Olympic National Park in Washington State encompasses many distinctly different climates and eco systems, from the high glaciated summits of the Olympic Mountains, to the lush rain forest, the park offers an amazing diversity of plants, animals and climate.
The bulk of the park sits in the middle of the Olympic Peninsula, a veritable island of wilderness. But there is another section to the park which is utterly sublime, the coast. From Neah Bay in the north, to Oil City in the south, there is a foot trail that runs along this incredible coast line.
Don’t let the idea of a “beach hike” start you thinking that this will be easy! The coastal trail is full of challenges. Boulder fields covered with sea weed, and in some places, deep sand. At several spots along the trail the steep cliffs come right to the water, so the trail takes a detour, up and over headlands, and then back to the beach. A tide chart is a necessity, you will have to time your passage through parts of the trail.
I have hiked most of the beach trail, some stretches several times, and my favorite spot is Point of the Arches, at the south end of Shi Shi Beach.
Any overnight stay in the park requires an overnight camping permit, which you can get at the Ranger Station in Port Angeles. Bear canisters are required for food storage to camp (the park service will loan you one) and at the Ranger Station you can get a tide chart to consult to avoid getting trapped by the high tide.
The first thing about the coast is the smell. Fresh ocean air is a tonic that cant be beat. The hike in to the camping spot is about 4 miles, 2 through the forest, and 2 along the beach. Its all very easy, the first section ultra muddy, then a short steep descent to the sand.
The ocean air reaches you a bit before the tress allow a glimpse of the sea, then its a short scramble down, and there you are, at Shi Shi Beach. Sea stacks jut up just to the right, and to the south the wide expanse of Shi Shi Beach curves, sweeping, towards the sea stacks at Point of the Arches a bit less that 2 miles off.
There are several fresh water creeks that empty into the ocean along the way. Camps are all along the way, just inside the wall of trees. Campfires are permitted!
The tide pools are unbelievable. The sea stacks, no matter how many times I see them, take my breath away.
If you get lucky the clouds and sky just might put on a show.