Tap into tidepools at Washington state parks

Carly Vester at Kopachuck with moon snail

Carly Vester of Harbor Wildwatch shows off a moon snail she found at Kopachuck State Park.

July 10, 2019

The best thing about a walk along the beach is that it is always changing with the tide.

“You could walk the same stretch of shore a thousand times, and each time you will see something new,” says Rachel Easton, education director of Harbor Wildwatch, a Gig Harbor-based non profit dedicated to marine stewardship and education.

That’s especially true in June and July, when the angle of the earth and sun pull back the tides — sometimes as low as minus 3 feet — exposing the lesser-seen wonders at the margins of land and sea.

“Every beach is different and even through time they are different,” Rachel says. “You just never know what you will see, and that’s what makes it fun and exciting.”

Summer is the perfect time to explore tidepools at your Puget Sound-region state parks, where Harbor Wildwatch, the Seattle Aquarium, Puget Sound Estuarium, parks staff and volunteers are offering a bevy of fun, educational and free beach walks showcasing the wonders of the intertidal zone.

A helmet crab at Penrose Point State Park

On a beach walk you can get up close and personal with incredible sea creatures like this helmet crab found at Penrose Point State Park. 

Extreme minus tides mean more to discover!

At the highest of the intertidal zones, witness crabs of every shape and color scurry among the nooks and crannies. Discover brittle stars clinging to rocks verdant with algae. In the mid zone, ponder over moon snail egg casings littering the sand like broken pottery. Tread lightly when the tide reaches the lowest zone, and the gaze up on the mostly unseen legions of nudibranchs, sea lettuce and tube worms.

Beach walks are a great way for kids of all ages to bond with these wild and wonderful places, and that encourages better stewardship, Rachel says.

“I want visitors to love the beach the way that I love the beach,” Rachel says. “People will want to take better care of things they have a genuine connection with.”

Penrose Point State Park at low tide

How low can it go? At this time of year tides can sometimes pull back as much as 3 feet! And that means you get to see the creatures that live at the farthest reaches of beaches, such as this low tide at Penrose Point State Park.

Ready to make contact?

Follow these links to plan your state park tidepool experience today. The programs are free, but you will need a Discover Pass to park.

Low Tide Beach Walks with Harbor Wildwatch 
Where: Kopachuck, Penrose Point, Joemma Beach and Manchester, and Belfair (new this year) state parks
The skinny: Biologists and volunteer naturalists lead you on an hour-plus exploration of the unique inhabitants of the intertidal zone. Walks are free and suitable for all ages. Dress for the weather, and wear closed-toe shoes you can get wet.

Meet the Beach with Puget Sound Estuarium
Where: Tolmie State Park
The skinny: Look for the green vests and hats. Puget Sound Estuarium volunteers will be at Tolmie (and other South Sound beaches) throughout the summer. Stop by to say hi and slake your curiosity about all things beachy. This is a great beach to find moon snail casings.

Beach Naturalist Program with Seattle Aquarium
Where: Saltwater, Dash Point and Blake Island state parks
The skinny: Join volunteer beach naturalists eager to share their knowledge with you. These folks know their beaches and can show you how to enjoy the marvels of the shoreline habitat without harming it.

Low Tide Beach Walks with Cama Beach Foundation
Where: Cama Beach Historical State Park
The skinny: Explore the intertidal zone with a Cama Beach Foundation guide. Volunteers will throw out a net to collect sea creatures and bring them up (temporarily) to an aquarium on the seawall. You can observe the creatures up close before they are released back into the water.


Image graphic - Travel Tips

 Finn at Kopachuck 2  

What is the best way to explore the beach? 

Stena Troyer, Harbor WildWatch science specialist, says the best beach manners come from being a good GUEST!

G = GENTLE touching. And clean fingers please! Beach creatures would prefer you use just one wet, well-rinsed finger to explore with. If whatever you are examining appears to be stuck, don’t try to pry it off.

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.

S = STEP lightly! The beach is a wet and slippery place and falling on barnacles is…uncomfortable. You also 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, be awesome and take that as well.

Explore gently, like this boy examining a purple shore crab at Kopachuck State Park.

Learn More
Rachel Easton at Manchester with moon snail

Gain a deeper understanding beaches and their creatures by taking a walk with knowledgeable guides such as Rachel Easton (above) of Harbor Wildwatch.

We strongly recommend you become familiar with tide tables and how they work. That way, when you want to go on your own low-tide adventure, you’ll be able to plan ahead! You can buy tide books at hardware, fishing supply and other stores. Or, you can download free apps, such as “Tides Near Me.”

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 at our events calendar.

What did you discover at a Washington state park?
Tell us about it, and share your photos on our blog!