When you tell your friends that you just had a great camping weekend at a beach halfway between Tacoma and Seattle, you're sure to get some looks of confusion. The boom of jobs and construction in the area has brought more attention to commute times than parks and beaches. Lucky for you, that will often mean less visitors to compete with and more evening sunsets to yourself.
Saltwater State Park, located in Des Moines, WA, was established in 1926, long before the construction cranes filled the Seattle skyline. The hiking trails, small bridges and several park buildings were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
Saltwater State Park is eighty-six acres of densely forested second-growth right against the Puget Sound and 1445 feet of sandy shorefont with a paved path, lots of grassy areas and picnic tables, restrooms and a sand volleyball court. McSorley Creek winds through the entire park, and the upper end near the camping area is explored by several woodsy hiking trails.
The park hosts a campground open May-Sept. each year which is mostly for tents and car campers, but some larger sites exist for trailers and RVs. There are showers and a dump station, but no hook-ups at the campsites.
The main draws are the large day use area at the beach and the special world that lies underwater just offshore. An artificial reef structure is submerged directly off the beach and has become a thriving marine preserve. You'll see excited scuba divers carrying their gear up and down the beach all year round.
Unfortunately, one of the changes since 1926 is the amount of air traffic overhead. The park now lies directly in the flight path for the busy Sea-Tac airport and may be frustrating if you were expecting peace and quiet.
RV Rentals in Saltwater State Park
Transportation in Saltwater State Park
Easy access from I-5. Beware that the park is in the midst of urban residential neighborhoods and dense retail areas - none of which are designed with large vehicles in mind. Check your route ahead of time and don't miss your turns; once you do, it can take a while to turn around. Marine View drive north will take you to downtown Des Moines and lots of options for food and shops. Redondo Beach to the south has more walking, with a boardwalk and ocean pier.
Campgrounds and parking in Saltwater State Park
Campsites in Saltwater State Park
Saltwater State Park Campground
There are 47 sites of various sizes. Only sites 1-4 can handle large 5th wheels and motorhomes, as they are pull-thru. The other sites are much smaller with very limited turn and maneuvering space. A twenty-five foot motorhome is the limit for most of the spaces. There are no hook-ups, but there is a water and dump station on site. There are four restrooms and two coin showers and generators are allowed 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dogs are allowed on leashes and kept carefully inside at night. The campground is only open May through September. Note that WA State Parks require a Discovery Pass and these can be purchased at a digital kiosk at the park entrance.
Seasonal activities in Saltwater State Park
There is a north and south rim trail that, pieced together, gives you access to every corner of the park. The trails are family friendly and never get steep. The total loop is about two and a half miles, and this includes walking around the beach day use area. There are many large trees through the hike with signs on some of the notable species and older giants. Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be on a leash at all times within the park. There is usually drinking water at the campground and the beach area. The tree cover is heavy enough to provide some cover during the rains, so don't rule out hiking just because it's wet.
This deep south part of the Puget Sounds is surprisingly calm. Waves and swells don't usually make it past Port Townsend, far away on the Olympic Peninsula. As long as you watch out for boat traffic, mostly headed to the Port of Tacoma, you'll be able to safely explore as far away as you have the strength for. It's fun to get a waterside glimpse at the luxurious homes the front on the sound. You can paddle all the way to Redondo Beach to the South and enjoy lunch on the pier. A large day use parking area provides convenient staging for your vehicle and gear. Watch out for scuba divers, this is their playground too.
For some reason, meandering the shoreline while staring at the ground just doesn't get old. Rock, shells, and interesting bits of driftwood and jellyfish will give you plenty to poke at as you walk up and down the sandy beach at Saltwater State Park. Respect the private property signs which mark the end of public land. Washington grants beach ownership all the way to the average high tide line, and wandering onto private property isn't the way you want to meet the locals. The tides are lowest in midsummer, giving you more room to explore.
Pacific Bonsai Museum
Every Sunday the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way presents tours free to the public. They have over 150 trees on display and boast the largest public bonsai exhibit in North America. It is a peaceful and contemplative garden which exists both as a living art museum and an educational resource bonsai enthusiasts. Fully mature trees with weathered bark, twisted branches and miniature foliage, cones, and fruits are a sight to be seen. Many trees in the exhibit have been around for generations (with human lifetimes in mind). The Museum is only eight miles south of Saltwater State Park off of I-5.
MaST Center Aquarium
Just three miles to the south, in the beach community of Redondo, lies the Marine Science and Technology Center of Highline College. The 2,500 sq/ft aquarium is open to the public two days a week in the summer and Saturdays the rest of the year, and will give you a close up glimpse of over 250 species unique to the Puget Sound marine ecosystem. You'll get to see octopus, sea urchins, sculpins, crabs, and hundreds of other sea creatures - up close and without the scuba gear. Special classes and interpretive talks happen at different times of the year. Call the college for more info.
Octopus, eels, and sea anemones are some of this parks biggest attractions. Just offshore, Saltwater State Park hosts a thriving Marine Preserve with large artificial reef structures up to eighty feet deep. The reef has been a huge success and scuba divers are rewarded all year round with an exciting close up view of hundreds of kinds of marine life. Several companies in the area provide guided tours which include lunch and equipment rental and the extra-adventurous can even schedule a group dive at night. Water temps range from 45-55 degrees through the year. All fishing and harvesting is prohibited within the Saltwater State Park Marine Preserve.