Springtime in the Northwest means melting snow in the mountains, streams rushing with cold, clear water and showery days warmed by the occasional sun break. Trees sprout new leaves, flowers appear and the days grow noticeably longer. For families with children of any age, it's a time to reconnect with nature, to truly appreciate the beauty of the region we call home.
Extreme low tides
Every summer brings periods of daytime extreme low tides, when beachcombers are likely to see marine creatures - such as Dungeness crabs, sunflower stars, nudibranchs and urchins - that inhabit the deepest end of the "intertidal zone," the portion of the coast that's exposed during the ocean's regular ebb and flow.
Some of the best shoreline exploration opportunities are at Teddy Bear Cove and Larrabee State Park in Whatcom County and at Padilla Bay and Rosario Beach in Skagit County. Teddy Bear Cove is a county park that's best accessed via a developed footpath off the Interurban Trail. Park free at the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead or at Arroyo Park. The beach and trailhead have no toilet facilities.
Both Rosario Beach at Deception Pass State Park and Wildcat Cove at Larrabee State Park offer rocky shore habitat with excellent tide pooling. They have ample parking and clean restrooms. Because they are state parks, the $30 annual Discover Pass or a $10 day-use pass is required.
Perhaps the most spectacular nearby location at low tide is Padilla Bay, which lies exposed for hundreds of yards at extreme minus tides. The shallow bay with its submarine eelgrass meadows is a nursery for all sorts of critters. Best access is from Bay View State Park south of Edison, which requires a Discover Pass for parking, or via a short trail at the Breazeale Interpretive Center, which is part of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. There's ample free parking there.
Check padillabay.org for free educational activities such as mud flat safaris or beach seines.
Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and watch your footing on slippery seaweed-covered rocks. For exploring the mud flats of Padilla Bay, I like to use a pair of old-lace-up boots. They work better than rubber boots, which tend to let your feet jerk free when their soles are held fast by muck. Bring a pair of dry shoes and socks and a plastic bag to hold your wet and muddy boots for the drive home.
Lowest daytime tides for 2013 are in June. As predicted for Padilla Bay, there's a minus 2.9-foot ebb at 10:51 a.m. on June 22; minus 3.3 at 11:37 a.m. on June 23; and minus 3.3 at 12:24 p.m. on June 24. Another period of tides in the minus 1-foot range will be during the second week of July and in the minus 2-foot range the last week of July and the third week of August. Tides will be nearly minus 3 feet in late April and late May.
Times and heights of tides will vary slightly by location around the northern Puget Sound. For times and heights closer to the site you plan to visit, go online to saltwatertides.com, which features tide tables for 166 locations in Washington state.
Suggest your ideas for family-friendly events or day trips to Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Bellingham Families news online at BellinghamFamilies.com or on Facebook at Bellingham Families.