Three Tree Point

Date Reviewed:May 2001 -- updated July 2002
Location:Burien area
Access:Shore dive
Site Description:Silty bottom, moderate slope
Main Attraction:Diverse marine life that inhabits "junkyard" reef and eel grass beds.

From the beach entrance, looking slightly north at the north dive site.

The north side of Three Tree Point is one of my favorite shore based night dive sites. This site holds a special place for me and quite a few of my friends. Although many other dive sites offer much more interesting terrain, the appeal of Three Tree Point keeps bringing us back, week after week. In fact, we are so infatuated with this site that we dive here almost every week. As of the date of this review, I have over 60 dives and over 50 hours of bottom time logged at this location. To spend more than 2 DAYS of bottom time at a site means it must have some real appeal. So what is that appeal?

Well, it certainly isn't the substrate. Three Tree Point offers divers pretty much the same silty/sandy moderately sloping bottom that most other Puget Sound dive locations do. Three Tree also sports a lengthy eel-grass bed located in the shallows along the shore line, which is fairly commonplace. There is one thing, however, that is highly unusual about the bottom at this site. The locals have taken it upon themselves to create an artificial reef of sorts, comprised of everything from bathroom fixtures, tires, bottles, PVC pipe, heavy corrugated pipe, an old canoe, a 10' satellite dish (currently upside down), dozens of kitchen appliances, a 15' boat (without engine) on a trailer, a ruptured beer keg, engine blocks, car axles, a huge canvas awning, and other assorted unidentifiable paraphernalia, all in various states of reclamation by the Sound. However, if I wanted to see junk, it would be much easier to go to a junkyard then drive 20 miles, suit up, walk 100 yards with 90 pounds of gear on my back, and go diving. No, diving in a junkyard would not bring me back here week after week unless I had an ongoing need for some replacement parts for my washing machine.

There is a certain appeal in the proximity of this site to my home. At only 20 miles away, I can easily drive down here after work and get a night dive in. There is also the fact that the currents here are much less intense than many other popular dive locations (although my wife and I often argue about the definition of "intense current"). It is interesting to note that the currents here seem to usually (but not always) run southwest towards the point on an ebb or flood tide. It is also appealing that this site offers some good protection from a southerly wind, even in bad storms. Protection from the wind means less waves on the shore which in turn means an easier entry and exit from the water and better visibility. However, if was proximity, currents, and wind protection I was exclusively worried about, I could dive in my bathtub and be just as happy.

How about the park and facilities at Three Tree? Could that be the draw for me? Considering that the park here consists of a parking lot that can hold maybe six cars, I doubt it. There are no facilities here whatsoever (other than a garbage can). This location is strictly a beach access point, and the beach to either side of the access point is private property. I would caution against showing up here with 20 people from your dive club as this location is just not designed to handle an onslaught of divers. Also, please note that I stated that the beach property on either side of the public access is indeed private. It would not take too many divers violating these beach rights to create a fuss with the locals and result in us losing the privilege to dive here.

OK. So it is not the substrate, junkyard reef, park, proximity, or currents. That leaves marine life. Marine life abounds here, although most of it is very subtle. The "junk" the locals have strategically placed here serves as an oasis for a plethora of marine species. I have seen more marine species at this site than anywhere else, and still get surprised every so often by finding a new species that I have never seen before. Here are some of the species highlights:

Red Octopus
These miniature versions of the Giant Pacific Octopus are frequent diver partners of ours at this site. We run into Red Octopus during more than half our night dives here, ranging from 2 inches up to about 10 inches in length. We have found up to eight of these little rascals on one dive.
Giant Pacific Octopus
I have seen a number of Giant Pacifics at this site, almost always hiding in dens. However, on one occasion I actually got to see two Giant Pacifics mating out in the open. The male had the female trapped beneath him on a pile of tires. The male spanned about 8 feet and the female 6 feet. I could clearly see the sperm packet trailing from the female's siphon. Very cool...
Stubby Squid
Stubbies are just cool critters to find on any dive. Like the Red Octopus, we usually find them on the bottom on night dives, using their chromaphoric capabilities in an attempt to go unnoticed.
In the summer months, huge schools of Ratfish may be encountered here on night dives. I have had as many as 12 Ratfish at one time flying around me, flapping there oversized pectoral fins to propel them gracefully through the water.
Although not a frequent encounter, a Wolf-eels pair that has recently taken up residency in an old split-open beer keg in about 65 fsw. If divers respect their privacy and do not harass them, they may do us the honor of sticking around after their eggs of hatch. I guarantee that they will abruptly leave if someone rolls over the keg that they are currently using for a den.
Six-Gill Shark
One of the few dives I have done here without a camera, I encountered a Six-Gill Shark during the summer of 2001. We were diving here at dusk cruising along in 80 fsw, right where the dark green haze above us turned to complete blackness. Vis was very poor (about 10 feet), but it was good enough to see a Six Gill Shark pass within two yards of us. The Six Gill then turned around, and made another pass by us. We were able to follow it for about a minute and get within an arm's reach before it headed back to deeper water. This shark was between 6-7 feet long. AWESOME!
Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers
In the winter months, these cute little fish move into shallower water. If you are lucky enough to have Jon as your dive partner, you stand a pretty good chance of finding a Lumpsucker in the shallow eel-grass beds. To date, I have seen 6 Lumpsuckers at this site, Jon found 4, I found 2, but whose counting? ;).
Opalescent Squid
These are one of my favorite species to encounter. For some reason, they appear to be attracted to my HID light when I have the video reflector attached. Again, Opalescent Squid encounters are seasonal, as these magnificent mollusks move into shallower water in winter to breed and lay eggs. I most often encounter Opalescent Squid in shallow water in the eel-grass.
I find more brightly colored gunnels here than anywhere else - Saddleback, Crescent, and Penpoint are the most common. I really enjoy watching and photographing these clown-like fish.
Marbled Snailfish
I have only seen this fish once, and it was here at about 90 fsw. These cool fish usually frequent much deeper water and, like the Lumpsucker, sports a sucker disk on their underside to attach to rocks in heavy currents.
Bay Pipefish
These green fish are related to the seahorse; in fact they look like a seahorse that has been straightened out. We find Bay Pipefish in the shallow eel-grass beds along the shore line.
Longnose Skates
These are another of my favorite encounters, and I have seen Longnose Skates at this location three times (there is video on this site from one of the encounters). I have seen these shark-related creatures as shallow as 15 fsw and as deep as 100 fsw.

See a more complete listing of the species we have encounter at this site below.

Almost all of our dives here are night dives. If you end up doing a night dive here, be warned - there is a sign posted at the access point that clearly states that the access is closed after dark. I suspect this ordinance is to keep rowdy people off the beach at night. I have been night diving here for years now, and never been hassled. However, if you get arrested for diving here at night, don't come running (or swimming) to me :) The reason we like to dive here at night is that we encounter more fish here at night. Some are asleep (like rockfish, perch, and greenlings) so they are more approachable, other are nocturnal (like octopus, squid, and gunnels) and tend to hunt at night.

We usually start our dives here by swimming to the first mooring buoy to the northeast, located in about 40 feet of water (in the Summer there is usually a Boston Whaler tied up to it). Most of the artificial reef starts east of this point. There is nothing to say that you can not start your dive right off the entry point, then start working your way northwest (to your right if you are facing the water). Once we have descended, we usually slowly work our way down, but always continue going northeast against what little current there is. We usually go no deeper than about 90 fsw, which is where most of the artificial reef stops. Because the slope here is fairly moderate, it is very easy to get deep in a hurry. I have been down to 115 fsw at this site, and there only appears to be silt and sand below 90 fsw. You can get to 100 fsw at this site very quickly, so be careful, stay within your comfort zone, training, and limits, and keep an eye on your gauges.

Once we reach our maximum depth, we start back up the slope, still heading northeast and making certain to keep well ahead of our no-deco time. We usually spend a fair amount of time at 40-60 fsw on the way back, which is where most of the junkyard is concentrated. We explore countless potential lairs and hiding places in search of octopus and other critters. Once our no-deco time gets low, we then slowly work our way up to 15-20 fsw, now heading southwest. This is about where the eel-grass beds start, and the part of the dive that Jon and I tend to enjoy the most. With a very mild current pushing us along, we are able to effortlessly cruise through the eel-grass beds in search of Lumpsuckers, Bay Pipefish, Sailfin Sculpins, Tube Snouts, and who knows what else. We often spend 40 minutes drifting back to the entry point along the eel grass. As you might guess, we are able to rack up some serious bottom time at this site. Our dives usually run 70 to 90 minutes here. Just recently, we had one dive that lasted over 100 minutes! Now that is getting your money out of an air fill!

If you want to dive here, remember that Three Tree Point is located just west of Burien. It is a bit tricky to find the public access, so I would recommend finding it on a map rather than going by my directions (which I am reciting from memory). Anyway, here it goes: From I-5 or I-405, you need to follow highway 518 to the west. Go past the airport. After you get to Burien (where the freeway ends), continue straight through the lights. You will now be on 148th. Follow 148th until you come to Ambaum. Take a left at the light on Ambaum (now heading south) for a few blocks, then turn right at the light on 152 (now heading west). Follow 152nd for about a mile, then take a left on 21st. This road will curve all over the place, so pay attention. Follow 21st and it will eventually turn into Marine View Drive, which will then turn into SW 170th, then 33rd Ave SW, and finally Maplewild Drive after a big hairpin turn. Maplewild Drive was damaged in the recent earthquake, so you can only go one-way (southwest) where Maplewild and 33rd meet. About a half mile down Maplewild, you will see a small store on your right. Immediately after this store is 170th, where you want to turn right. If you go around the point, you have missed the turn-off. Once you turn onto 170th, go straight for a very short distance until you hit the beach access. The access is a dirt road, about 110 feet wide. Remember, there is only a small parking area here and it is not well marked. The parking area is paved and by a personal residence.

Marine Species we (Jon and I) have encountered at Three Tree Point (north side):

Sea Stars and Shrimp
Wolf fish

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