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Discovering the Charm of Dungeness Spit: A Guide to Exploring a Coastal Gem

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Explore Dungeness Spit: a captivating sand spit stretching 5 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Discover its unique ecosystem, visit the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, and see the historic Dungeness Lighthouse in this comprehensive guide.

Nestled along the rugged coastline of Washington State, just north of Olympic National Park, lies a natural wonder waiting to be explored: Dungeness Spit. This unique sand spit, stretching over five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, offers visitors a captivating journey through coastal wilderness, culminating in the historic Dungeness Lighthouse. Located near Sequim, in the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness Spit is easily accessible and provides an unforgettable outdoor adventure. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the allure of Dungeness Spit, how to visit, the fascinating ecosystem of sand spits, the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, and the iconic Dungeness Lighthouse.

Understanding Dungeness Spit and Sand Spits

Before embarking on your adventure to Dungeness Spit, it’s essential to understand what makes this geological formation so unique. A sand spit is a narrow, elongated landform that extends from the mainland into a body of water, typically formed by the deposition of sand carried by longshore drift currents. Over time, these spits can grow and change shape, influenced by the forces of wind, waves, and tides.

Dungeness Spit is one of the longest and most prominent sand spits in the United States, stretching approximately five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Its narrow strip of land is bordered by the waters of Dungeness Bay to the south and the strait to the north, creating a dynamic coastal ecosystem teeming with wildlife and natural beauty.

Exploring the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

Dungeness Spit is part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area established to preserve and protect the unique coastal habitat and diverse array of plant and animal species found in the region. The refuge encompasses not only the spit itself but also surrounding marshes, tideflats, and upland forests, providing critical habitat for migratory birds, marine mammals, and other wildlife.

Visitors to the refuge can explore a network of trails and viewpoints, offering opportunities for birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and photography. Keep an eye out for resident and migratory bird species such as bald eagles, shorebirds, and waterfowl, as well as seals, sea lions, and even occasional sightings of orcas and gray whales offshore.

Scenic view of Dungeness Spit, the longest sand spit in the USA.

Journey to the Dungeness Lighthouse

The highlight of any visit to Dungeness Spit is the journey to the historic Dungeness Lighthouse, located at the tip of the sand spit. Accessible via a scenic hike along the narrow trail that traverses the length of the spit, the lighthouse stands as a beacon of maritime history and coastal heritage.

The hike to the Dungeness Lighthouse is approximately 10 miles round trip, offering a leisurely stroll through coastal dunes, grasslands, and sandy beaches. Along the way, hikers are treated to panoramic views of the strait, the Olympic Mountains, and the surrounding wilderness, providing ample opportunities for rest, reflection, and appreciation of the natural beauty that surrounds them.

The Dungeness Spit in Sequim, Washington has been home to the New Dungeness Lighthouse since its construction in 1857. Its role was to guide ships navigating the Strait of Juan de Fuca, connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Puget Sound.

Initially built with brick and stucco, the lighthouse tower stood at 63 feet tall and featured a fourth-order Fresnel lens emitting a constant white light that could be seen up to 17 miles away. A keeper and their assistants resided in a nearby duplex to maintain its operations.

In 1927, automation replaced human labor and rendered the keeper’s presence unnecessary. The lighthouse continued as an automated navigational aid until 1994 when it was leased to the New Dungeness Light Station Association.

Today, the New Dungeness Lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction offering guided tours and overnight accommodations in the keeper’s quarters. While serving as a historical landmark, it also remains an active aid to navigation with its light visible for up to 17 miles.

The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge offers a prime opportunity to observe and study waterfowl and seabirds on the coast. Its natural spit sands are some of the longest in the world, making for a lengthy walk. However, it’s certainly worth spending a nice day exploring this unique landscape. The best part is that you can turn back at any point along the way; there are no major landmarks that you’ll miss if you don’t make it to the end. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see.

The beach is a fascinating blend of fine sand and large cobbles, with a variety of colors and compositions to keep things interesting. And you may come across cairns built by other visitors, seemingly just for fun. Keep your guidebook handy to help identify the multitude of seabirds and waterfowl that find shelter in Dungeness Bay and the surrounding refuge.

Dungeness Spit Lighthouse on largest sandspit in US which is wildlife refuge near Sequim, Washington.

Practical Tips for Visiting Dungeness Spit

Before setting out on your journey to Dungeness Spit, here are a few practical tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:

Check tide schedules: The hike to the Dungeness Lighthouse is best undertaken at low tide when more of the spit is exposed and easier to traverse. Be sure to check tide schedules before your visit and plan accordingly.

Pack essentials: Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing for hiking in coastal conditions. Binoculars and a camera are also recommended for wildlife viewing and photography.

Respect wildlife and habitat: Stay on designated trails, keep a safe distance from wildlife, and refrain from disturbing nesting birds or other sensitive habitats.

Leave no trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash and minimizing your impact on the environment.


Dungeness Spit is a true coastal gem, offering visitors a glimpse into the natural beauty and ecological richness of Olympic National Park’s coastal wilderness. Whether you’re embarking on a leisurely hike to the Dungeness Lighthouse, exploring the diverse habitats of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, or simply taking in the sights and sounds of the strait, a visit to Dungeness Spit promises an unforgettable experience. So lace up your hiking boots, pack your camera, and prepare to be enchanted by the timeless allure of this remarkable coastal landscape.

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