inclement weather) to find an empty spot there. These are metered spaces as well.

Usage

Mukilteo Lighthouse Park is very popular. Even though Mukilteo is a small town that is a little off the beaten path, over 50% of the people visiting the park each year are from out-of-town.

Many tourists and people from other cities in the Everett-Seattle metro areas come specifically to see the lighthouse and park. But a lot of people also end up there as an unplanned sidetrip to taking the ferry, dining at the popular Mukilteo restaurants, or because a guide at the Future of Flight tour at Boeing suggested it.

My recent personal experience is limited to Thanksgiving Day at noon, but by all available accounts the park gets crazy crowded on any warm and sunny weekend, most especially in summer.

The park is also crowded on the Farmer’s Market Wednesdays. I’m not sure if the market is seasonal or year-round. I saw several references to it, but nothing indicating dates of operation.

My visits this year and last can help illustrate how much park usage varies on a November holiday.

In 2014 the day was gray, in the mid-fifties, and very windy. There were other people wandering around, but not a lot. I was able to park right next to the lighthouse.

In 2015 the day was cloudless and sunny, with a temp of 48 degrees, and only a very slight breeze. There were lots of people at the park, some even cooking their Thanksgiving dinners in the fire pits. It wasn’t packed, but there were people everywhere you looked.

The upshot is that during most of the year you can have a very enjoyable and scenic outing. But unless you’re there in less than ideal weather, don’t expect much in the way of solitude.

Photo Ops

Lighthouse, ferry, Mt. Baker, sunsets, driftwood, trains, seagulls. Sometimes sea lions.

Best light: morning or late afternoon/sunset.

Web Resources

Map 

Park website

Lighthouse website

Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival website (annual September festival)

Mukilteo walking tour audio

Ivar’s

Arnies

Mukilteo/Clinton ferry info

Boeing Future of Flight website

 

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5 thoughts on “On the Road: Mukilteo Lighthouse Park

  1. I’m definitely putting this on my to-visit list for this year! I went in March last year but I want to go when the lighthouse is open. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that you could go out on the little deck surrounding the light. You got a great shot of Mt. Baker from there!

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    • Yeah, I was surprised that the lighthouse is open so little during the year. I thought it being closed on Thanksgiving was due to the holiday, but now I know better from researching this preview. Ever since I was a kid I’ve thought of Mt. Baker as the ice cream cone mountain. The snow is so beautifully smooth compared to the craggier Rainier.

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      • I see what you mean about Mt. Baker looking like an ice cream cone! I always thought of it as the peekaboo mountain. In the Skagit Valley, it disappears behind the mountains and then reappears and looks so close and big that you wonder how it could ever be completely hidden by the smaller mountains.

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  2. Pingback: A Cold Hour in Mukilteo | Shedding Light

  3. Pingback: Lost in Thought | Park Preview

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