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The Washington Coast: Boats, Beaches and Beyond

Get a photographer’s take on visiting Westport 

No trip to Grays Harbor is complete without a little ship spotting — watching boats and seafaring vessels. On the Washington Coast, the city of Westport offers a key vantage point to see the commercial fishery at work. And for photographers, there’s no shortage of nautical inspiration.

Whether the goal is to capture images of wooden fishing boats, surfers conquering the waves or the beach at low tide, Westport is the place to be. 

The Olympic Mountains provide a stellar backdrop to Grays Harbor and the Westport fishing fleet. Photo: Lost River Photography
The Olympic Mountains provide a stellar backdrop to Grays Harbor and the Westport fishing fleet. Photo: Lost River Photography

We caught up with local photographer Kris Cox of Lost River Photography to learn more about photographing the boats and beaches of Westport, plus tips for planning a visit to the Washington Coast. For Kris, who grew up in Iowa and hadn’t seen the Pacific Ocean until visiting Washington, there’s always something new to photograph in Westport. You’ll often find him photographing boats on the wharf or crews unloading a catch.

The next time you’re in Westport, bring your camera and use these tips to capture amazing images of its boats and beaches.

Storm waves crashing into the Westport groins (a.k.a. The Finger Jetties) make for a great show at the viewing tower. Photo: Lost River Photography
Storm waves crashing into the Westport groins (a.k.a. The Finger Jetties) make for a great show at the viewing tower. Photo: Lost River Photography
The race is on as both commercial and charter boats head home from a day's fishing. Photo: Lost River Photography
The race is on as both commercial and charter boats head home from a day’s fishing. Photo: Lost River Photography

Best time of day  

The best time for photography is either early morning when the boats are heading out to sea or later in the afternoon from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. when boats are returning from a day out at sea. 

Great locations 

In the afternoon, walk out to Fisherman’s Boardwalk. At that time, many boats will be cruising right past you as they return to port. Photographers won’t necessarily need a long lens because the boats are quite close. With a medium-length telephoto lens, you can capture great boat images with the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains. At sunset, the result is warm light on the boats and mountains. 

Another option for photographers is the observation platform — the Westport Viewing Tower. Depending on where you stand, you can capture Damon Point in the background. 

The FV (Fishing Vessel) Emerald Sea makes her way past Damon Point and into Grays Harbor on the Washington Coast. Photo: Lost River Photos
The FV (Fishing Vessel) Emerald Sea makes her way past Damon Point and into Grays Harbor on the Washington coast. Photo: Lost River Photography

Try photographing wooden boats 

For something unique, look for the older wooden fishing boats that are still in use. They have a ton of character and unique detail. These boats date from the 1940s and 1950s and it’s amazing to watch them cut through waves, just as they did close to 80 years ago. 

In Westport, photographers have many approaches to photographing boats. For example, you can get close to most boats on the dock. Introduce yourself to the crew and let them know what you’re trying to achieve with your photographs. You’ll be amazed by the equipment, as well as the colors and the sheer size of each ship. 

Sea Lions enjoying a warm summer sunset on the docks of Westport. Photo: Lost River Photography
Sea Lions enjoying a warm summer sunset on the docks of Westport. Photo: Lost River Photography

Catch a wave and snap surfing images 

Surfing is very popular in Westport and that means opportunities for photographers. If you have a longer lens, try photographing surfers from the observation tower or at Westhaven Beach. Walk out on the jetty and see what you can capture from that viewpoint. At sunset, the waves and surfers are backlit, which makes for great shots. 

On the Washington coast, warm summer days are made for surfing and birdwatching at Westhaven beach in Westport. Photo: Lost River Photography
Warm summer days are made for surfing and birdwatching at Westhaven Beach in Westport. Photo: Lost River Photography

Festivals made for photographers 

There’s no shortage of events to photograph in Westport, but for photographers, there are two events that offer something different. The first is the Festival of Colors, a kite festival that runs during the first weekend of June. The second is the Blessing of the Fleet, which takes place at the end of May. It’s a more somber occasion and reflects the community’s spirit and history. Photographers can capture the moment the Coast Guard lays a wreath off the observation tower. (Click here for a list of local events.) 

Surf fishing along the jetty at Westhaven State Park. Photo: Lost River Photography
Surf fishing along the jetty at Westhaven State Park. Photo: Lost River Photography

New experiences for first-time visitors 

Besides ship spotting and walking the beach, there are a lot of things to do. Here are three ideas: 

  1. Go crab fishing at the boat basin. Rent crab pots from a local outfitter. Load them with bait and leave them overnight. Then check your catch and (hopefully) start planning dinner. 
  2. Fish for salmon in the annual Boat Basin Salmon Derby. It’s free to enter and you can fish right off the dock. 
  3. Sample local seafood. Each restaurant has its own specialties, and you can try the catch of the day. It’s possible that your seafood dinner was unloaded off a boat you’ve just photographed. 

Find treasure along the Washington coast 

Washington coast weather creates the perfect setting for photographing boats and beaches. Photo: Lost River Photography
Washington coast weather creates the perfect setting for photographing boats and beaches. Photo: Lost River Photography

For those who visit the Washington coast in winter and spring, the Westport Maritime Museum presents Wild Floats. It’s a chance to go beachcombing for a glass sculpture and bring it home. 

From January to Memorial Day, they release 1,000 authentic Japanese glass fishing floats along Westport beaches. With the help of local fishermen, who take the floats out to sea, the floats come in on the tide. Beachcombers find them washed up on the beach, just like treasure. 

Map of Washington coast. Courtesy: Here and Now Media Group
Explore Grays Harbor County and snap great photos of boats and beaches. Photo: Map of Washington coast courtest Here & Now Media Group

Explore short trails 

There’s a lot of variety for photographers on local trails. Here are a few options: 

Westport Light Trail (also known as The Dunes Trail): This trail runs from Westhaven Beach to Grays Harbor Lighthouse. It’s paved, ADA-accessible and great for kids and families. Photographers can capture both beach and ocean shots. The trail will take you as far as Grays Harbor Lighthouse, which stands at 107-feet-tall. It still has a Coast Guard beacon and working lens, which is lit on special occasions. 

Grays Harbor Lighthouse, proudly standing guard over the Washington coast since 1898. Photo: Lost River Photography
Grays Harbor Lighthouse, proudly standing guard over the Washington coast since 1898. Photo: Lost River Photography

Bottle Beach State Park: This area draws more than a million migratory birds each spring and is guaranteed to be great for birdwatching and bird photography. Check birdwatching groups to learn the best times to see birds as they migrate from Central and South America to the Arctic. Bottle Beach Interpretive Trail has 0.7 miles of ADA accessible trail with three wildlife viewing platforms. Outside of the spring migration, the open tide flats are a great setting for beach photography. 

Johns River State Wildlife Area: This old logging trail is great for seeing wildlife, including deer and elk. There’s a nesting Caspian tern colony nearby and tons of birdlife. Take a walk down a short, ADA-accessible trail, or follow a longer trail that leads to an abandoned cemetery.  

As a photographer, Kris appreciates the blustery winter weather as much as summer’s blue skies. Winter storms are an opportunity to capture a variety of shots and test new angles while you explore the beaches and sand dunes. It’s all part of what makes Westport a great destination for boat spotting and beach combing along the Washington coast.

Planning a trip to the Washington coast? Click here for 10 fun things to do in Westport and Grays Harbor County.

—Written by Suzanne Lee

Top Photo: Lost River Photography

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