One of the natural wonders we are blessed with in the coastal Pacific Northwest is the intertidal pools that appear at low tide, revealing a whole world of critters who usually live under the water. The tide pools are especially remarkable during a minus tide.
A minus tide is a low tide that falls below the typical low tide level, and a handful of minus tides occur each year. Between April and August of 2017, there are multiple minus tides (check for exact dates and times here.)
One of the best places to explore at low tide is Larrabee State Park, just minutes south of Bellingham along scenic Chuckanut Drive.
My family took advantage of a recent minus tide to explore the shore at Larrabee. On our drive to the park, I shared with the kids the fact that Larrabee is Washington state’s first state park. Once we arrived, this bit of trivia was confirmed by a plaque displayed on the trail to the beach. (Score one for brainy mom!)
When you first arrive at Larrabee, remember that you will need to present your state Discover Pass for free parking or pay $10 for a one-day parking pass. When the ranger’s booth at the entrance is not staffed, pull into one of first parking spots to get your pass from the automated pay station. Then follow the signs to the beach access parking.
When you’re with kids, the first thing they are likely to notice is the large, grassy field perfect for running around and the adjacent playground. They may also let their inner performer take over on the amphitheater stage.
But with low tide beckoning, we soon found our way down to the beach. The access requires going down a few paved stairs and a down a sometimes steep trail – be warned if you have a little one in a stroller.
After heading down the stairs, head to the right for the best access. Once on the beach, the stunning sandstone cliffs and the boulders below them make the perfect environment for the tide pools where critters from sea stars to snails to hermit crabs congregate.
Watch for squirts of water coming from the tide flats – those are clams under the sand. Dungeness crabs also find themselves on the flat during the minus tide. Where the rocks need the beach, look for sea stars as they often hang out there.
Parents, please note another little sea creature is prevalent on the rocks: barnacles. Barnacles are sharp, so it’s really advisable not to let kids go barefoot.
Kids will also have fun beachcombing for shells and rocks during low tide or scramble up the rocks.
Don’t forget to bring a picnic lunch to eat on the rocks, or trek back up to the playground area where you’ll find plenty of picnic tables. No doubt the kids will have an appetite after an afternoon exploring the tide pools.
Address: Larrabee State Park 245 Chuckanut Drive, Bellingham, WA 98229