Constructed in 1857, it seems odd that one of the oldest lighthouses in the Pacific Northwest would be called the New Dungeness Light. However, the New Dungeness name actually comes from the fact that what we now call Dungeness Spit was originally called New Dungeness Spit by Captain George Vancouver, named after Dungeness Point in England.
The structure built at the end of this point was considered vital to guide ships in the dense fog that happens quite frequently in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The lighthouse was originally constructed with a 100 foot tall tower, but in 1927 this was reduced to 63 feet. Some sources blame the deterioration of the structure from nearby artillery at the various nearby military forts. Other sources blame the weather or the 1872 North Cascades Earthquake.
Despite the lighthouse and its warning lights and horns, shipwrecks still happened from time to time on Dungeness Spit. Some research among the various web sites about this lighthouse will tell you of some of those.
Various experiments with modernization were ongoing, and by 1994 it was decided to remove the permanent keeper of the lighthouse.
However, as a historic structure a society was formed and maintenance and ongoing assistance to maintaining the property was started by this non-profit preservation group. Today, the New Dungeness Light Station Association maintains the structure.
Visitors are allowed to spend a week at the lighthouse if they agree to act as lighthouse guides and help in the duties of maintaining and giving tours of the lighthouse.
While many visitors arrive via the 5.5 mile walk along Dungeness Spit from the land entrance, it is also possible to arrive by boat so long as a reservation is made for the use of the dock at the lighthouse.
Several web sites exist about the lighthouse. The one listed below is the web site for the society that helps maintain the lighthouse and provides the volunteers that give tours. There is also:
New Dungeness Light (a Brief History) on the Dungeness Communications Web Site
The trip to the lighthouse is mentioned on the "Recreation" section of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge web site:
While not officially part of the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge, the Dungeness Recreation Area is the property that abuts the refuge directly to the south, and together make up a continuous preserved coastal ecosystem, though the recreational area has had some compromises made to make it primarily a recreational area for people.
Trails in the National Wildlife Refuge are closed to anyone other than those walking. Horseback riding, jogging, bikes and dogs are prohibited on the refuge in order to keep it a refuge for wildlife.
However, the Dungeness Recreational Area trails are open to dogs, jogging, and in some areas horseback riding and mountain bikes.
A trail that runs mostly around the perimeter of the recreational area includes views of the Olympic Mountains on a clear day and views looking west and north into Canada, Vancouver Island, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you bring binoculars you can probably see some bird life down on the water, and even in the summer months it is possible to see loons there sometimes - especially in the morning.
The trail makes a cut through the southern area of the recreational area, which is mostly beach savanna, and has views of the Olympic Mountains on a clear day.
The east side of this outer loop trail goes through some dense forest land, as well as past a pond that is used by hunters during hunting season due to the population of ducks on the pond. This part of the trail is also shared with horses - they are not allowed on the edge of cliff trail due to its instability. White poles are used to indicate what trails are open to use by horses.
Various loops and dead end segments are appended to this basic loop, including links between the outer loop and the campground, the day use picnic area, the wildlife refuge itself, and a second entrance that is walk, bike or horse ride in only in the far southeastern corner of the county park lands.
I have included a map to show the extent of the trail system and how it relates to the park, the campground, and the refuge, and on which trails horses are allowed. These signs with maps are posted in a number of areas on the trail network. The "You are Here" emblem is a red dot.
Until late in 2011, the entrance pavilion for the refuge itself from the county park was a small wooden kiosk that featured only a simple map and the pay station for those paying their fees.
The pay station box and the form for paying the fee is the same as before. They are a National Wildlife Refuge standard. However, today the entrance to the refuge is a more inviting and informative affair with detailed descriptions of the refuge, a sheltered location for people to gather, and a somewhat smaller shelter for the pay station and forms.
I don't know anything about parasurfing, wind surfing, and the various other sports that involve blasting across the water on a small wind driven floating object.
I can tell you that Dungeness Spit has quite a lot of wind, and there are people who participate in this sport in the recreational area that is open to this type of sport (which is not strictly speaking in the refuge, but is located in the adjacent county park).
This part of the County Park system is officially called Dungeness Landing, which is a separate property than the Dungeness Recreation Area.
This small recreation area was transferred to Clallam County Parks from the Port of Port Angeles in 2001.
Dungeness Landing has a boat launch ramp and a bird viewing blind and platform. The boat launch ramp is referred to as a "high water launch" which I believe means that you don't want to launch your boat from here during low tide.
As the branch spit of Dungeness Spit is referred to as "Graveyard Spit", I would highly suggest contacting a local before attempting to wind surf here, as looking at the water from Dungeness Spit seems to indicate there are a number of floating logs in the area.
If you read through the literature, you will wonder just how long Dungeness Spit really is. Some places say it is some 7 miles in length, while others say it is 5.5 miles in length, while others give various other lengths.
The 5.5 mile figure is reasonably close. The 7 mile figure most likely also includes Graveyard Spit, which extends south from Dungeness Spit several miles and almost returns back to land.
At the absolute peak tide, there isn't much space to walk on the beach here. In fact, if you look at the photos, you will notice that the crown of the spit is mostly occupied by very large pieces of driftwood. This would be quite difficult and slow to try to walk around.
You want to walk along the beach here when the tide has started to go down, and there is some actual exposed beach to walk on. The harder the sand (ie, wet) the faster you will be able to walk. While this normally would not be an issue for a beach walk, keep in mind that you have 5.5 miles one way to walk. You don't want to go all the way out to the end of the spit, and then be trapped there because the tide has covered your route back.
You won't be in danger of being washed out to sea, but you will be in danger of having to wait until the tide has gone down enough to provide a walking surface. The driftwood that makes up so much of the spit is OK to explore, but certainly not good for walking some 5.5 miles!
You will not want to come here during any sort of large scale storm, due to the danger of being so close to the water surface. Large waves would certainly be a hazard here!
Even if you don't want to walk all the way out to the lighthouse at the end of the spit, it is still a pleasant walk.
The trailhead is located at the far north end of Dungeness Spit Park, operated by Clallam County Parks. At the north end, this area changes from a county park to a National Wildlife Refuge. Keep going north in the park until you reach the small shed that marks the entrance to the National Wildlife Refuge. You will need to pay a $3 per family fee to enter the refuge. Continue heading north through the forest on the trail. You will then pass the ranger station, and then the trail will start to drop in elevation. It will run westward as it drops, and there is at least one fairly good wooden platform that serves as a viewpoint of Dungeness Spit. At the bottom of this hill, it exists the forest right onto the beach.
Please NOTE There are sections of the spit that are off limits to public access, as they are used by endangered shore birds. Please stay off of these, in order to protect the wildlife of the area. They are clearly marked.
The Dungeness Spit is an ever growing (about 15' or 4.5 m per year) natural wonder. It is the longest natural spit in the united states and it protrudes just over 5 miles (8 km) into the Strait of Juan De Fuca. In some places the spit can be as narrow as 50 feet in high tides. The spit has in several occasions been divided by very high tides as well.
Near the lighthouse at the end of the spit there is a line of pylons that up until this year have been completely covered with sand. Many wondered when they had been put there. Research showed that they were placed there in the 1920's to combat receding sand. They had been covered and remained for over 80 years before the shifting sand again uncovered them.
The formation of a spit requires very specific natural occurrences, wind forces from two conflicting directions and a river pushing the sand away create the perfect conditions for a land formation like this.
The Dungeness Lighthouse lies near the end of the 5+ Mile Spit. It has been in operation since December of 1857. It has been remodeled a few times and is currently 30 feet (9 m) shorter than the original 92 foot (28 m) tower. It was shortened in fears it may collapse when stress fractures formed on the tower.
The Lighthouse has seen its fair share of turmoil. Indian tribes in the area used the land near the lighthouse for battlegrounds several times in its history. The lighthouse also has been threatened by traveling wildfires that occasionally make their way down the spit on the driftwood which is scattered about.
The only ways for the public to tour this lighthouse are by walking the 5.5 miles (8.8 km) from the park or by getting authorization from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to row out from the protected side of the spit.
The Interesting ecosystem that is created behind the spit is called an inner bay tide flat. It creates an ideal environment for many species of birds (appx 250), crabs, and many other types of shellfish.
In 1915 the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge was created to protect the 756 acre area and keep the habitat pristine.
During my visit it was very foggy and difficult to see more than about half a mile in front of me. Even with that limitation i was able to see several types of sealife. Shore birds, ducks, shellfish, and even sea otters which swam along watching us.
OK, everyone will come here and walk the shores or sit on the drift wood and gaze over the waters. Absolutely nothing wrong with that!
However, if you have a taste for something a little more active and do not want to go hiking, grab a shovel and start digging.
The clams in this area are great. And you might even find a Gueduck... one of the strangest of earths creatures. Imagine a clam with a foot larger than your own. They can tunnel under the sand about the same speed that you can run. My dad and I caught two.
Five and a half mile spit, providing habitat to more than 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, and eight species of marine mammals.
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