One Foot In Front of The Other

There is a stretch of beach in Seattle, nearly a mile and a half of inviting Puget Sound waterfront, that, even on the nicest summer days, is almost entirely deserted.

The wide, arcing crescent of sand is like a secret hiding in plain sight, available to all but scarcely used.

The catch: It’s only accessible a few hours a day. Check your tide tables.

Let’s start at Golden Gardens, which, on those sunny weekend days, is bursting with a cross-section of the city’s humanity. Here are sunbathers and swimmers, families under pop-up tents, volleyball players, barbecuers, day drinkers and picnickers. Head to the north end of the park, past the beachfront grove of black locusts, stitched with hammocks and slack lines, over the duck pond bridge, to where the beach appears to dead end at a pile of riprap.

Walk to the north end of Golden Gardens, past the grove of black locusts and its hammocks. (Lena Neufeld)

Mind the ducks. (Lena Neufeld)

But round the corner and keep walking along the shoreline. There’s a great blue heron, and a big block of graffitied concrete. Here are pools and puddles filled with little crabs, some scurrying; some dead, stranded by the tide. Whoops, there’s an abandoned tire.

You are in the city, but not quite. The people and the bustle, like magic, have disappeared. There are still a few, here and there, but you’ll have acres to yourself.

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Time for some logistics? We are walking along the beach, from Golden Gardens to Carkeek Park. The walk is possible only at, or within a couple hours of, low tide. There are two low tides per day, one usually significantly lower than the other. Go with the lower low tide.

Check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website, you’ll feel like a mariner. “No major safety concerns, so feel free to get people out there,” says Joe Smillie, a spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources, which owns most of these tidelands.


Anyway, onward.

The beach unfurls, around little corners and outcroppings and boulders, standing like naked monuments without their high-tide pedestals.

A BNSF freight train goes by on the right. It’s noisy, but not too noisy. On the left, far on the left, are the Olympics.

Here’s some sea glass: garbage, transmogrified through time and tide into charming garbage.

Those with good eyesight can see, far in the distance, the trestle over the railroad tracks connecting Carkeek Park to the beach.

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About halfway there, you’ll encounter more people. They likely have not walked from the two public parks that bookend this stretch of beach, but rather have come through one of two private entrances, kept under lock and key.

These entrances, controlled by the Blue Ridge and North Beach homeowners associations, are guarded by barbed wire fencing and require a key fob to enter or exit.

Maybe you should shake your fist, or at least silently gloat a little, as you pass by. Beaches should be public.

Sandbars emerge and disappear, little transitory isthmuses to walk along.

Sandbars appear and disappear, providing transitory paths. (Lena Neufeld)

There’s another heron, and a dog chasing it off.

Here’s a Dungeness crab, looking very unhappy in a too shallow, too warm tide pool.

A dungeness crab, stranded in a pool that’s too shallow and too warm, is no fan of low tide. (David Gutman / The Seattle Times)

As you approach Carkeek Park, Pipers Creek empties into the Sound, creating an alluvial fan of little streams and trickles and sand formations. Their locations, depths and widths are different every time. You cannot step in the same river twice, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said. Anyway, you might have to take off your shoes.

Climb the stairs to cross the trestle over the railroad tracks.

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A look back from Carkeek Park. Golden Gardens is just around the point. (David Gutman / The Seattle Times)

You’re back in the populated city: picnickers in the meadow, kids on swings, two guys throwing a football, others passing a soccer ball.

Take a hard right and follow the South Bluff trail as it skirts the tracks and climbs some stairs. Turn left when you come to a bench, and then take your first right at the trail intersection. Follow the gravel trail, lined with blackberries and buttercups, until it dead ends at the dead end of Mary Avenue Northwest.

Amble your way back, through the neighborhoods. Go up Mary Avenue, right on Northwest 100th Street, left on 15th. Maybe cut through the playfields next to Marcus Whitman Middle School. There may be a Little League game going on. Stop, watch for a minute, keep ambling.

Your goal is the intersection of Northwest 85th Street and 32nd Avenue Northwest, where a series of staircases through the woods will bring you back to Golden Gardens.

And you’re done. That was a lot of walking, close to five miles. Are you hungry? Little Coney, at the Golden Gardens boat ramp, is a good option. The giant, waving, inflatable hot dog beckons. The hot dogs are big and delicious and, at $4.99, with a park full of people to look at, there are few finer meals in the city.

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