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Dungeness Spit

One of the best beaches in Washington

One of the world’s longest sand spits, the graceful, 5-mile Dungeness Spit arc into the Strait of Juan de Fuca is part of Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Whitney Rhodes

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One of the fabulous things about the Pacific Northwest is that no matter how long you've been here, I can probably come up with a place you've never been. I don't mean some obscure little town, although those are fun. I mean a legit place most people have heard of, but you've never been to. There just is so much to do! Last weekend, I headed out to one such place. A mythical place called Dungeness Spit.

Spit as in a long, skinny spit of land sticking out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, not as in hawk a loogie.

Dungeness Spit is just east of Port Angeles. When you get off Highway 101, you'll drive through picturesque farmland and a small subdivision before turning into a parking lot. Not an exciting beginning. The access road meanders through the Dungeness Recreation Area, which is maintained by Clallam County. There are campgrounds, bathrooms and some great trails. But the real attraction is the National Wildlife Refuge of Dungeness Spit.

Designated as such by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915, one of the longest natural sand spits juts out into the rough waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It creates a break in the seas, allowing a small, shallow bay and harbor to be a refuge from the seas. Eelgrass beds are feeding grounds for flocks of shorebirds and a nursery for young salmon and steelhead. Migration seasons of spring and fall are particularly impressive for bird watching, but the winter is also a good time. The calm area attracts all kinds of waterfowl in the winter. It's also an ideal place for a lighthouse.

At the parking lot is a large informational display and pay station. We were greeted by some very friendly volunteers who helpfully provided us with a map, advice on conditions and a warning about the giant killer newts (watch out!). With a laugh and a wave, we headed toward the beach.

An easy trail meanders the half mile to the water. The forest is a great example of coastal habitat. The path is dotted with educational signs about the critters and plants that live there. Then it's a quick downhill to the main attraction.

As the vista opens up, you immediately gain an appreciation for this skinny spit of land. Sand stretches for five miles out into the waves. The lighthouse at the end looks tiny! One side of the spit is closed for wildlife reasons, but the other is glorious sand and littered with stumps and other ocean offerings.

Numerous driftwood logs offered perfect spots for sitting. A lady was lounging on a blanket reading, and I quickly lamented not bringing a book or writing tools with me. When I left Tacoma, it was cloudy and drizzly, but on the spit the sun was out and glorious.

We wandered about halfway to the lighthouse before turning around. The 11-mile round trip is well worth the effort, but do be prepared. Walking on sand is harder than dirt, and covering 11 miles takes the better part of the day. The intrepid adventurers can be rewarded with a tour of the old lighthouse and a fantastic look back at the Olympics. On our visit we saw shorebirds and the (killer) indigenous newt. Nothing too crazy, but the sweeping vistas of Canada, the water and the lighthouse more than made up for the off-season of wildlife viewing.

After trekking, we headed into Port Angeles for a stop at Next Door Gastropub. Its burgers are the perfect follow-up to strenuous physical activity. Seriously, a huge meat patty and garlic fries are pretty much my jam after a day outside. Yum.

If you go...
All the details can be found by visiting

Be sure to remember $3 for the entrance fee!

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