The Northwest's best late-summer beaches

A round-up of our five favorites

PRIEST POINT PARK, OLYMPIA, WA

Sea in the forest

George Vancouver called South Puget Sound "the sea in the forest" because the quiet waters keep beaches narrow, so trees shade the water's edge at high tide. It's heaven for birds and seals, and shell middens show that people have used this place for 5,000 years. Named for an early mission (now gone), Priest Point Park has 2 1/2 miles of trails that wind briefly along the beach then head through dense forest with through-the-trees views to Ellis Cove and Budd Inlet. Shorebirds love the beach south of the cove. North of the cove, the beach is sand, gravel, and small stones � easy walking at mid- or low tide. Silver salmon mass just off the beaches before they run up the creeks to spawn. Fish for them in the cove in September and October.

INFO: From I-5, take exit 105B and follow Plum St. (E. Bay Dr. N.E.) north 1 mile to the park. Free. 2600 E. Bay Dr. N.E.; www.ci.olympia.wa.us/par or 360/753-8380.

NEARBY TREAT: Grab picnic supplies at Olympia Farmers Market (10�3 Thu�Sun; north end of Capitol Way; 360/352-9096). � Jim McCausland

DUNGENESS SPIT, NEAR SEQUIM, WA | Top

Longest spit

One of the world's longest sand spits, this graceful, 5-mile arc into the Strait of Juan de Fuca is part of Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge; scan the water for southbound birds. Walking to the New Dungeness Light Station (9�4 daily; free; 360/683-9166) at the far end of the spit is easiest within two hours of low tide.

INFO: From U.S. 101, take Kitchen-Dick Rd. 3 miles north to Voice of America Rd. $3 per family. http://refuges.fws.gov or 360/457-8451. � J.M.

BLAKE ISLAND STATE PARK, NEAR SEATTLE | Top

Island views

Mile-wide Blake Island is ringed by an easy beachside trail that offers a 360� look around Puget Sound. The island's madrona- and fir-covered south side faces Vashon Island and Mt. Rainier, its fir- and alder-forested west and north sides look out on the Olympics, and the laurel- and alder-dotted east shore commands sweeping views of Seattle and the Cascades. A salmon dinner and native mask dance are offered daily at Tillicum Village ($69 including boat ride to island, $34 dinner only).

INFO: Tillicum Village tour boats leave Seattle's Pier 55 ($35; 800/426-1205, or 206/933-8600). Or arrive in your own watercraft (mooring is free before 1 p.m. daily, then from $10; www.parks.wa.gov or 360/731-8330). � J.M.

NEHALEM SPIT AT NEHALEM BAY STATE PARK, NEAR MANZANITA, OR | Top

Beach walk

The sandy beach at the mouth of Nehalem Bay is deliciously lonely in the fall. It's about 2 miles to the tip of the spit at the rocky north jetty; watch for congregations of sanderlings feeding at the water's edge, and look for harbor seals at the bay mouth. If the north wind is strong, return via the Spit Trail, a sandy horse path on the slightly more protected interior of the spit.

INFO: About 15 miles south of Cannon Beach, off U.S. 101. $3 per car. www.oregonstateparks.org or 800/551-6949.

NEARBY TREAT: Known for breakfast, Wanda's Cafe & Bakery ($; 8�2 Thu�Tue; 12870 U.S. 101 N., Nehalem; 503/368-8100) has great lunches and baked goods too. � Bonnie Henderson

HUG POINT STATE RECREATION SITE, NEAR CANNON BEACH, OR | Top

Hidden falls

A diminutive waterfall splashing onto the beach is charming enough � especially later in the afternoon when the lowering sun burnishes the rocky bluffs with bronzes and golds. But walk north a bit farther to find Hug Point's other surprise: a road carved into the rock more than a century ago, allowing stagecoaches to round the point back when the beach was also the north-south highway. Visit at low to mid-tide to get around the point and reach more beach. Hearty hikers can pack a lunch and keep walking north; if the tide's low enough, you can get all the way to Cannon Beach (about 5 miles north). Humbug Point makes a good turnaround for a 3-mile round-trip walk.

INFO: From the junction of U.S. 26 and 101 north of Cannon Beach, follow U.S. 101 south about 7 miles and look for a state park sign on the right (2 miles south of Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site). Free. www.oregonstateparks.org or 800/551-6949.

NEARBY TREAT: Pick up picnic fixings at Arch Cape Deli and Grocery (8�6 Sun�Thu, 8�8 Fri�Sat; 79330 U.S. 101, Arch Cape; 503/436-2475), 1 1/2 miles south of Hug Point. � B.H.