If you’re seeking serenity (and bucket-list bragging rights), saturate your soul with the wild, windswept beauty of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Signing up for a week of lighthouse duty isn’t for everyone: You live in near total isolation, with only the people and things you can cram into a pair of pickup trucks that bounce you 5 miles down the spit at low tide. Those trucks will not return for seven days. Getting this trip right requires planning, packing—and picking the right people to bring with you. The keeper’s house sleeps eight, and all beds are filled; bring your own squad to fill up the house, or make new friends with fellow keepers who share the house with you.
Either way, it’s a vacation you’ll not soon forget. My seven days as a keeper are indelibly etched in my heart: mornings spent in quiet reflection at the top of the lighthouse, coffee in one hand, Windex in the other, clearing away the scum left on the windows by the salty air. Alone on the narrow parapet, with gulls wheeling and the dark heads of seals bobbing in the distance, and miles of deserted beach stretching below, I could never get over my sheer and absolute luck in being there. I bookended my days climbing those 74 stairs (and a ladder) to the top, sunrise and sunset, sea air and eagles, queen of all I surveyed. I made plans for fixing all the broken parts of my life, for new adventures and old loves, and I was simply, staggeringly happy.
The spit stretches more than 5 miles into the ocean
Image Credit: Chad Kaiser
In between the epic “me” times were afternoons of happy community with my father, two kids and four friends. I watched my son hoist the Stars and Stripes with his grandpa for morning and evening flag duty, my daughter polish the brass, my dad mow the lawn. I gave tours to the few intrepid souls who made the long trek to the end of the longest natural sand spit in the U.S.
There are no stores here, nothing to buy, no restaurants, nowhere to go. For one week, your world is reduced to the simple rhythms of lighthouse life, set to a soundtrack of waves and keening seabirds. You do simple chores during business hours (the aforementioned flag duty, polishing and mowing, giving tours), and you don’t get paid for all of this work—in fact, you pay for the privilege, but the soul searching and seal watching are unparalleled. The keeper’s quarters are packed with amenities (satellite television, Wi-Fi, comfy beds, books and games); you bring all the food, beverages and supplies you need for the full week.
Insider Tip: If your group is smaller than eight, plan a dinner to get to know the other keepers in advance where you can arrange to share cooking duties.
New Dungeness Lighthouse, Sequim, $375/adult for a week’s stay (plus $35 to join the New Dungeness Lighthouse Association, required to be a keeper); newdungenesslighthouse.com