Studies demonstrate that RVing is one of the most cost-efficient ways for a family to vacation. However, in these challenging economic times even RVers may need to economize a little more. For starters, you can use less fuel by staying closer to home, camping longer in one place and finding an attraction that won’t cost your family a fortune to enjoy.
If you live in Western Washington, the Dungeness Spit area, which includes the Dungeness Spit Recreation Area and the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Refuge, is a very economical and enjoyable place to park your RV for a few days.
Dungeness Spit is northwest of Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and takes full advantage of the rain shadow cast by the Olympic Mountains, receiving only about 18 inches of rain a year.
The Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the United States. The spit receives most of the attention, but there is a lot more to discover during your stay in this area.
To help plan your RV adventure I will break it down by its two parts: the Dungeness Recreation Area, which is managed by Clallam County, and the wildlife refuge, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dungeness Recreation Area
Start by obtaining an RV site in the Dungeness Recreation Area campground operated by Clallam County Parks. You can reserve in advance or claim one of the first come, first served sites in the park. Reservations are recommended on holiday weekends. Most of the sites are well-graded, graveled locations that can accommodate the longest of RVs. The sites don’t have hookups, so arrive with your fresh water tank full, holding tanks empty and battery charged. In the park you can hike and picnic along the bluffs on the north side, watch ships navigate the shipping lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and on clear days, you will have a view of Mt. Baker and Victoria, British Columbia.
The park offers miles of hiking trails, horse trails, reservable picnic shelters, group camping and a 100-acre upland bird-hunting area. If you include geocaching as part of your RVing adventures, there are several caches to search for in the park. Be sure to walk some of the outlying foot trails. Bring your bicycle too, as the foot and horse trails are suitable for two wheels. A ride around the campground loops in the evening is a great way to work off some dinner. Keep an eye out as you hike and bike—deer abound in the fields throughout the park and an observant person is sure to spot one or two.
If you are a bird hunter, the hunting area is open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays during the general hunting season.
If you are a bird watcher, head to the wildlife refuge.
The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
The 631-acre wildlife refuge includes Dungeness Spit, Graveyard Spit, portions of Dungeness Bay and Dungeness Harbor. Dungeness Spit is five and a half miles long and extremely narrow. The narrowest portion measures only 50 feet wide. On occasion, during stormy high tides, breaches occur. At the far end of the spit is the Dungeness Lighthouse, which is a destination for many who visit the refuge.
Most of the wildlife refuge is on the two sand spits, which are characterized by sand and rock cobble beaches surrounded by gooey mudflats and eelgrass beds. If you like to shell fish, limited portions of the Dungeness Spit are open to shell fishing. There are also two tidal ponds, a large one at the junction of the two spits and a lesser one about a half-mile east of Graveyard Spit on the bay side of Dungeness Spit. Graveyard Spit is closed to the public and set aside as a Research Natural Area because of its unique vegetation. On your walk you will know you are getting close by the sound of the hundreds of birds that inhabit the area.
In addition to more than 250 bird species, the Dungeness wildlife refuge provides habitat for other animals too. Over 40 species of land mammals, and eight species of marine mammals have been recorded in the refuge. Some of the species are endangered or threatened, and the refuge is an essential stop for many birds during migration.
Plan on spending the better part of a day exploring the Dungeness Spit and lighthouse. The trailhead is an easy walk from the campground. You will need to pay an entrance fee of $3 for your group.
From the trailhead, the trail meanders through the woods toward the bluffs. When you get to the bluffs, this is where things come into perspective. From an observation area on the bluffs, the spit lies before you, with the lighthouse resembling just a bump on the horizon. Take a moment to absorb what lies in front of you, because you will soon be entering another world.
The trail now starts down toward the spit passing informational displays and benches on the way. Shortly you will step off the trail and onto the spit. If you get an early start from the campground you will very likely find deer walking on or near the base of the spit. If you start late, you will likely find many people already on the spit, but as you head for the lighthouse the crowds will quickly thin out. Soon it will just be you, the sand, and the endless driftwood. For the first few miles the scenery seems to be unchanging. Toward the three-mile mark, the spit begins to turn south and the bluffs vanish behind you.
Keep going, you’re over half way there! Out here is where you will find the wildlife. Watch for birds, especially eagles, to the south and seals on the north. Also, the lighthouse is now distinguishable at the end of the spit, calling you to finish your journey.
The lighthouse, 4.5 miles from the bluffs and just over five miles from the campground, is a treat in itself. The lighthouse has been continuously staffed since 1994 by volunteers from the New Dungeness Light Station Association. The organization’s members serve one-week tours of duty at their own expense. You can find information about membership at www.newdungenesslighthouse.com. An advantage of volunteering is that you and your week’s worth of supplies are driven to the lighthouse in a stout four-wheel-drive rig.
While at the lighthouse, be sure and climb the 74 steps to the top. From there, you will have a bird’s-eye view of the distance you just walked. The lighthouse grounds are well kept, feature picnic tables for the lunch you packed, and thankfully a restroom with nearby tap water to refill your water bottles for the return trip.
Next time you’re in the area, be sure and camp at the Dungeness Spit for a weekend or a week. You’ll find plenty to do and burn some calories walking the spit, while your RV burns only a little propane keeping the fridge cold! It’s a cost-effective way to spend some time enjoying the RV lifestyle with your family in these challenging economic times.
Dave Helgeson and his wife promote RV and manufactured home shows in western Washington. They spend their free time traveling and enjoying the RV lifestyle.
IF YOU GO:
Getting there: From Highway 101, between Sequim and Port Angeles, turn north onto Kitchen-Dick Road (near milepost 260). Travel approximately 3-1/2 miles to the park entrance.
Camping: The campground is open from February 1 through September 30. There are 64 campsites. The camp area is in a forested portion of the park, arranged in two loops. There are two handicapped accessible campsites. Rest rooms with coin-operated showers are available. There is no charge for campers to use the dump station. Firewood bundles are available for purchase. Water faucets are scattered throughout the park. There are no utility hookups at the campsites. The park gate is closed at dusk and is managed by a resident park manager who lives on site year-round. Campers leaving the park should plan to return before the posted gate closure (exceptions made for the Fourth of July). Rates are $16 per night for Clallam County residents, $18 for others.
For information: Campground information is available by phoning (360) 683-5847 or visiting www.clallam.net/County-Parks/html/parks_dungeness.htm . For information on the wildlife refuge, visit www.fws.gov/washingtonmaritime/dungeness .
Tips For Your Journey on the Spit:
You will need plenty of water (refills available at the lighthouse), sun block and sunglasses. You should carry some snacks, or, for a more leisurely walk, pack a lunch.
Rest rooms are available at the lighthouse.
The hike is easiest at low tide. The sand is wet and you can usually find a good strip of beach for walking. The route is passable at high tide, but dry sand will wear you down faster and you may have to scramble over driftwood.