What you need to know to camp on Olympic beaches

  • By Jessi Loerch Herald Writer
  • Thursday, August 15, 2013 1:12pm
  • Life

“Well, this could be worse,” I said. “Shame about the views, though.”

I was sitting on a beach on the Olympic coast. We’d just settled into a cozy patch of sand for an overnight stay. The view included a wide stretch of tidepools, sea stacks, endless waves and the occasional bald eagle soaring in the blue sky.

To top off a camping trip to the Olympic Peninsula, we were spending the night on the beach just north of Hole-in-the-Wall at Rialto Beach. Along with my husband, Jerry, our friend Michelle and my daughter, Hazel, we’d hiked in a bit over two miles to this cozy spot.

We weren’t alone. It was the Fourth of July weekend and plenty of other people were enjoying the time off work.

But it wasn’t as crowded as I’d expected for a holiday weekend. I guess the hassle of getting all the way to the Olympic coast tends to thin out crowds.

With the constant, gentle sound of the waves, we couldn’t hear our neighbors. And they were much farther away than we would find in any developed campground. We did chat with them, though, as we got water from the nearby stream. We laughed when we learned they had packed bocce balls. I guess when you’re only going two miles, you can afford some extra weight.

We set up our tents in the sand using rocks and driftwood to secure the lines. Stakes, not surprisingly, don’t work in the sand. We wandered around the tidepools, admiring the anemones, sea stars and more hermit crabs than I’ve seen in decades of devoted tidepooling.

My daughter, who just turned 3, was easy to entertain. The wide stretch of tidepools in front of our site made the water perfectly safe for her.

It was less than a foot deep, and she spent endless hours splashing, looking for snails and playing with driftwood. When she got tired of that, she made sand angels and dug new channels for the tiny stream that flowed out of the bank toward the sea.

When the wind picked up, we pulled out a kite for her to play with. Then, when the sun started to drop, we made a fire from the extensive supply of driftwood pieces. We invited a fellow camper who was hiking solo to join us and enjoyed a pleasant evening lounging around the fire.

When it was time to head to bed, the sounds of the waves were a soothing background noise. We woke up the next morning to the same calm sound.

After breakfast, I pulled out my binoculars and started scanning. All the day before, I’d been begging for a sea otter to appear. I got my wish. I found one, lounging on its back, leisurely washing its adorable face. We spent a long time passing the binoculars back and forth.

With the sea otter spotting, the trip was complete. We cleaned up our camp and headed back a long the beach — much sandier and much more relaxed than when we’d arrived.

If you go

You need a permit to backcountry camp on the beach in Olympic National Park.

Most areas do not require reservations. Permits cost $5, plus $2 per person (15 and younger free) per night.

All permits must be picked up in person at a ranger station or wilderness information center: Port Angeles, 360-565-3100; Quinault, 360-288-0232; Olympic National Park/Olympic National Forest station in Forks, 360-374-7566; Staircase Ranger Station near Hoodsport, 360-877-5569. Call 360-565-3100 to check on hours or for more information.

A bear container is required for food storage. The containers are available to rent for a $3 suggested donation at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles and some ranger stations.

Good camping beaches

Rialto Beach and north: Near Mora Campground outside of Forks. Must camp north of Ellen Creek*. Hole-in-the-Wall is at the north end of Rialto Beach, about two miles from the trailhead.

At low tide, you can cross through the hole to another nice beach, smaller but more protected than Rialto. At high tide, use the short but steep overland trail. To go beyond that point, you’ll need to consult a tide chart.

Second Beach: Near La Push. Requires a short walk through the woods. Stunning sunsets and great tidepools.

Third Beach: Also Near La Push. A longer walk than to Second Beach. Climb the hard trail over the headland to the south for more privacy.

Shi Shi Beach: In the northwest corner of the park, south of Neah Bay. This is a longer hike, but one of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see. You’ll need a permit from the Makah Recreation Pass and overnight parking is in private lots. Get details here.

Ozette: Near Ozette campground. There are many areas to camp but many have use limits. To guarantee a site, reserve a permit through the Wilderness Information Center. Check http://1.usa.gov/13hwuIk for details. Campfires are not allowed in some areas.

*Correction: Jan. 1, 2014: This story originally used an incorrect name for the creek.

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