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Tide Pooling with Kids

WTA talks tide pool etiquette, provides tide information and suggests where to find the best tide pooling beaches in Washington.

Tide pooling offers an excellent way to get the kids outside and turn them into budding marine biologists. If you live near the coast or Puget Sound, you don't need to travel far; city parks offer some of the best tide pooling around.

But if you live elsewhere or crave a little more adventure, there are a number of places farther afield to visit.

Be sure to outfit your kids with waterproof boots and consider gardening gloves if you are exploring an area with barnacles. Bring a marine field guide to help you identify what you find and a camera to carry your memories back home again. And don't forget the sunscreen!

Plan your trip by consulting NOAA's Tide Predictor online or by carrying a tide table (especially when exploring the Pacific Coast where you could become trapped by a returning tide). U.S. Harbors also has a handy map that lets you click on a location closest to where you're going. (Click on "monthly tide chart" for a quick overview. Lower numbers equal a lower tide.) For best viewing, time your visit for an hour before low tide. That will let you follow the tide out for a bit before the water starts to rise again. 

Because the tide pool environment is so fragile, kids should be old enough to follow directions and be careful about the sea creatures under their feet. Set clear expectations and be a good role model.

While beachcombing and collecting may have been one of your treasured childhood memories, the culture has changed as biologists have witnessed the effect of these actions on the intertidal marine environment. Please do not take home shells or animals; they are all integral components of the ecosystem.

Puget Sound

Deception Pass State Park

Location: Anacortes area
Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 350 feet

Deception Pass.jpegLooking over the Puget Sound. Photo by lpick10.

Rosario Head at Deception Pass State Park offers an ideal tide pool hike for families. The tide pools are a short walk across the picnic grounds from the parking lot. They are full of a variety of  sea life - sea stars, urchins, anemones, small fish and crabs and more - and will delight children. Note the blue rope strung across the rocks. Because this area is so popular, park officials ask that you follow this route, sticking close to it, to prevent further damage to the tide pools.

When you're through with the pools, hike in a clockwise circuit around Rosario Head. The short hike will reveal views across Sharpe Cove and Bowman Bay to Whidbey Island and out to the Rosario Strait and beyond. You'll end up on a high bluff above the water - a perfect place to sit and have a snack before returning.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

Iceberg Point

Location: San Juan Islands
Mileage: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 50 feet

Icerberg Point by jamestm.jpegIceberg Point. Photo byjamestm.

A short loop hike to rock cliffs, with fantastic views out towards the Olympic Peninsula, and back toward other parts of Lopez. It is suitable for children, dogs on leash, and folks of all ages.

Highlights include gnarled, contorted trees for climbing, a warning light for ships on the rocks, views from the cliffs out to the Olympics, and some history. Iceberg Point used to be a reef net site, and locals could drive up to the site, and get fish off the boats right off shore.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

Pacific Coast

Rialto Beach

Location: Olympic Peninsula - Northern Coast
Mileage: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: minimal

Rialto Beach by schmerica79.jpegSea stacks along Rialto Beach. Photo by schmerica79.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary within Olympic National Park offers some of the best intertidal marine environments on the entire Pacific Coast. Because the coast is so rocky, most of the beaches offer excellent tide pooling. Rialto Beach is consider by many to be the finest.

Hike north on the beach about two miles to the far side of Hole-in-the-Wall, the area's most iconic rock formation. On minus tide days, walk though the arch and explore the numerous tidepools on the other side. When the rainbow colored sea stars become too numerous to count, start looking for the smaller creatures: limpets, chitons, snails.

Always keep your eye on the tide and the waves, or you may be drenched or trapped until the next low tide. Park officials stress not to cross through Hole-in-the-Wall when the tide begins to cover the floor of the arch.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

Griffiths-Priday State Park - Copalis River Spit

Location: Southwest Washington - Long Beach area
Mileage: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 40 feet

Copalis Spit by naturegirlangie.jpegGriffiths-Priday State Park - Copalis River Spit. Photo by naturegirlangie.

On a stretch of Washington coast known for its beach-driving, Griffiths-Priday State Park is a welcome respite for walkers. The natural spit features low sand dunes that are protected as a wildlife refuge bordered by Conner Creek on one side and the Copalis River on the other.

The dunes and beach are equal attractions here. Walk to the far side of the picnic area and find the trail beyond the tables. You'll soon pick up the wide trail alongside Conner Creek through the grassy dunes. Enjoy this mile-long walk. Look for bald eagles and other shorebirds here and enjoy the views of Copalis Beach and the ocean from various perches on the dunes.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

Strait of Juan de Fuca

Striped Peak - Salt Creek Recreation Area

Location: Olympic Peninsula - Northern Coast
Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 850 feet

Striped Peak by parisrobin.jpegStriped Peak. Photo by parisrobin.

Because it is within a county park, the Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Strait of Juan de Fuca may be one of the state's most overlooked gems for both camping and exploring. It's an ideal tide pool environment where rocky bluffs and rocks meet sand.

Visit the Tongue Point Marine Sanctuary, a protected intertidal marine area, at low tide (at high tide this area is under water). Here you'll see sea stars, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, crabs, and much more.

Stay for the weekend by camping in one of the 90 sites and spending time exploring the other beaches, the WWII military remains and take a trip over to Olympic National Park's Lake Crescent.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

Ruby Beach

Location: Olympic Peninsula - Pacific Coast
Mileage: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation gain: 60 feet

A stretch of beach with small waves crashing and a big haystack rock in the distance. Photo by egorup04.
Imagine all the wonders where the water meets the land at Ruby Beach. Photo by egorup04. 

Ruby Beach offers miles of exploration along the coast. Visitors can head north to see where the Hoh River empties into the ocean or south to Destruction Point. In between you will pass sea stacks, find tangles of driftwood and visit with sea creatures in the pools left behind from the receding tide. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 

In & Around Town

Can't get out of town? Closer in locations like state, city, and county parks are right on the beach. Use our Hiking Guide to find one near you!