Dungeness deal: Summer beach adventures near Sequim
Waves crash against the long, sandy shore of the Dungeness Spit. A national wildlife refuge harbors birds at rest after globe-spanning migrations. At the tip of the spit, five miles away, a 150-year-old lighthouse guides sea vessels and shelters hikers. Families looking for adventure can find all of this on a strip of sand only a few hundred feet wide.
The Dungeness Spit, located on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula west of Sequim, juts into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Over five miles long and growing about 13 feet every year, it's one of the world's longest natural sand spits. This landmark attracts over 100,000 visitors a year -- and it's not hard to figure out why.
From a bluff overlooking the sea, you first see the spit extending into the water like a finger of sand. A half-mile hike down a forested trail leads to the beach, which -- far from the bustle of the city -- feels as isolated as an island. Instead of traffic or pets, you hear seabirds and pounding waves.
There's plenty of beach on a five-mile sand spit. The smooth west beach is perfect for digging, castle-building, wave-jumping and shell-seeking. Mounds of driftwood along the ridgeline become climbing mountains or picnic benches. Bring buckets and shovels for beach play, and plan activities that won't disturb the wildlife.
When you're done digging, grab your binoculars and check out the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. The entire spit is a wildlife refuge, but the inner side and tip of the spit are set aside exclusively for birds and marine mammals. Together with the adjoining Graveyard Spit, this area forms a small harbor where birds feast in the tidal mudflats. Visitors are not allowed in the protected area, but you can get a fine view just sitting on a driftwood log.
Ask your children how many different kinds of birds they can spot. Throughout the year, the refuge shelters nearly 250 species, including gulls, terns and sandpipers. Some migrate thousands of miles from Alaska or the southern tip of South America before they stop at the Dungeness Spit to rest, nest and lay eggs. Many fly away to restart the journey after only a few days.
During the summer, watch for the Caspian tern, with a white body, black head and red beak; the black oystercatcher, with a solid black body, bright red beak and loud cry and the sanderling, a speckled sandpiper that bobs up and down in the water like a wind-up toy. These eye-catching birds are just a few of the refuge's most common visitors.
Summer is also the best time to see marine mammals. Harbor seals haul themselves onto the beaches to rest, sleep and nurse pups. (Admire them from a distance, as the seals are easily disturbed by human activity.) You can also watch for orca whales surfacing in the strait, where they spend the summer eating salmon, and see other species of whale that visit during their long migratory journeys.
If you have hikers or historians in your family, you may want to visit the New Dungeness Light Station at the tip of the spit. Built in 1857, the lighthouse is one of the oldest in North America. Volunteer keepers rotate every week, maintaining the buildings, watering the lawn and greeting weary guests. Here hikers can lunch at picnic tables, rest on green lawns, use the restroom and refill water bottles with fresh water from a deep artesian well. Learn about the spit's history, lighthouse and Indian heritage at a new exhibit in the lower level of the lighthouse, or climb the tower for a spectacular view of the Olympics and the strait. On a clear day you can even see Mount Baker.
Whether you come for the view, the hike, the history, the wildlife or the water, your family will love the Dungeness Spit. Find a comfortable log, watch the water, listen to the birds and enjoy a few moments of peace.
Loralee Leavitt is a freelance writer living in Kirkland. She and her husband have two young children.
- The area is a wildlife refuge, so pets, vehicles, fires, kites, balls and Frisbees are not allowed.
- Remind your children not to take souvenirs home. Rocks, shells and driftwood must stay on the spit.
- Bring plenty of sunscreen and water for the five-mile trek to the lighthouse, and make sure your children will be able to hike out and back. There is no alternate transportation.
- Directions and area maps (plus lighthouse information). Open daily, dawn to dusk. Admission is $3 per family per day.
The Dungeness Spit can easily be enjoyed as a day trip. There's so much to do around Sequim, however, that you may want to stay.
- Railroad Bridge Park, which features a 150-foot-long former railroad bridge, also hosts the Dungeness River Audubon Center.
- Sequim's mild weather makes it perfect for lavender farming. Pick your own lavender at a local farm, or enjoy the Sequim Lavender Festival in July.
- At Graysmarsh Farm, you can pick lavender, raspberries, blueberries and loganberries.
- Hurricane Ridge, part of Olympic National Park, features 360-degree snow-capped mountain vistas, walking trails and wildlife sightings.
- Sequim Vacation Rentals lists availability for 30 different rental cottages. 800-879-8859.
- Camping is available in the Dungeness Recreation Area on a first-come, first-served basis. 360-683-5847.
This article originally appeared in the June, 2007 issue of ParentMap.