Look. Hiking in Washington is awesome. It really is. There are dozens of hikes one can point to as their favorite. But it is hard to top Dungeness Spit.
Located near Port Angeles, Dungeness Spit (yes, like the crab) offers ten-plus miles of prime Washington beach walking–five out to a lighthouse, and five back. It sounds simple, but due to the geographic qualities of a spit, you need to plan ahead for this hike due to tides–access is only allowed to one side of the spit, so a high tide could cover large parts of the sand and have you dealing with climbing over driftwood! Also, unlike Seattle, Dungeness Spit has a healthy marine layer of fog in the morning, so layer up! I brought my trusty Patagonia Nano Puff vest for the first mile or so before stuffing it away when I warmed up. Footwear is a difficult choice here–My friend wore beat up tennis shoes to protect from the sand and saltwater and didn’t sink down as much into the sand and rocks, but the tradeoff was she felt the large smooth rocks under her feet more than I did in my hiking shoes, so it’s up to you what to go with. Lastly, bring plenty of sun protection. It is very windy at Dungeness Spit, so between that and the marine fog, you might think the sun is not out in force–but it is. Every time I have done this hike I have forgotten about my ankles and emerge with a lovely capri tan line.
There are many ways to get to Dungeness Spit from the greater Seattle area, but I always go with the Edmonds-Kingston ferry. Partly because I’ve always done it, but also due to knowing where the beer is on that route! From Kingston, it’s about an hour drive that takes you to Highway 101, where you turn off at Kitchen-Dick Road (tee-hee). The trailhead is located inside a county park–just keep following the signs, past the campground. There is a $3 fee for parking at the trailhead (bring cash!), but those with an America the Beautiful Inter-agency pass are covered. The trailhead does have real bathrooms–your last for five miles. You have a brief walk through the woods (and can do an interpretive trail if you want to add in a few miles) before descending down a very steep hill to get to the beach. Spoiler alert–you will be trudging back up this hill ten-ish miles later.
Once you hit the beach, head right, but stick to the left side of the spit–again, the right side (closest to US land) is a federally protected area. The fog and waves are so thick here you might feel a layer of mist on the left side of your face! As the fog melts away, you might start searching in vain for the lighthouse–fear not, it’s impossible to get lost on this hike, and you’ll know it when you see it. In the meantime, just relax and enjoy the sound of the waves, the smell of the saltwater, and the sights of the Olympic Mountains, Victoria, B. C., and seabirds all around you. Once you beat the tides, there is no rush here–plenty of beach for everyone.
Depending on visibility, you should see the lighthouse when the spit curves. I admit, it’s nice to see when you will be at the apex, instead of having descending hikers tell you “Almost there!” every half-mile. The water here gets more filled with kelp beds as well. If you brought binoculars, keep your eye out for otters or other critters in the kelp beds. We thought we saw a seal swimming around, but hard to distinguish shiny wet kelp bobbing in the water from afar compared to the shiny head of a seal bobbing.
When we reached the path to the lighthouse, we were greeted with dozens of artfully-stacked cairns. I know some people object to cairns, especially decorative ones, as they “leave a trace,” but I like them! The smooth rocks, eroded from years of pounding waves make for easy stacking. Also here is the famous wooden sign, both welcoming you to serenity, and informing you of the direction back to ‘reality’ (the trailhead). Many hikers were enjoying a snack on the beach here, although the lighthouse does provide picnic tables on grass mere feet away. The lighthouse also offers real (septic) bathrooms, garbage cans, and water, and is also staffed with friendly volunteers who can answer questions both on ground level and up top in the lighthouse. I learned there is a lighthouse passport, similar to the National Parks Passport, and you can bet there’s stamps here for the New Dungeness Lighthouse.
When it is that sad time to head back to reality, similar to the way out, the way back will not have the end visible just yet. The sun will be much stronger, and the beach more crowded. Like the feeling of dread when you leave a hotel at the end of vacation, each step towards reality hurts a bit more–or is that the rocks under your feet? That feeling of dread intensifies as you approach the woods and know you have that massive hill to climb. Once you conquer that hill, you can get back in your car and head home. There will likely be long ferry lines, sand in your shoes, and areas where you should have reapplied SPF, but for now, just remember the serenity of walking on this gorgeous Washington coastal beach and let your troubles melt away.
Distance (according to WTA): 11.0 miles (Using Runkeeper, we were at around 10.7 miles)
Elevation (according to WTA): 130 feet (but this is all at once!)
Parking: $3 cash fee or America the Beautiful Pass
Bathrooms: Flushing toilets at trailhead and lighthouse