Coastal Backpacking in Washington State
The Olympic Coast of Washington is the most primitive natural coastline in the 48 contiguous United States. Part of an ecosystem stretching from Oregon to Alaska, with a rainforest that seldom sees temperatures below freezing in the winter or exceeding 80 degrees in the summer.
This trip, being surrounded by a temperate rain forest with the opportunity for views of wildlife, plants / trees, island sea stacks, and the ocean with it's changing tide pools, provides a unique experience rarely found elsewhere.
Travel is mostly along beaches and rocky shores, except for a few headland trails. The terrain includes sections of sand, cobbles, rocks, logs and forest trails. Navigation is simple, but rising water from the tide can cut you off.
Current tide tables and maps indicating the headland trails are posted at trailheads and coastal ranger stations. Know when tides occur and be aware that winds or off-shore storms can make tides higher than tide tables estimate, making routes impassable even at low tide.
Headland trails, marked by orange and black targets lead over points that can not be rounded from the shoreline. They receive minimal maintenance and are usually steep and muddy. Some headland trails have fixed routes and sand ladders to aid climbing.
Also, beware of slippery rocks and logs that can be slippery, unstable and can tip or roll. Vibram soles do not give trauma on wet or algae-covered rocks, so stay low, take short steps and keep your hands free for balance.
As for this trip, the first section is ~ 4 miles from Rialto Beach trailhead, along the beach and through Hole in the Wall to just before Cape Johnson 1. From Camp 1 hike North ~ 4 miles around Cape Johnson (Attempt at low tide only, requires significant boulder hopping) to Cedar Creek and Camp 2. Cedar Creek is an excellent fly-fishing spot and because your are in a national park no licenses are needed.
From Camp 2 hike ~ 7 miles North past the Norwegian memorial and just before Yellow Banks to Camp 3 (there are numerous campsites inside the edge of the woods).
From Camp 3, continue past Yellow Banks for ~ 3 miles to Sand Point and Camp 4. This section can be rounded at medium tide through the rock tunnels at the North end of Yellow Banks beach (there are multiple campsites along this beach inside the forest edge).
Form camp 4, continue North to the head of Sand Point beach, where you'll find the marker for the boardwalk to Ozette Ranger Station and home. This last section depends on where you camp on Sand Point beach is ~ 3 miles long. Because Sand Point receives a lot of day-hikers and is currently restricted from having fires, some people prefer to stay longer at Yellow Banks and just combine the last 2 days hikes for a longer last day hike from Yellow Banks to the Ozette Ranger Station.
This last leg of travel is mostly along a moss covered boardwalk through a jungle like forest with a few bridges to cross streams and benches for rest stops. Navigation is simple, the only clear path is on the boardwalk. The trail receives regular maintenance, but with so much rain (140 to 167 inches annually) the planks can still wear out, so watch out for broken planks and worn sections (bring rain gear).
The proposed schedule above is just a suggestion, based on trip experience and can be altered for weather conditions, tide changes, or individual preferences. There are numerous other campsites along the route or on the beach. Although, be aware of high-tide lines when beach camping or you could wake up in the ocean.
There are permits and wilderness use fees, so for current prices and directions check out the Park escort service in DC website:
Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center
600 E. Park Ave. Port Angeles, WA 98382
Ozette Ranger Station Lake Ozette, WA