Backpacking in Olympic National Park


Aug 9, 2007
Starting to look like I might finally be able to swing a week long trip up in the northwest this year. A lot of it will be hotels and day hikes, but I'd really like to look into doing a bit of backpacking on the coast. I'm especially intrigued by the opportunities in Olympic National Park. Does anyone have any experience or insight on that? Like where to shoot for, best seasons, etc.? Or how about some any other ocean-front backpacking opportunities in the Oregon & Washington area?
I'd love to hear as well.

I have a good friend in Portland that I would love to get out in the backcountry with.
I'm a big fan of Olympic. Mt. Rainier is great too, but can be a little crowded. Mt. Saint Helens is worth a visit too in my opinion -- not for backpacking so much, but just as a spectacle.

I have the following report from 2010 for a trip I did with friends to Olympic in August. We did a night on the beach after a short hike up from Rialto and then a 3-day easy loop along the awesome High Divide Trail in the interior of the park:

(excuse the crazy formatting. this is when I was experimenting with Wordpress and I never went back to clean it up.)

I've done a few other overnighters along the beach, but nothing anything longer. Also... note that Olympic gets a lot of cool moisture. Besides the fog/rain, this also means much more snow than you might expect in the interior. On the above trip we were in and out of snow at 5000' in August!

- Jamal
Starting to look like I might finally be able to swing a week long trip up in the northwest this year. A lot of it will be hotels and day hikes, but I'd really like to look into doing a bit of backpacking on the coast. I'm especially intrigued by the opportunities in Olympic National Park. Does anyone have any experience or insight on that? Like where to shoot for, best seasons, etc.? Or how about some any other ocean-front backpacking opportunities in the Oregon & Washington area?

Backpacking. Coast. oh man, nick. the oly coast is pure magic.

spent a healthy amount of time in my youth toolin' around the mountains and coastline of the ONP.

straight-up sending the whole coast trail north->south, shi shi to oil city is the ultimate prize. however, that prize if often difficult to obtain/achieve due to the logistic issues of time, tide, permit, shuttle (around La Push: Rialto TR -> 3rd Beach TR), etc.

lots of opinions out on the web. I’ll throw out my rec’s


1) South Coast Trail: Oil City -> Third Beach. if you only have one chance to experience wild coastal hiking in the lower 48's, this is it, ladies and gentlemen! just as beautiful last summer with my kids as it was 30 years ago as a kid myself.
shuttle cost/logistics is an issue for most, if it is for you likewise, then a variation of 3rd Beach -> Mosquito Creek -> 3rd Beach out-n-back is extremely recommended and still retains my #1 ranking.

2) Middle Trail: (Ozette) -> Sand Point -> Rialto. high demand. very limited permit sytem.
Of note. given the cruxy combination of low tide windows and lots of soft gravel, slick rocks/boulders, and tide pool scrambling to motor on through between Yellow Banks and Norweigan Memorial (maybe 5-6 miles worth), i would not recommend this to those with current knee/ankle issues.

3) North Trail: (Ozette) -> Cape Alava -> Shi Shi. The crescendo is reached at the Point of the Arches / Father & Sons area. Its kind of an uneventful slog (5+ miles) getting there once passed the tricky ozette river ford. The tides could have you burning a lot of daylight waiting at the ford. Plus the landlocked seafield private community is a detraction with their illegal "guided" beach day hikes.


1) South Coast Trail: 3rd Beach -> Scotts Creek / Strawberry Point / Toleak -> 3rd Beach, out-n-back. The tide constriction at the south end of 3rd Beach is typically the turnaround for day user. Beyond that point is where the true, relatively speaking here, coastal wilderness experience begins.

T2) Shi Shi Beach. Weekday imperative. camp at the sound end amongst Point of the Arches, this is top notch. photo-tastic right there. Explore the Point of Arches / Father & Sons area. Shi Shi on an August weekend resembles the crowded sunny beaches of SoCal. Serious.

T2) Second Beach. short overnighter, a dayhike really, but damn, this beach packs it in. everything you’d expect in a wild coastal environment all rolled up into a gem of a beach. weekday recommended.

3) Ozette Triangle: Ozette -> Sand Point -> Cape Alava -> Ozette. high demand. imho, over-hyped when compared to the other options out there, rad nonetheless. lacks the rugged coastline effect experienced on the other sections. weekend dayhiker crowd kinda detracts from the experience. be sure to secure a camp spot at Cape Alava, just beyond the fire restriction zone. beach bonfire greatly adds to the experience. plus more time to explore the petroglyphs and wander inland to scope the elusive primitive totem poles.

look if your going to multiday pack on the coast, pioneer day week has some kick ass minus tides all week long occuring late in the morning. man you cant beat that!
the first full week of august is also delivering up some good zero low morning tides.

in parting. you have to expect mist, fog, and light rain. its all apart of what make this stretch of coast unique. besides, out-n-backs always feel more like roundtrips due to the everchanging scenary as a result of random weather.

narrow down your options, and i'll get more specific with the beta (published and unpublished).
NIIIIICE!!!! You've got my stokeometer off the charts again, moose droppings! Seriously eye balling that Pioneer Day week. Seems like the #1 on your multi-day list is a great place to start. So would that be like a 2-night? Are there paid shuttle options up there or do you kinda have to be able to arrange your own?
the South Coast trail is typically done in 3d/2n. the hurried weekend warrior shoots for 2d/1n.

those minus tides during pioneer day week cannot be anymore optimum. That’ll open up seldom visited beach terrain and headland passages.

Shuttling is the crux for this thru-hike. Your options w/ one vehicle:

1) Shuttle service. The one and only one park-approved commercial shuttle concession. .overheard last summer at the Forks WIC: the service charges for the South Beach Trail shuttle a whopping 150-bucks for up to six. However, He did tell the folks that the owner is quite aggressive at coordinating and filling seats so everyone pays the minimum 25-bucks.

2) Car spotting … Check your PM for beta.

3) Post up here for a shared shuttle inquiry. . they may have a Facebook page.

4) Proposition a local or other visiting outdoor enthusiasts milling about at the Forks shopping center. effective.

5) Public Transportation + bike spot or hitch. No shit. For a buck catch the La push -> Forks bus @ 3rd Beach TH. Bus hop at the transfer station in Forks. fyi, The WIC is located inside the bus transfer station. A second buck catches you the Forks -> Grays Harbor bus headin' southbound down the 101. hop off at to the lower hoh river road intersection. Bike spot or hitch a ride down the lower hoh river road 10 miles to the oil city TH. plenty of fishermen and day users on that road to offer up rides. Not very appealing after a backpack trip, but its def a suitable option.

Yeah it ts all sounds like a hassle, hence my suggestion for the variation that includes an out-n-back from 3rd Beach. However, if you can pull the shuttle off you can pretty much guarantee the southern half of the trail from oil city to toleak all to yourself. Most out-n-backers only go as far as toleak pt from 3rd Beach TH.
How are the temps and rain in late Nov and early December?

Any thoughts on Hoh River to Third Beach?

My buddies and I (FL, TX, CA) want to do a 3 day/2 nighter around late Nov/early Dec. We were considering the northern CA Lost Coast Trail, but these WA treks look even better! A little cold we could probably handle, but we'd rather avoid a lot of rain.

Thanks for your help
Hey Apache, same deal - I'll be out there 2nd week of November, trying to decide between the coast or the hills.... did you get any beta on the weather?
From what I've read it seems like it would be too cold, windy, and or rainy on the coast at that time of the year, unfortunately
Well I'll be sure to let you know when I get back. Still working the plan... based on unfortunate tide timing, probably a 2 night out and back on Shi Shi, followed by a 2 night out and back up the Hoh valley. Expecting cold, windy, rainy... and beautiful and awesome!!!
Wow you are hardcore ha! Definitely let me know how it goes and post pics. Have a great time and be safe!
Latest plan... only 1 night on Shi Shi.. tides just aren't cooperating. After that, 3 more nights, split between Hoh and Enchanted Valleys. Will probably end up making the choice once I'm there. Will def post up pics! I have some pix from Chicago Basin this summer - where to post?
I went to the Seattle area last Spring for the Navy. I had a day off and headed out for Olympic Peninsula for some photos. I had it all planned out and was really looking forward to the trip. One particular waterfall was on my radar and I finally get there, round the corner...... and there is a wedding party. Two Park employees were getting married. What I SHOULD have done is to just do an about face because hey, its a wedding. Or, perhaps taken some shots and given them the link to my Smugmug site. What I DID was to stand there and wait, practically tapping my foot and looking at my watch. I had a full day planned and was doing a loop so I couldn't come back and actually did have some time pressure. They were already done with the ceremony but I still think I may have rushed them and I feel like a complete tool, even today. So each time this post gets bumped it just reminds me of what I heel I was last spring, rushing a wedding. I snapped one shot of the group as I sat there with the "hurry up" look on my face.

Beautiful waterfall. It's a testament to your character that this bothers you to this day. It doesn't surprise me that you are in the Navy. We all owe you and all the others in our armed services a debt of gratitude.

And don't sweat it, we have all done things in the past that we regret. You learned from it, you're wiser because of it, and you won't do it again. That's what's important.
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