Three amazing hikes on the Olympic Coast
By Tara Nelson
With snow-capped peaks, coastline, wildflower meadows and moss-draped rainforests, the Olympic Peninsula is absolutely loaded with spectacular hikes and vistas. Only a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland, the peninsula is one of those rare places in the continental U.S. that is only a few miles away and yet still feels as wild and remote as before the days of early settlers.
Of course, the remoteness also means you’ll more than likely have limited cell phone reception and your GPS might not work. No problem; simply visit one of the local information centers where a real live person will give you an intricately folded piece of paper known to your grandparents as a “map.” With that, you’ll soon be getting back to life the way nature intended, and experiencing the timeless joy of trying to re-fold the map and put it in your glove box.
The Olympic Peninsula has too many hikes to do in a day – or probably a lifetime – so here are a few favorites to get you started.
Round-Trip: 1.5 miles (2.4 km)
Elevation Gain: 200 feet (61 m)
An easy trek through misty Sitka spruce forest, the Cape Flattery trail pays off big time. Here you can stand on the edge of the northwestern-most point of the continental U.S. as the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca crash into the rocks more than 200 feet below. The meeting of these waters creates unbelievably beautiful and rugged scenery, with sea stacks and deep narrow inlets carved into the cliffs. Look out and see seabirds ride the waves, inhale the cool salty breeze and feel the wind in your hair. Washington really doesn’t get more untamed than this.
Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches
Round-Trip: 4 miles (6.4 km) to Shi Shi Beach or 8 miles (12.8 km) to Point
Elevation Gain: 200 feet (61 m)
Note: Trail not safe for pets.
Named by the Travel Channel as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Shi Shi (pronounced shy-shy) can easily be done in one day.
The route begins at the Makah Indian Reservation and meanders through dense forest and bogs via cedar-planked
At about 1.25 miles, you’ll reach an old section of trail and half a mile of muddy terrain. After that, you’ll need to make a final descent down a steep 150-foot slope using ropes and sand ladders installed by park officials. For this reason, dogs are not allowed on this part of the trail. At the bottom, you can continue to the beach or head south on the trail for another 2 miles to Point of Arches, a mile-long display of sea stacks and natural arches.
Note: If you plan on hiking any of the beaches on the Makah Indian Reservation you’ll need to buy a $15 recreational use permit from the Makah Tribal Center in Neah Bay. If you are planning an overnight hike, you’ll need a permit (available in Port Angeles or Forks) and you may want to consider parking your car in one of the private lots along the way to the trailhead (about $15 to $20 per night). As with all coastal hiking, remember to camp above the high tide mark.
Round-Trip: 9.4 miles (15.1 km)
Elevation Gain: 300 feet (91 m)
This 9.4-mile loop offers a little bit of everything. The trail begins at Lake Ozette and meanders through dense, waterlogged rainforest and along more than 3 miles of beach at Cape Alva. Enjoy the view of nearby islands, sea stacks and tidal pools, and look for petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, a cluster of boulders about halfway along the coastal part of the trail. Then head back along the boardwalk trail as it follows the scenic Ozette River.
Things to keep in mind:
Even a hot summer day can turn cloudy and cold along the coast, so prepare accordingly. Remember the 10 essentials for backpacking: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first-aid supplies, a lighter, multi-tool, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter.
During peak summer months, campgrounds are often full to capacity, but you can almost always find a site at Hobuck Beach Resort ($20/night). The resort, located on the beach just south of Cape Flattery, has more than 85 campsites as well as fresh water, picnic tables and hot showers for guests (no quarters required). Hobuck Beach Resort is located at 2726 Makah Passage, Neah Bay and can be reached by calling 360/645-2339 or visiting hobuckbeachresort.com.
Plan for at least three days, as getting to the peninsula and back can take a full day, depending on your destination. Be sure to make ferry reservations at least two hours prior to your sailing, and arrive 20 minutes early so you don’t miss the boat. You can get real-time updates and make reservations by calling the Washington State Ferries reservation system at 888/808-7977. x