This is the final installment in a series that features some of the landmarks that make Washington such a special place. Some of the stops have highlighted the Evergreen State’s natural beauty while others are the product of human hands and minds. Earlier articles featured Washington’s state waterfall, Palouse Falls. Part 2 took us, again, east of the Cascade Mountains to Goldendale and one of the nation’s largest public telescopes. Another spotlighted a 40-mile ribbon of state park known as the Centennial Trail. This series is delivered by a retired journalist who now makes every effort to visit Washington’s wonders with his wife and two dogs, pickup truck and travel trailer.
If something can accurately and honestly be described as the biggest, best, tallest or longest in the nation, that’s pretty remarkable.
While residents of Washington realize the Evergreen State offers a vast and diverse array of scenic attractions, perhaps only one can lay claim to No. 1 status in the United States.
Not too far from the heart of Puget Sound, visitors can find the longest natural sand spit in the U.S. Only a few miles from Sequim and within easy reach of larger Port Angeles, the Dungeness Spit reaches five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
For the uninitiated, a sand spit is, simply, a semi-thin ribbon and land extending from the mainland into open water. While that sounds simplistic (yes, it is) the mechanics of spit formation are a wonderful confluence of natural events.
A spit is created by deposits of sediment and, over time, the spit continues to grow. At Dungeness, about 15 feet gets added each year. But why? It’s all due to the Dungeness River, which empties into the strait and results in ongoing deposits.
By contrast, the Ediz Hook sand spit, not too far west in Port Angeles, has seen little growth during the past century. The answer is a man-made one: a pair of dams on the Elwah River disrupted the natural course of the river and altered the deposits of sediment that created the spit in the first place. The dams have been removed.
WHAT TO DO AT DUNGENESS?
It’s all about the natural beauty and the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature. But not too close – the spit falls entirely within the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and some areas are kept off-limits for the protection of its natural residents, both plants and animals.
The No. 1 attraction is simply walking the spit. It’s five miles from the trailhead to a lighthouse (more on that later), making it a 10-mile, out-and-back journey. The good news is, no one says a walker has to make the entire trip.
Experienced beach walkers know it can be tough when the sand is soft. It’s exactly the opposite of strolling along a paved or well-groomed trail. Appropriate footwear is suggested.
• Dungeness is a destination for the bird-watching set, home to everything from the somewhat sedate towhees to brant and bald eagles. There’s a long list of shorebirds present along with the ever-present seagulls. Depending upon the time of year, wildlife can include harbor seals. Take binoculars and be respectful of nature.
• The flora and fauna of the refuge have called photographers, both professional and amateur.
• There are plenty of rules in place, but the Dungeness area is a prime spot for saltwater fishing and shellfishing. Stay abreast of all directives set by Fish and Wildlife.
• At the end of the spit sits the New Dungeness Lighthouse. Daily tours are offered by volunteers; tours are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer season but winter hours can vary.
AT THE ENTRY
There is ample parking and the paved lot leads directly to a large informational kiosk that is a perfect starting point. Just steps away is a groomed trail with an overhead canopy of lush green of moss and leaves. It’s a short walk, about a half-mile, to an overlook where the entire spit is in view.
Also in view is Victoria, B.C., just 16 miles across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And, on clear days, Mount Baker can be seen to the northeast.
From the overlook, it’s a short but fairly steep walk to the spit. Once there, it’s all about the beach and birds, salt air, driftwood and anything else the tide brings in.
DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT
Do: be aware there is a modest entry fee. It’s $3 per carload (up to four adults), payable at the kiosk. Those younger than 16 are admitted free. It’s a cash-or-check system for the exact amount (self-service with no change given). Admission is free for those holding a variety of passes: Refuge annual pass, Federal Recreation Lands pass, a senior of Golden Age pass, military pass, etc.
Do not: Because it’s a wildlife refuge, your furry family members are not allowed. Leave the pups at home.
Once on the Olympic Peninsula, head just three miles west of Sequim on Highway 101. The best bet is to use electronic navigation using this address: 600 Voice of America Road, Sequim, Washington, 98362.
Here’s the route: from 101, make the right turn onto Kitchen-Dick Road and follow for about three miles, until the road bends to the right and becomes Lotzgesell Road. From there, it’s about a quarter-mile to Voice of America Road and the entrance to the Dungeness Recreation Area. You’ll pass a county campground and finish at the parking lot.
As Western Washington folks know, the Olympic Peninsula can be reached by ferry or automobile. Ferry routes include Edmonds-to-Kingston, Seattle-to-Bainbridge, and Fauntleroy-to-Southworth. Drivers use Interstate 5 to Tacoma, state Route 16 across the Narrows Bridge and SR 3 to the Hood Canal Bridge. After crossing the bridge it’s highway 104 and, eventually, onto 101.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
There are numerous websites providing information about the Dungeness Spit, the wildlife refuge and the lighthouse. Here are a few:
– Clallam County: www.clallamcountywa.gov/facilities/facility/details/Dungeness-Recreation-Area
– Explore Washington: www.explorewashingtonstate.com/hiking-the-dungeness-spit
– U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov/refuge/dungeness
– Olympic Peninsula visitor site: www.olympicpeninsula.org/dungeness-spit-a-sandy-stretch-that-keeps-on-growing
– Washington Trails Association: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/dungeness-national-wildlife-refuge