Editor’s note: This parent’s recounting of a fall 2020 trip reflects the higher level of COVID precaution at the time. Three years later, rules and policies have relaxed a lot but each family needs to establish their own comfort zone.
Every fall since my oldest was a toddler (now 4.5 years old with a brother at 18 months), our family has stayed in a cabin at Dosewallips State Park (pronounced doh-si-wall-ips) on Hood Canal. We return yearly because the area offers amazing seasonal wildlife viewing opportunities and plenty of changing leaves. After we canceled a Washington coast trip this spring due to the COVID pandemic, we decided to tack on a visit to the Long Beach Peninsula after our stay at Dosewallips. It gave us a great balance of activities with plenty of time outdoors and minimal crowds. Here’s a rundown of our fall family getaway:
Dosewallips State Park: Located in Brinnon, about a two-hour drive from Seattle, the one-room cabins are minimalistic, but offer some comforts for those of us who don’t want to brave the unpredictable and often chilly fall weather in a tent. You can expect sleeping space for about five people on a fold-out futon and a bunk bed, wall-mounted climate control, blinds to block out light for light-sleeping toddlers and a covered porch offering space for poor-weather cooking. Reservations become available nine months in advance, and you need to bring your own linens. Cabins range from $55 to $79 per night depending on the season and require a two-night minimum stay during the summer and year-round on weekends.
Boardwalk Cottages (Adrift Hospitality): Small to medium-sized families will feel comfortable at this property close to downtown Long Beach, which offers studios as well as cottages with one to three bedrooms. We stayed in a two-bedroom duplex cottage and appreciated the 10-minute walk to the beach and the convenience of a kitchen.
The rooms are quite small (we barely had room for our playard in the master), but the beds are comfortable. After sleeping in the same space for a couple of nights at the Dosewallips cabin, the adults were happy to stop sneaking into bed like teenagers. One note: I would not plan to work or attend school remotely unless you bring your own hotspot. The Wi-Fi signal was relatively weak and I even had trouble looking up a local coffee shop and using the OpenKey app that unlocks the door. Cottages start at $112 per night, but rates vary depending on seasonality and holidays.
Wildlife viewing: My kids are definitely not willing to stand still long enough to formally bird watch. Luckily, the fall season at Dosewallips has many active and easily viewed animals. Elk herds frequent the campground and graze in the meadow along the beach trail. Four varieties of salmon travel up the river to spawn and lay their eggs. If you want to teach your family about determination, watch the fish flop about as they fight the current! This was the first year we noticed bald eagles: A mating pair had built a nest overlooking Highway 101 and circled the area regularly with their five juveniles. A lookout tower near the beach also offers space to watch and listen to shorebirds, particularly in the early mornings as the sun rises.
Hiking: The Hood Canal area offers some beautiful hikes, but it can be difficult to find ones to suit little legs. Road closures for seasonal wildlife corridors and prior years’ fire damage also affect popular local trails. Here are a few shorter hikes near Dosewallips State Park and one on the Long Beach Peninsula we’ve discovered:
- Steam Donkey Trail (3.5 miles roundtrip) – This trail departs from within Dosewallips State Park and while the total trip length is 3.5 miles, there are multiple cut-offs that can shorten the hike if needed. Highlights include wooden bridges, many different mushroom species and tons of banana slugs.
- Dosewallips Beach Trail (0.1 miles roundtrip) – With a pedestrian walkway straight from the campground, this lovely little gravel trail leads to a lookout tower on the beach. The last part becomes inaccessible during high tides, but is otherwise easy for little legs and could even handle a sturdy stroller. We “hiked” this trail at least twice a day on our trip.
- Murhut Falls (1.6 miles roundtrip) – Looking to kill some time before our cabin check-in, we drove over to the Murhut Falls Trailhead. The double falls were beautiful, and there were safe spots to perch on rocks for a snack.
- Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Art Trail (0.25 miles roundtrip) – This was the only hike we did in the Long Beach area. Just behind the (closed) Refuge headquarters is a boardwalk with art pieces just off the trail to admire. It was a perfect stop before our long drive home.
Biking: I will be the first to admit that I am not a champion bike rider, nor do I have a lot of endurance, but the relatively flat terrain of the Long Beach Peninsula is perfect for bike rides.
We rented cargo e-bikes with child seats from Beachin’ Bike Rentals (conveniently located next door to Boardwalk Cottages) and used them for a full day. We rode out to Cape Disappointment State Park to see the North Head Lighthouse and Fort Canby. A short paved trail from the fort’s parking lot offers a few interpretive signs about the Chinook Nation.
After a lunch stop, we also meandered along the Discovery Trail, which winds through tall grasses along the beach. I recommend bringing your own helmets and a bike lock — they’re available to rent, but fit is not guaranteed and the bike locks were all broken when we visited.
Cranberry Picking: Following a tip from another travel blogger, we spent a morning picking cranberries at Cranguyma Farms. We were the only people there and spent about 90 minutes picking berries from the bog and snacking at picnic tables spread in a holly grove. The oven in our cottage made it easy to turn our harvest into cranberry-pear crisp for dessert. Bring cash for the self-serve checkout. You won’t need much as the cranberries are only $0.75 per pound.
Beach time: We totally failed and forgot to pack the beach toys for this trip. The kids ended up making do by climbing fallen sandcastles, rocking on a driftwood teeter-totter and flying seaweed kites. We did remember our kite (although the World Kite Museum sells them during limited winter hours) and loved watching it sail over the sand on windy evenings. Long Beach allows cars to drive out onto the beach, so we were able to clean up cold, dirty feet on the spot and pack plenty of warm layers.
Halfway House: One of just a few restaurants near Dosewallips State Park, this was my early breakfast outing with the kids while my husband slept in. They still offer limited dine-in service and takeout during the pandemic, but we picked up some delicious white chocolate macadamia cookies and marionberry crumble to eat on our cabin’s picnic table. Check their Facebook page for special offerings.
Hungry Harbor Grille: Long Beach locals confirmed this was one of the best spots for fish and chips, and I agree. The halibut was moist and perfectly crispy and my toddler ate almost all of my clam chowder. We lucked out with a sunny weekend and also enjoyed a creamy milkshake. The kids’ menu offers large portions and a cute souvenir cup.
Dylan’s Cottage Bakery: This beloved Long Beach bakery opens at 4 a.m. daily, perfect for my early-rising children. We walked from our cottage to pick up donuts and coffee and ate them at a picnic table across the street to watch the sunrise. Your kids will love the Dylan donut with its colorful unicorn sprinkles, a touching tribute to the owners’ daughter, who passed away earlier this year from childhood brain cancer. The Boardwalk Cottages deliver a basket of bakery goodies daily, but it doesn’t arrive till 9 a.m., so we saved them for snacks.
Adrift Distillers: We enjoyed a family-friendly tasting at this spot along our bike route. For $1 per taste, you can sample products like the signature cranberry liqueur, the floral notes of the Love Warrior gin or a uniquely spicy amaro.
Fall family getaway: Things to know
From Seattle, expect a two-hour drive to Dosewallips State Park. It will take a little over three hours to drive to Long Beach, whether you’re coming from Dosewallips or Seattle.
Bring your Discover Pass and a National Parks Pass. (Here’s how some families can get a free one.) You’ll pass through parts of Olympic National Park and some National Forest land as well as various state parks. Facilities to buy these passes on-site are limited due to the pandemic.