With the extraordinary weather we’ve been having, you’d think I’d be hiking all the time. You’d be wrong. I’ve been chained to a desk the past few weeks dreaming of hikes on the Olympic Peninsula. One of my favorite on the north end of the Peninsula is the hike to the Dungeness Spit lighthouse.
Every hike on the Dungeness Spit is different. Every hike is the same. Weather, tide and time of year make each visit unique but there’s something familiar on every trip.
On my last foray to the Dungeness Spit — one of the world’s longest natural sand spits — I actually made it all the way to the lighthouse. Completing the 5.5-mile one way trek was a first for me, though it was not my first visit to the New Dungeness Light Station (I visited by kayak previously) nor was it my first hike on the spit (but I’d turned back; hiking on sand is surprisingly tiring).
My wife, Mandy, and I missed low tide by about an hour but even with lunch factored in figured to make it back before high tide covered the sandy shore (we took the hike before getting our dog, Dodge; dogs are not allowed on the spit, a National Wildlife Refuge). When the tide is at its highest, th spit is still hikeable but, the return hike can become a miserable scramble through the debris of logs and large stones that cover its crest.
The first half-mile is a pleasant trail through the upland conifer forest. We spotted a pair of seemingly tame deer munching on grass before we reached the pair of overlooks that give a spectacular view of the narrow ribbon of sand that stretches five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The lighthouse was a tiny beacon that looked far, far away … but the most amazing sight was the difference between the roiling gray waters in the strait and the placid waters of the quiet bay and harbor.
T inner shore of the spit is a wildlife refuge for nesting birds, so keep your eye out for birds
Humans often are few and far between, though warm, sunny weekends can pack the first mile of the spit; the further you go the fewer keep pace. After we passed the “shipwreck” — an old blue boat tossed broken upon the spine of the spit about two miles in — we saw only a pair of tracks continuing ahead. Perhaps these were signs of my friends, I thought.
The rhythmic rush of the gray-green sea roiled on the left and I watched the streams of white foam recede after each wave from time to time. Once my ankles were wetted as I lingered too long trying to capture the image on film.
Stones of all sizes and colors — black, white-striped, amber, green and black, gray, rust red — were strewn upon the dark sand. The pebbles were larger the closer one got to the crest. Water-worn logs and root wads provided an infinite variety of shapes and angles to interest the eye. Mile markers provided tangible proof of our progress on the seemingly endless beach.
The sight of half a dozen curious harbor seals bobbing in the surf buoyed our spirits. We spotted a hiker returning from the lighthouse and exchanged a greeting. The tall, white tower was markedly closer and we soon reached it.
The lighthouse grounds make me think I’d entered some kind of alternate reality. In fact, hand-painted driftwood signs announce that fact at the fence surrounding the lighthouse and adjacent keepers’ quarters. The lush green lawn — well tended and manicured — and the bright, white cheeriness of the buildings make the grounds seem almost otherworldly amidst the wild, near-desolate natural surroundings.
Soon after sitting down to our picnic as lighthouse keeper filled us in on some of the recent work that’s gone on in the buildings, such as varnishing the floors in the keepers’ quarters and painting the building exteriors.
We next toured the lighthouse. Did you know you can stare right into the light of the lighthouse? It’s only got like a 100-watt bulb in it, but the focal length of the surrounding glass lamp makes it seem bright from a distance. Up close, it’d be hard to read by.
The incoming tide on the return trip had us hiking higher on the spit than before, though we didn’t have to scramble through the forest of detritus but once or twice. We didn’t encounter other hikers again till we neared the midway point. From my prior experience on the spit, that’s about as far as many Dungeness Spit visitors get. Hiking on sand is much more tiring than solid dirt and 11 miles is a long way to go, sand or not.
By the time we headed off the beach, the tide had rolled in over most of the good walking shore and there were still two more hours left until high tide. If you’re going to try making it all the way to the lighthouse, try timing your hikes so you hike around low tide. It took us less than five hours total, including lunch and checking out the lighthouse.
New Dungeness Lighthouse
How long: 11 miles round trip.
How hard: Moderate.
How to get there: Take Highway 101 west of Sequim. Turn north onto Kitchen-Dick Road to Lotzgesell Road and turn left on Voice of America Road at the Dungeness Recreation Area. Follow the road to its end inside the park. A National Parks Pass, annual refuge pass or family day pass is required to hike the Dungeness Spit.