Dungeness Spit & Salt Creek Recreation Areas
July 20-24, 2015
Clallam County Parks on the Strait of Juan de Fuca
This week we decided it was once again time to get away from the ridiculous heat by zipping up to the north shore of the Olympic Peninsula. It is generally cooler there. This time we decided to stay at two Clallam County parks. First we'd stay at Dungeness Spit Recreation Area for a couple of nights. Then we'd head west of Port Angeles to camp at Salt Creek Recreation Area, one of our favorites from last year. Both parks are lovely.
They are popular campgrounds and sites can be difficult to reserve in advance, but here's a trick. Roughly 1/3 of the campsites in each park cannot be reserved. If you can get a mid-week reservation for one day to ensure you've a place to crash the first night, then the next morning you can grab any empty non-reservable site and stay up to 14 continuous nights. The rangers are also quite flexible about letting you move to a non-reservable site even on your first night. So, if you arrive and find an ideal non-reservable site, you can set up camp there right away, file simple paperwork to transfer your paid reservation to that spot, and then extend your stay to your heart's delight. However, they don't take credit cards on site, so bring cash or check to pay for any additional nights.
Dungeness Recreation Area, July 20-22
We drove through horrendous Monday rush hour traffic in the Tacoma area until we finally reached WA Route 16 toward the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. After we hit Rt 16, things got a lot better. It was a beautiful, though overly warm, afternoon and traffic lightened up considerably. One of the cool things about this bridge is that there's no toll northbound. So if you find another route for your return from the Olympic Peninsula that doesn't involve this bridge, you might be able to avoid the tolls entirely. As it was, when we returned this way they socked us for a $10.00 toll because we were towing Rocinante behind us. A "Good To Go" pass makes the process painless until you log into your account and see the charges.
After beating our way through that awful traffic, we stopped off the Burnham Drive exit into Gig Harbor to refresh ourselves and de-stress a bit. This exit is convenient as long as you go straight through the first traffic circle to Borgen Blvd, then 3/4 of the way around the second circle to head north on 51st, and then turn left into the shopping plaza where there is a very nice Starbucks. From there it's a simple matter to slip out the back exit of the shopping center, dropping right back on Borgen and then back on WA Rt 16 northbound. Just watch those traffic circles! For some reason, WA has fallen totally in love with traffic circles. Having moved out here from NJ where they tore out all the traffic circles nearly 20 years ago, we're quite puzzled by this.
So, at the end of a longer than expected drive to the campground, we arrived around 7:30. Late, but well before the gates close at 10:00pm. Yes, they actually close the gates to the park at 10:00pm. If you're stuck outside, you're not getting in until tomorrow. So be sure to arrive before closing time!
About the campground
There is a dump station on your left just after you enter the park. So if you've been traveling full, this is the perfect place to relieve your RV of it's burden. A little farther into the park, on the right, you'll find a convenient stop where you can fill up on potable water, if you need some. I'm telling you both of these things because Dungeness Spit campground has no hookups whatever. None. Zilch. Nada. Despite this, it's a fantastic place to camp. There is a nice mix of shaded and sunny sites, back in and pull-through locations, and plenty of different sizes. Loop 1 cannot be reserved, while Loop 2 is primarily serviced via the reservation system. Each loop has it's own set of restrooms and showers, which are very clean and in excellent condition. Showers are hot and powerful. They charge $0.25 for each two minutes, so bring your quarters.
Between each loop and the Strait there is a lovely cliff trail that offers amazing views of the Strait and Canada (Vancouver Island) beyond. Access to the trail is easy from each loop.
If you follow the cliff trail east, you can walk right to the Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge. From there, after paying $3.00 or showing your America The Beautiful pass, you can walk down to the spit and, if the tide is right, all the way to the lighthouse 5.5 miles away near the end of the spit. At the right times of year, you can see also see plentiful migratory birds.
We had previously reserved site #35 in Loop 2, but when we arrived we asked the Ranger for suggestions on any great sites in Loop 1. He suggested we take a look at #7, which is a pull-through, and which was empty at that moment. Sure enough, it was available, and we slid right in there, walking back afterward to update our paperwork to reflect the change. All the loops are easily walked, and it's never too far to the bathrooms, should you choose to use them. We had plenty of room and privacy at this site, as well as a nice fire ring and a table.
This is a pleasant little town nearby. Lots of folks like to retire there, as it is in a rain shadow from the Olympic Mountains. In town you'll find a Wal-Mart, a gas-station-equipped Costco, a bakery or two and a few coffee shops, including Hurricane Coffee, which is quite good.
Salt Creek Recreation Area, July 22-24
We had a smooth and uneventful drive from Dungeness to Salt Creek on Wednesday morning. It's an easy trip, with a nice drive through of Port Angeles on the way.
This is a wonderful campground, just like last year. Great RV sites on the bluff, and lots of very nice smaller sites back in the trees. We love it here, and recommend it highly. The RV sites have water and electric hookups, and there's a dump station on the way out.
Cell phone reception here is terrible unless you go to what our friends started calling "4G Point." Walk all the way to Tongue Point and you will find that you have a respectable 4G signal (AT&T) or 3G signal (Verizon). Otherwise, those scheming Canadians across the strait will try to provide your cell phone with international data service. Now if you have T-Mobile and can actually get a signal from Canada, good on ya, mate. Otherwise, you will want to avoid letting your phone sync data via any Canadian towers. Walk on down to 4G point. :)
Stuff to do while camped at Salt Creek
There are lots of opportunities for walking around this park on the various trails. There is also a fun and mysterious WWII bunker that's worthy of exploration. You can even drive your car or ride your bike through one of the bunker's tunnels! One of the trails leads down to the beach that runs along Salt Creek, and this can be lots of fun. We saw people swimming, flying kites, and just hanging out. It's not a super-awesome beach, but it's fun. Just be sure to stay on the park's side of Salt Creek, as the folks next door who own the rest of the beach can be really grouchy if you get on their beach without remembering to pay them first.
Amazing views abound here!
There are at least three points from which you can walk down to tide pools at low tide. Lots of fun, plenty of critters to see! Tongue Point itself is one of the best places from which to do this. Just be sure you pay attention to the tides and don't get caught out farther than you expected, as you could be in for a wet walk back.
The teensy town of Joyce, WA is nearby. For a fun trip, head into town and stop at the Blackberry Cafe for some blackberry pie and a blackberry milkshake. If you're super-hungry, go for the huge Sasquatch burger. There's also a general store in Joyce, perfect if you forgot ingredients for smores! So if you like it here, you can always come back and ReJoyce!
The Lower Elwha Dam used to be on the Elwha river, but it was removed a few years back to open up the river and allow salmon to return. Removing the dam has been a huge success. This is definitely worth a visit, and we recommend you stop by. It's very nearby, after all.