Dash Point State Park is perfect mix of forest and beach | Explore Federal Way

Trails in Washington are diverse.

Some meander up mountain ridge lines with 360 degree views – a lake on the right, a mountain range on the left.

Other trails weave between trees older than any living person. Creeks trickle by or waterfalls take the stage, drowning out the sounds of the forest.

Nestled to the far west between Federal Way and northeast Tacoma is also a diverse trail in its own right.

Dash Point State Park’s 398 acres of forest creep up to a sandy beach on Puget Sound. The park’s 11 miles of hiking trails, eight of which are available to bicyclists, are a haven from a growing suburban city that’s cut through by Pacific Highway and Interstate 5.

As a hiker in my second year, I no longer consider myself a novice. I’ve summited Washington peaks and one in Montana, and I’ve peered across more alpine lakes than I care to count. I’ve crossed rivers, climbed cliffs and felt the descent in my knees (it feels like Jell-O).

But the trails of Dash Point State Park are special.

The quiet solitude this hidden gem provides is worth every Discovery Pass day charge, annual pass investment or camping fee.

On a sunny Saturday morning, I woke up at an ungodly hour of 7 a.m. and made my way to the state park. With my trusty annual Discover Pass in hand, my hiking partner and I drove down to the main parking lot. Like children who can’t wait to eat dinner before dessert, we hit the beach first.

After passing a picnic table in a grassy area, we were greeted with a muddy walk through a small, dark tunnel. Light scorched our retinas on the other side. Note to self: Bring sunglasses.

An expansive sandy beach was on the other side. While, of course, sand was on that beach, so was a trail of seaweed leading to a stream of water called Thames Creek, which would eventually turn into Kate’s Creek.

Various sand dollars and shells sprinkle the sandy saltwater shoreline. Some park-goers were out with their children, flipping over rocks, presumably so they could see little crabs scurry out – a rite of passage in oceanic education.

The beach has 3,301 feet of shoreline and is home to bullhead, clams, cod, crabs, red snapper, sea birds, shellfish and starfish. According to Washington State Parks, clamming is not recommended. Fishing is allowed, however, with the proper license, of course.

If you’re into photography, the beach offers an excellent view of Poverty Bay and Vashon Island. The island seems incredibly close despite the 3.36 miles it would take to swim there.

Restless to get some Fitbit steps in, we set off to look for the nearest trail. From the parking lot, the most obvious trailhead is the Thames Creek (Beach) Trail, which begins on the south side. There’s also Picnic Point Trail, Heartbreak Hill and Raven Beach Trail, however. All lead to the lower and upper campgrounds if you don’t mind walking alongside pavement and passing Highway 509 (Dash Point Road).

We chose Thames Creek.

The trail immediately takes hikers, walkers and non-bikers (they’re not allowed on this part) underneath a steel bridge. Walk a little further, and you’ll get a history lesson.

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Federal Way is a framed informational sign with old black and white photos of how loggers chopped trees down back in the day. Behind the sign is one of those trees.

It reads: “Loggers typically climbed on springboards that were wedged into the tree about eight to 10 feet up before chopping the tree down. Springboards had sharp metal ends that were jammed into wedges the logger had cut into the tree (courtesy of Earl Chambers).” Also, “Cedar stumps like this one (pictured) remaining at Dash Point State Park demonstrate how loggers notched trees prior to cutting them down. Loggers apparently chose not to use the stumps since they were difficult to cut and mill. The stump, about 11 feet high and 5 feet in diameter, is located about 110 yards up a trail that begins at the east end of the parking lot (courtesy of Ann Hagen.)”

Because it’s not quite summer, the perfect word to describe the flora and fauna of the park is “green.” Yellow buttercups were in bloom, but what really stood out were the ferns. Call me a fern nerd, but I’m always amazed by the intricate, delicate details in fern leaves. In fact, there’s a trail in the park named after the ferns. It’s called Fern Alley Trail, go figure. From Thames Creek Trail, you can choose to take the Old Boundary trail that dead ends at a bird-viewing platform or continue on the East Rim or Outbound trails. Both of those intersect with Boundary Trail and Heart Attack Hill, which, yes, has a small incline. The trails get a bit confusing from there, jutting off to the south with Paul’s Trail, Log Jam Trail, Ridge Trail, Know-It-All Kid Trail, The “S,” The Toenail, Technical Trail, something called the IMBA Trail and the Night Crawler. We decided to take the simpler route to the east, which lead us to Shannon’s Shin and Hoyt Road Trail. Speaking of Hoyt Road, there’s a small parking lot off of Hoyt for those coming from Southwest 320th Street.

Beginning hikers will be happy to know there are benches scattered throughout the trails. The trail is also generally flat most of the way. However, dirt will get muddy on a rainy day, so plan accordingly.

As a hiker who has aspirations to backpack the Canadian mountains, I believe the trails of Dash Point State Park are not physically challenging. They do, however, prompt a more difficult obstacle – the challenge to live in the present moment, to clear your mind of daily stressors and find happiness within a simple peace only a green forest can give you on a sunny day.

— Raechel Dawson is a reporter for the Federal Way Mirror. She can be reached at rdawson@fedwaymirror.com.

Editor’s Note: This column appeared in the Federal Way Mirror’s Explore Federal Way magazine, released June 23.