Tiptoe through the tide pools at Washington state park beaches

Birch Bay Water Search CC FKR GeekGuy

  Look deep into the shallow water — there is almost no end to the wonders you will find in the intertidal zone! Photo by GeekGuy

                                                                                                                                                            July 18, 2017

In the summer time, when the moon, earth and sun are aligned just so, the tides pull back just a little further to reveal a rarely seen world.

These days of extreme minus tides are the perfect time to discover and explore the intertidal world, where a remarkable community of sea life thrives. At the highest of the intertidal zones, crabs of every shape and color scurry among the nooks and crannies. Brittle stars cling to rocks verdant with algae. In the mid zone, moon snail egg casings litter the sand like broken pottery. Tiny geysers erupt from clams buried deep in the sand. At the lowest zone, live the mostly unseen legions—the nudibranchs, sea lettuce and tube worms that spend most of their lives submerged.

In Washington, you’ll find more than 50 state parks with saltwater beaches, from the mouth of the Columbia River, up the coast, in the San Juan Islands and throughout Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

Several state parks have interactive programs happening this summer, so you can learn even more about these magical margins between land and sea! Volunteers from marine education groups, such as Harbor WildWatch, the Seattle Aquarium and Puget Sound Estuarium, will be stationed at many state parks beaches this summer to teach visitors about the wonders of the intertidal zone.

Best of all?

No SCUBA certification is needed!” says Stena Troyer, a Science Specialist with Harbor WildWatch, based out of Gig Harbor.

Obstruction Pass Sea Stars CCFKR Charles Miles

The stars by day, are not just gray ... deep in the heart of tide pools! You'll "sea" a rainbow collection of plants and animals at state park beaches! Photo by Charles Miles

Ready to head for the beach and learn up about low tides? Remember to wear appropriate clothing for the ever-shifting western Washington weather. Keep your toes protected with sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.

Suited up? Got your Discover Pass? Here are just a few programs happening at your state parks!

Meet Beach Naturalists

Presented by: Seattle Aquarium
Where: Dash Point State Park
When:  9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., July 22 I 9:45 a.m. to. 1:45 p.m., July 23 I 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., July 24 I 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., July 25
The skinny: Want to know what sea stars eat? Curious as to why barnacles stand on their heads? Look for signs posted near the beach and beach naturalist volunteers in red hats and tan vests for a fun, free way to learn and enhance your beach visit!

Get Your Feet Wet!

Presented by: Harbor Wildwatch
Where:  Penrose Point State Park
When: 9:30 a.m., July 21 I 12:30 p.m., July 25 I 9 a.m., Aug. 19
Where: Manchester State Park
When: Noon, July 25
The skinny: Come for the knowledge; leave with respect! Learn all about the hardy creatures and plants that live in the intertidal zone. Look for volunteers and naturalists dressed in blue shirts or possibly an orange vest.

Meet the Beach

Presented by: Puget Sound Estuarium
Where: Tolmie State Park
When:  10 a.m. to 1 p.m., July 22 I 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., July 23 I 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 20
The skinny: So you are walking down the beach, and suddenly you find yourself asking, “What is THAT?” Now you’ve got answers! Find the volunteers on the beach with the red hats, bags or vests that say “Beach Naturalist,” and you’ll have a personal guide to answer your questions!

Beach Walk and Low Tide Critter Search

Presented by:  Katharine Sells, beach naturalist
Where: Birch Bay State Park
When:  10 a.m., July 21 I 10 a.m., Aug. 5
The skinny: Not just exploration and education but inspiration! Sells and other naturalists will teach you about the beach,  and share their passion for it as well! Meet at the BP Heron Center.

Image graphic - Travel Tips

 Finn at Kopachuck 2  

So what is the best way to explore the beach? Stena Troyer of Harbor WildWatch says the best beach manners come from being a good GUEST!

G = GENTLE touching. Whether it’s sunscreen or Cheeto dust on your fingers, beach creatures would prefer you rinse that off and use just one wet finger to explore with. If whatever you are examining appears to be stuck, don’t try to pry it off. You might be breaking up some critters happy home!

U = USE your head — to measure rocks! Any rock you turn over on the beach should be no larger than what is between your ears.  Turn gently!

E = EVERYTHING stays. Once you are done exploring under a rock, turn it back over carefully. Leave the beach at the beach. Take away only knowledge, memories, photographs and trash.

S = STEP lightly! The beach is a wet and slippery place and falling on barnacles is…uncomfortable. But moreover you don’t want to miss—or squish—any of the cool critters by running past them too quickly!

T = TAKE your belongings. If you brought it with you, take it home. If you find something that does not belong on the beach, such as trash, take that as well. Leave the beach a cleaner place than you found it.

Learn More
Tolmie long shot CCFKR Caleb White

There's more shore to explore! Summertime tides can hit extreme lows, exposing more of the shore than usual. Beaches like this one at Tolmie State Park are great places to get to know the intricacies of the intertidal world. Photo by Caleb White

Want to know more about tides and the marine life that live in the tide pools and the intertidal zones?

Here are some helpful resources:

Exploring tide pools is just one of the many educational—and fun—activities you can do at Washington state parks. We have a whole summer of programs, concerts, crafts projects and more! Learn more.

Have you explored state parks beaches? What did you discover?
Tell us about it and share your photos on our blog!