Westport Dune Trail

The fires burning across the Pacific Northwest are devastating and tragic. Our favorite camping area and so many beautiful wild places are burning right now and smoke is filling the air for many miles, making hiking difficult to impossible. Our friends and neighbors at home have been posting pictures of cars covered in ash. We may inconvenienced for a while, but those who live in the path of the fire or who are putting their lives on the line to protect homes, hikers, and historic structures are suffering far more. Multiple fundraisers have been started to benefit the volunteer firefighters in these areas, I encourage everyone to donate what they can to these brave people.

We were fortunate to have a vacation to the coast planned for this week and have avoided breathing in the solid ash that has been snowing down at home. The smoke has made an appearance here, but the ocean breeze has kept my Asthma happy. When we go to the coast, we usually visit the town of Westport, WA. We love it here! The town primarily attracts fishers, surfers, and kite fliers. We are none of the above. What we love is the wide sandy beaches, the multiple state parks, the quiet downtown/marina, the summer festivals, and the generally laid back atmosphere.

Almost daily, we walk the paved Dune Trail which runs from the southern end of Westport Light State Park to the Observation Tower at the end of downtown/the marina. Along the way, it passes through State Parks and rolling dunes. Perhaps even better than the views, it is well contained away from the water and perfect for turning that wild child lose.

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The Basics:

The trail can be accessed from four parking areas. The description that follows begins at the southern most access point, Westport Light State Park. Driving north on Montesano St in Westport, take a left at the only stop light in town on to West Ocean Ave. Follow this for one mile, to road’s end, and park in the state park lot on the right. Discover Pass required.

The other access points are from Westhaven State Park (which often fills up on weekends due to the excellent surfing near the jetty, Discover Pass required), the small parking area by the Half Moon Baby Coast Guard tower, and the other terminus at the Observation Tower in town.

Flush bathrooms are available at Westport Light and Westhaven State Parks.

All-Terrain Stroller Options:

The whole trail is paved and almost flat so it is perfect for strollers of all kinds.

Dune Trail:

From the Westport Light State Park parking area, follow the wide paved trail west to a junction on top of the dune crest and follow it as it curves to the right. Straight ahead (the left trail) will take you down to the beach, while not a bad place to go, it is not your destination at the moment. You are quickly greeted by the first two interpretive signs. One warns of the unstable geology of the area and tsunami danger, the other introduces you to the trail in much gentler fashion. Watch for more signs along the trail discussing the jetty, local sea life, and the fishing industry.

If you are walking the trail from April to early July, you will also find a telescope near the start. It is placed on the trail for the spring whale migration but consider yourself lucky if you spot more than fishing boats and sea birds. In seven years, I have never seen a whale here, or anywhere in Washington (cue worlds tiniest violin). The kids won’t mind if no whales come by though. Mine is always thrilled to get to look through a telescope… or even just pretend to. (I don’t think he really gets how to look through one yet.) If it is not migration season, the base of the telescope will still be there for kiddos to climb up and peer down the hollow base wondering what purpose it serves.

Continuing on the trail, it meanders up and down gentle dune hills with views beyond the tall grass to the Pacific Ocean on one side and first the Gray’s Harbor Light Station, later the harbor and Olympic Mountains, on the other. On a really clear day, you can even spot Mt Rainier. Along the way you will pass three wooden overlook platforms where you should take a moment to breathe in the sea air and let the kids run in wild circles within their confines.

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You will also pass by over 25 memorial benches that have been placed by the City of Westport and funded by family and friends of those memorialized. Maybe you can get a more accurate count than us as your kiddo hops on and off of every. Single. Bench. If you are counting, next to the fourth bench is a bush that must be explored. You’ll understand when you see it as it makes an excellent fort or hiding place.

About halfway between the Westport Light State Park trailhead and the Westhaven State Park parking area is the second wooden platform and a conveniently placed bench, water fountain, and dog bag station. The area along this section, past the “Entering State Parks Land” sign, was acquired by the State Parks very recently. Prior to this year, the land was privately owned and slated for development as a golf course and then put up for sale when funding and permits for the project dried up. The entire stretch from Westhaven to Westport Light is actually all one big park now, hooray!

You’ve been watching for birds, right? Besides the usual seagulls and pelicans flying overhead, you are likely to see, and hear, lots of swallows, crowned sparrows, and warblers in the bushes surrounding the trail. You may even hear or see owls in the area. Snowy owls migrate through every few years and other varieties nest in the nearby forest, coming out to feed on mice and small birds in the dune grass. In the evening, deer and banana slugs are usually seen here as well, along with some elusive porcupines.

At around 1.5 miles down the trail, you will reach Westhaven State Park and the mass of surfers that gather here for the waves near the jetty. This makes a great pit stop or turn around point. Flush bathrooms, picnic tables, and even showers are available here. There is beach access, jetty access, and Half Moon Bay access if you want to stop and play.

To continue on the trail, follow the path along the parking area, away from the beach, to the crosswalk across the access road. Cross over and find the trail again. From here it continues along the back side of the dunes of Half Moon Bay, out of the State Park, and towards town for another mile. Along the way, pass more memorial benches, access to the bay, and views out over the town seawall. Beyond the seawall, you can often see seals, sea lions, and cormorants lounging on the rocks and buoys. As you approach the end of the trail, there is a year-round telescope for watching them and the boats coming into the harbor.

At trail’s end, climb the observation tower for 360 degree views of the ocean, harbor, marina, town, and the Olympic Mountains beyond. That gigantic American flag you can see from trail and tower is flying at the Westport Maritime Museum. When the seas are rough, you can also watch the waves crash into the sea wall and feel the sea spray on your face. More telescopes can be found up top, but hold on tight to the kiddos up there!

Pro tip: If you like Geocaching, there are at least three to be found along the trail and one in town. Westport is also a hot spot for finding painted rocks from the Westport Rocks and Gray’s Harbor Rocks groups.

Hazard Warnings:

Watch out for the occasional bicycle if your little one is running free. Bikes are supposed to yield to walkers but it can be hard to see a small child coming over a rise in the dunes.

Exploring Further:

Once you’ve made it to the far end of the trail, wander down through the Westport downtown area/marina. Its only half a mile long, so round trip you’re adding one mile to your walk. One side of the street is lined with shops, restaurants, and charter fishing. The other is the marina full of boats, seals, and sea lions. Watch for the latter swimming in the harbor or laying about on the docks. Be sure to give them plenty of space for their safety and yours. Pro tip: If it is in season, stop by Richard’s House of Donuts for the best donuts ever! For ice cream, visit Surfer Girl for a scoop of your favorite flavor in a waffle cone made on site. Looking for lunch? Bennett’s Fish Shack is the best spot in Westport. Their clam strips are a must.

From town, you can walk (though there is not path) or drive down to the end of Neddie Rose Drive and then out on to docks and up onto a large pier separating the marina from the rest of the harbor.

Half Moon Bay is the cove between the jetty and town. The trail passes by it from Westhaven State Park to the Coast Guard tower. Along the way, there are multiple foot paths over the dunes to its quiet shores. This is a good spot for little ones to play in the water without the undertow of the ocean surf. It is also a good spot for finding shells that don’t survive on the ocean beaches.

The ocean beach itself is wide and sandy with lots of beachcombing opportunities and can be accessed from either state park trailhead. At various times of year you can easily fill bag after bag with sand dollars, and there is always the chance to find agates. You will especially love the ponds that form at low tides and tend to be a bit warmer than the ocean waves themselves. It stretches 18 miles south from the jetty so wander as far as your legs will take you.

Back up W Ocean Ave, you will find the tallest lighthouse in Washington, Gray’s Harbor Light Station which is open for climbing in season.

Reading Further:

If you don’t already have a shelf, or entire bookcase, full of local hiking guides and maps, here are some of my favorites featuring this hike and/or others in the area:

Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula

Moon Olympic Peninsula

National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America

 

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