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Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Dungeness Spit

Dungeness Spit is a strip of sand and gravel that provides such a quiet respite and an amazing contrast to the world’s largest ocean often roaring just outside it. I don’t know what I liked the best…the beautiful scenery, relaxed paddling, the calling birds, the seals or the lighthouse with its nice keepers! But I do know that I won’t wait 20 years to go back! Photo credit: Terry Jaret

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • TIDES/CURRENTS: DUNGENESS BAY: 7.5 @ 0949 / 6.2 @ 1518  NO CURRENTS



This trip was originally planned as a Diablo Lake overnight on 10/01/22 but was postponed because of the North Cascades fires and smoke.  The conditions have continued and so I changed the venue to be on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The third paddler still dropped due to the bad air quality.  On Friday 10/14/22 I stopped first at the Sequim Bay Campsite.  It is on the west side of the bay which felt dark and a little chilly and I decided it would definitely be a backup plan only.  I continued on to the sunnier campground at the Dungeness Recreation Area arriving early around 1 p.m.  After some discussion with a friendly ranger I settled on campground #9.  The ranger confirmed that although the State Park websites run on a different system it is most likely a programming error that says that no camping is available. All of the sites in the first loop were available and at least half of them taken by Sunday morning.  However there were only two other sites used with tents; the rest were all RVs with their grumbling generators and small yapping dogs.  Terry joined me a couple of hours later after I had set up my hammock.  The bill for 2 nights for one site with two cars came to $62, cash or check. A burn ban was on.


At almost seven miles long Dungeness Spit is one of the longest natural sand spits in the world providing a resting and nesting place for over 250 species of birds and 41 species of land mammals (source: Wikipedia). Graveyard Spit connects with it about halfway along its southern side forming a kind of lopsided “T” with Dungeness Harbor to the west and Dungeness Bay to the east. Much of the water area and the 5.5 sm trail on the north side of the spit is open year round for hiking, boating and fishing. Hiking, clamming and boating is allowed in limited areas from May 15 though Sep 30.  All of the land and boating boundaries are clearly marked. 


There was a trail close to our campsite that took us a scenic ½ mile east to the small parking lot at the park’s entrance.  Another smiling ranger informed us that this is a federal park so state issued permits like the Discover Pass are not required. Instead all visitors are required to pay $3.00 for a permit at the kiosk to enter the park and may walk any or all the trail up to and including the lighthouse.  There was less than two hours of daylight left however and he told us to go ahead in spite of our not having any money with us. (We paid the next day).  We walked the well maintained trail down to a viewing platform where I stayed and chatted with some other visitors while Terry went down to the spit. In spite of the haze we didn’t need the provided spyglasses to see west to Sooke, Race Rocks light and Victoria in Canada, a bit of the San Juans to the north and Whidby Island past the now blinking lighthouse to the east.


Terry came back shortly and we headed back to our campsite for dinner.  There was a two sided clean up station next to the well lighted and fully functioning bathrooms that was greatly appreciated when it was time to do our dishes!  The facilities also offer hot showers when you buy a token.


The next morning we left the concrete boat launch after using the clean and stocked Sanican facility at Cline Spit about 0915.  There is parking for at least a dozen rigs in the marked areas and more on the road approaching the spit.  We headed west down the quiet and almost completely still water along the south side.  There were a few houses until we reached the tiny bay in front of the viewing area from the night before with signs posted that we couldn’t go any further. We noticed what must be a bird watching shelter just prior to reaching the mouth of the little bay.  All boaters must have a reservation to land at the lighthouse boat landing zone.  We pulled up on the soggy shore so I could call 360.457.8451 to leave my name, number of boats and a cell phone number on a recording.  There is no actual paper or return call needed.


After a quick snack we headed back out to then stay clear of the signs and head east to the now clearly visible lighthouse.  It has been about 20 years since either one of us have paddled this area and I was pleased to see that not much has changed. While we saw numerous birds and a few seals in the water there didn’t look like there was anything nesting yet and there were no seals hauled out on the beaches.


It was about 1115 and we were the only boaters between the markers in front of the battered sign announcing the landing zone.  We hauled our boats up under the gaze of a man and woman by a large storage building next to the lighthouse.  It turned out that they arrived about 9 pm on Friday to take over this week’s lighthouse keeping duties.  The Association is made up of a group of volunteers that stay in the beautiful  keeper’s house to take care of the lighthouse and the grounds  and be docents for the free tours into the lighthouse itself.  (But not the house!)  A 24 hour tide dependent ATV shuttles them back and forth from the mainland. More information about the Association and the station can be found at https://newdungenesslighthouse.com/


Up to four visitors at a time follow a mandatory keeper up the 52 step circular concrete staircase up to the viewing station.  There are a couple of places to pause along the way to look at pictures, out of a window or a collection of stuff in a small room.  We were greeted by another helpful volunteer at the top in the circular glass room that could hold about 6 people. In the center of the room was a pedestal about 4 feet tall with the light mounted on the top.  The original larger Fresnel lens has been replaced by a smaller opaque multisided lens that continuously revolves around what looks almost like a ordinary light bulb in the center.  The whole thing fits in a round glass container the size of a drum!  The top of it is just over six feet. My face was six inches away from the light that can be seen flashing every 5 seconds 678 feet above the water up to 18 miles away!   Only the keepers are allowed on the outer deck.  The view from the lighthouse tower is impressive and I was shocked to see how much the spit actually zigs and zags much more than it appears on my chart!  In spite of the haze it wasn’t necessary to turn on the fog horn which was probably a mercy. But even in that milky sunshine the small room was heating up and making me think what a real cooker it is on a hot day!  It was a bit of a relief to head back down the stairs in the immediately cooler tower.


The station’s water is supplied by an artesian well.  After using the nice bathroom (septic tank) Terry and I had our lunch at one of the picnic tables in the compound next to the flag.  The flag wasn’t doing much which was a real contrast to the last time I was here.  We walked to the northern beach to view what we could before finally returning to our boats. 


We headed out at 1215 and decided to go on around the point.  There were tons of screeching birds—mostly gulls—and harbor seals hauled out on the beach.  We were careful to stay quite a distance away from the shore but some still insisted on getting in the water anyway.  We then headed back into the bay.  The haze was making it a little difficult to see the southern shore. We kept to the middle of the channel and it was amazing to see even though we were about halfway through the flood cycle we could still clearly see the bottom!   I could literally see why the New Dungeness Spit was the first lighthouse to be built in the Strait. It must have been terrifying for a ship to hit that long strip rising up out of the dark more than a mile away from the closest shore!


Throughout our paddle we saw boats of all kinds with people fishing and handling nets.  Even though we could see our cars we still had to go out and around Cline Spit before we could head along the shore to find the water line more or less where we had left it, arriving about 1400. Since the launch was right next to our cars it didn’t take long to get everything loaded up.  We changed our clothes and then headed back to our campsite with plenty of time to relax in the warm sunshine well before dinner.


Dungeness Spit reminds me of places in my BC Canada trips where a strip of sand and gravel provides such a quiet respite and an amazing contrast to the world’s largest ocean often roaring just outside it. It underscores just how vital it is for the birds and animals that breed and rest here. It would also make just about the best student paddle that I can think of in all but the worst windy conditions.  I don’t know what I liked the best…the beautiful scenery, relaxed paddling, the calling birds, the seals or the lighthouse with its nice keepers!  But I do know that I won’t wait 20 years to go back!


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Diane Doss
Diane Doss says:
Sep 01, 2023 08:45 PM

The bulk of this trip report covers what's commonly called Dungeness Bay. It's in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, northwest of Sequim Bay, and exposed to strong westerlies. The Dungeness Recreation Area, campground, and Cline Spit are managed by Clallam County Parks. Dungeness Spit, Graveyard Spit, much of Dungeness Harbor, and part of the bay are protected within the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The NWR has restrictions on human access during much of the year. A refuge map, regulations, and additional info are here: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/dungeness/visit-us