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Quick nature escapes

Pacific Northwest splendor, minutes off the interstate

Low tide at Nisqually Beach, Tolmie State Park. Photo credit: Kristi Berry

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The South Sound may be congested, but it's amazing how quickly you can escape the gridlock and hit the beach. Whether you need a refreshing lunch break or have all day to hang out, check out these local parks and trails.

Sequalitchew Creek Trail, DuPont

This three-mile round-trip trail winds through a wooded canyon before bringing you to the waters edge. Park at the DuPont Police and Fire Station and pick up the trailhead behind City Hall. The trail begins as a gravel path and then is paved for a short stretch before transitioning back to gravel. Even with a slight incline on the way back, it's easy enough for kids and strollers.

On one side, the creek flows through the canyon and fern-covered forest floor. Overhead are towering firs and moss-covered oaks. No ear buds necessary here -- the sound of the babbling stream is music enough.

At about 1.5 miles, the canyon opens into a watershed that is home to frogs, salamanders and birds. Then head through an abandoned railroad tunnel and pop out onto the shore of Puget Sound. The rocky beach is lined with wood pilings from what was once the DuPont Wharf. Be sure to scan the water -- sea lion and harbor porpoise sightings are common.

Sequalitchew Creek Trail, 1700 Civic Drive, DuPont,

Sunnyside Beach Park, Steilacoom

Just off Chambers Creek Road in Steilacoom is Sunnyside Beach Park. This city park is home to 1,400 feet of shoreline, a playground, swings and volleyball courts. Unlike many Pacific Northwest beaches, this stretch of beach actually has sand. The cove in front of the parking lot is perfect for building sand castles. Benches are scattered throughout the park, providing peaceful places to look out over the water.

You have to cross the railroad tracks to get to the park, and trains pass by incredibly closely. Watching the trains rumble by is a treat for kids but be mindful of little ones as there isn't always fence between the park and tracks. Parking is $5. Bring cash to put in the box at the end of the lot.

Sunnyside Beach Park, open daily, 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., 2509 Chambers Creek Rd., Steilacoom,

Owen Beach, Tacoma

Drive through Point Defiance's scenic Five Mile Drive to get to Owen Beach. Dotted with driftwood, this beachfront park features iconic views of Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and Vashon Island. Stroll on the paved promenade, watch ferries and cargo ships cruise by, or head down to the pier at low tide to find starfish clinging to the pilings.

The park offers a large grassy area, picnic tables, grills and restrooms. A snack bar and kayak rentals are available in summer months. Parking is free and plentiful, although summer weekends can get crowded.

Owen Beach, open daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 5605 Owen Beach Rd., Tacoma, 253.305.1000,

Tolmie State Park, Olympia

Just a 20-minute drive from Olympia city center is Tolmie State Park, a 105-acre marine park on Nisqually Beach. Forest meets the shore on this scenic cove.

You'll need a Discover Pass to park in the lot. Spots are limited so plan to arrive early on sunny weekend days. From the parking lot, cross over a wooden bridge to the beach or head out on one of the forested trails.

Bring your muck boots and permits if you're interested in digging up dinner. This is a popular spot for clamming, crabbing, saltwater fishing -- and searching for sand dollars. Low tide reveals a long stretch of sand that lets you wade out to explore the cove. On clear days, you can see Mt. Rainier to one side and the Olympic Mountains to the other. It's a spectacular view.

Tolmie State Park, summer hours, 8 a.m. to dusk; winter hours, 9 a.m. to dusk, Wednesday-Sunday, 7730 61st Ave. NE, Olympia, 360.456.6464,

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