Dungeness Spit hike offers dramatic views of water and mountains, and Chimacum’s bucolic Finnriver Cidery is a perfect spot to wind down.
Editor’s note: What goes better after a Northwest hike than a stop for hand-brewed cider? Watch for more installments in this series, “A Hike and a Happy Hour.” While not every brew stop may host an official Happy Hour, they will always be places you can spend a happy hour. (Remember to designate a driver.)
THE HIKE: Dungeness Spit to New Dungeness Lighthouse
Waves roar against the beach and then retreat in a most-pleasant rhythm for those more used to the cacophony of honking cars.
"A Hike and a Happy Hour" series
The sun, a rare and welcome sight this season, peeks up from behind our Olympic Range backdrop and glistens on the water.
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Before us, a sandy beach stretches beyond imagination. Spring is here — perfect time for a long beach hike along Dungeness Spit, one of the world’s longest sand spits. A vintage lighthouse, more than a century old, awaits at the end.
THE FACILITIES: Parking for about 75 vehicles is available at the trailhead. A Federal Recreational Lands Pass is required or a $3 permit fee, good for groups up to four. Car-camping available at the adjoining Dungeness Recreation Area, a Clallam County Park. At the lighthouse, there is a public restroom and picnic tables. Lighthouse keepers give tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
THE ROUTE: Timing is everything, and should you wish to complete the journey to the New Dungeness Lighthouse along the five-mile sand spit that leads there, you’ll have to pick a day with calm weather and favorable tides.
On a Saturday in mid-March, during our first attempt at the spit, 15-20 mph winds in nearby Sequim translated to hold-your-hat-on-your-head gusts at the blufftops near the spit. We waited a day for better conditions.
Luckily, the rain shadow was on our side. The Olympic Mountains provide a bulwark against southwestern rainstorms, so the area gets quite a bit less precipitation than the rest of the Olympic Peninsula.
Sunday was glorious, with temperatures climbing toward 50 degrees and sunshine that (psychologically, at least) remedied our Vitamin-D-starved systems.
After a gentle, half-mile descent on a wide trail winding through the forest, acres of sand and pebbles are all that stand between you and the New Dungeness Lighthouse, a speck on the horizon 5 miles away.
Sand is never easy for making quick distance, but the waves and the sea breeze quickly lulled us into a comfortable hiking rhythm.
It might have been a different story, however, if we had hiked when high tide encroached on the beach path to the lighthouse. Make sure you check tide tables before setting out, so you don’t have to scramble over rocks and driftwood.
Along the hike, shorebirds bobbing in the waves made for interesting viewing, as did the freighters and yachts on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Arrangements of driftwood, patches of seaweed and the occasional Dungeness crab were fun to observe on land.
The early-morning sun lit up the Olympic Mountains in a cinematic display behind us, before clouds crowded the peaks from our view. But soon enough we had more eye candy, when we arrived at the lighthouse. Kind lighthouse keepers, volunteers who pay for their lodging on weeklong stints, gave us a tour and let us climb to the top to see its rotating beacon.
They regaled us with stories and told of storms that rattled the lighthouse windows.
Julie Bacher, who had served as a lighthouse keeper on 19 different occasions, told of a Coast Guard helicopter rescue she had seen from the lighthouse. Another time, tsunami warnings went out during Japan’s Fukushima disaster and the keepers rushed to the top, waiting for a wave that they didn’t notice — if it came at all.
“I have to come here once or twice a year. It’s the most peaceful place,” said Julie Deaton, of Redmond, Oregon. The accommodations are nice (there’s Wi-Fi, internet and a TV), but that hardly matters, she said. “I need coffee on the porch in the sun looking at the Olympic Mountains. Then, I’m good for another year.”
RESTRICTIONS: Bluff areas are closed to the public, and hikers are only allowed on the northwest side of the spit. Because the area is a wildlife refuge, pets are not allowed. Frisbees, balls and fires are also prohibited.
DIRECTIONS: A typical drive to the trailhead from Seattle will take at least 2 hours and 20 minutes. Take a ferry (instead of driving through Tacoma) for a scenic route and a cup of coffee.
From Seattle’s Colman Dock catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island. Follow Highway 305 to Poulsbo, then merge onto Highway 3 north toward the Hood Canal Bridge and Highway 104. Next head north on Highway 101, which will soon bear west, passing through Sequim. Turn north on Kitchen-Dick Road, east on Lotzgesell Road, then north on Voice of America Road to the trailhead.
ON THE WAY HOME
Grab a cider and snacks
Finnriver Farm and Cidery, 124 Center Road, Chimacum, Jefferson County; finnriver.com/cidery/tasting-room
A farmstead and cidery in the Olympic foothills that produces tasty hard cider and showcases sustainable agriculture. It’s one-part family fun, one-part booze and one-part granola (in a good way).
It’s a pleasant stop with both indoor and outdoor space to sit and enjoy a drink. Visit farm animals, including fluffy goats, in their nearby pasture on the 50-acre patch of land.
The aim was to make Finnriver a “community gathering place” for Peninsula locals and wandering travelers looking for slow-paced relaxation, said Crystie Kisler, part-owner of Finnriver.
“It’s nice to give people a taste of country life,” Kisler said. “People come out and drink a little cider and take a breath of fresh air and feel a connection back to agriculture.”
Finnriver sources apples and other fruit from throughout Washington state and produces inventive, unique ciders, including pear and dry-hopped varieties.
On Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, a food truck serving crepes is available.
Saturdays, 2-7 p.m., the cidery offers brats-on-a-bun ($7.50) or a plate dinner featuring locally produced sausage and other local foods; $12.50.
Open noon-6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Sunday hours extend to 9 p.m. after Memorial Day.