Sunset over Rialto Beach, with driftwood in the foreground

Easily Accessible Pacific Beaches in Olympic National Park

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Olympic National park is vast and diverse, made up of many different topographies and climates.  The Pacific beaches are one of three sections of Olympic National Park; they are wild and rugged, and well worth the trip.  I’m not really a beach gal. I mean, I like the beach, just not so much the sand.  However, I LOVED visiting the Pacific beaches of Olympic National Park.  We spent a week in Olympic NP with our then 2-year-old, and some of our favorite days were spent playing in the sand, and hiking through the rain forest to the beach.

Olympic National Park protects 65 miles of pristine Pacific beaches, and National Forest and Wildlife Refuges protect many more.  Because Olympic is so vast and sprawling some of it is not suitable for families with smaller children or people with mobility issues.  Luckily, many of the Pacific beaches are easily accessible!

Easily Accessible Beaches of Olympic National Park

Rialto Beach

Literally feet from the parking lot, Rialto Beach is one of the most accessible of the Pacific beaches.  Rialto Beach is in the Mora area, just across an inlet north of the town of La Push.  It is one of four Pacific beaches accessible from the village of the Forks, near La Push.

Highlights: Aside from being extremely easy to get to, the highlights of Rialto Beach are the sea stacks, tide pools, driftwood, and a feature known as Hole-in-the-Wall.

Hole-in-the-Wall is about a two-mile (just under 4 miles round trip) hike from Rialto Beach, along the Pacific NW Trail.  You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful stone arch and tons of unique tidepools.  Rialto Beach and the hike out to Hole-in-the-Wall is primarily coastal forest and ocean beach.

Camping on Rialto Beach: A wilderness camping permit is required, and no more than 12 people can be in a group.

La Push/First Beach

First Beach, as its name suggests, is the first in a series of three beaches accessible near the small town of La Push, Washington.  From First Beach, opposite Rialto Beach, you can see the Rialto sea stacks, and also more sea stacks further south.  If you want to experience the wildness of the Pacific beaches, without having to hike, First Beach is your spot.  First Beach is not in Olympic National Park; it is part of the Quileute Indian Reservation.  It looks like a postcard.

Highlights: It’s close to town, no hiking required, but has stunning vistas nonetheless.

Camping/Lodging:  You can rent a campsite or a cabin at Quileute Oceanside Resort.

Crashing waves and colorful sunset at La Push Beach in Olympic National Park
La Push Beach in Olympic National Park

Second Beach

The hike out to Second Beach is only .7 miles; however, there is a 100-foot elevation loss on the way to the beach, so the hike back out is more strenuous.    BUT if you decide to make the journey, it’ll be well worth it; Second Beach is hands down my favorite of the Pacific beaches.  This trail is not stroller friendly, and you should have good knees for this trek.  As its name suggests, it’s the second of three picturesque beaches adjacent to the town of La Push.

There is a pile of driftwood that you’ll have to contend with at trail’s end;  I’d recommend packing out small children in a carrier as it can be challenging to navigate the driftwood.

Highlights: The hike out to the beach is spectacular.  You wind through wild, knotty, magical rain forest, which gives way to breathtaking sea stacks and miles upon miles of pristine, soft sand.  Tide pools abound, and little ones could spend hours playing in the sand, exploring the tide pools, and ogling over the towering sea stacks.

Camping on Second Beach: A wilderness camping permit is required and no more than 12 people to a group.  No permit required for the South Coast.

Third Beach

Third Beach is one of the more challenging hikes and is the third beach in the La Push area.  It’s 1.4 miles out to Third Beach (so, nearly 3 miles round trip).  Third Beach Trailhead is a little bit up the road from the Second Beach Trailhead.   You’ll encounter a 240-foot elevation loss on your way to the beach.

Highlights: Third Beach trail is less traveled than the others in the La Push area, and as such, you’ll find a bit more solitude and peace.  When you arrive at Third Beach, you are rewarded by a beautiful coastline and stunning cliffs.  At the south end of Third Beach, you’ll find Strawberry Bay Falls plunging into the Pacific Ocean; it is more dramatic during times of high rain and in the spring.  Another highlight are the sea stacks off of Taylor Point.

Camping on Third Beach: A wilderness camping permit is required and no more than 12 people to a group.  No permit is necessary for the South Coast.

**Note: Per the NPS website, you should never try and round Teahwhit Head to access Third Beach from Second Beach- it is impassible, even at low tide.

Ruby Beach

Ruby Beach is one of the more popular of the Pacific beaches of Olympic National Park.  Located near Oil City, it’s about 35 minutes south of the Forks, and about 15 minutes south of the turn off for the Hoh Rainforest.  It’s a rocky beach, so although it’s close to the parking lot, I’d recommend wearing solid shoes.

Highlights: It’s only .25 miles from the parking lot to the beach.  The sea stacks are also particularly dramatic off of Ruby Beach, as are the sunsets.  Additionally, because it’s so close to the parking lot, you can have a typical beach day here and not have to trek all of your gear down to the beach with you.

Camping on Ruby Beach: You are not allowed to camp at Ruby Beach; the only places to camp on the Southern coast of Olympic National Park are Kalaloch Campground and South Beach Campground (just south of Kalaloch).

Kalaloch Beach

Kalaloch Beach is about a 10-minute drive south of Ruby Beach. This area boasts several day hikes, and abundant marine and avian wildlife.  Combining Ruby Beach with a visit to Kalaloch Beach would make for a great day trip, and wouldn’t be too hard on the kiddos.  There’s lots of driftwood and soft sand for playing.

Highlights: Besides the beach, the highlight of Kalaloch Beach is the Tree Root Cave.  It’s an old mangled, sprawling tree that appears to be bridging two sides of a cliff.  The area beneath the roots has eroded, and so it appears that a cave has formed underneath the tree. It’s a unique and incredible site.

Lodging at Kalaloch Beach: The Kalaloch area has a campground, and you’ll also find the stunning Kalaloch Lodge The lodge is set back a bit from the beach; however, the campground is right on the Pacific coastline.

Not So Accessible Pacific Beaches near Olympic National Park, but Maybe Worth the Trip

Shi Shi Beach

Shi Shi Beach is in Olympic National Park; however, a section of the hike runs through Makah Reservation lands; to visit Shi Shi Beach, you must purchase a ‘Makah Recreation Pass,’ available at several stores in Neah Bay.

The hike to the beach is relatively easy but can be extremely muddy; it’s about two miles from the trailhead to the beach, with a steep section towards the end-about 200 feet of elevation gain.  Shi Shi Beach trailhead is situated about two hours and fifteen minutes from Port Angeles, and just under two hours from La Push.  This trail isn’t for everyone, as it’s a bit more strenuous than some of the other trails.

Highlights: Besides the beach itself, Point of the Arches is your reward for trekking all the way out there.   Once you reach the beach, hike out another 2 miles to reach Point of the Arches, a series of majestic and rocky sea stacks.   

Camping: You can camp on the beach; however, a wilderness camping permit is required.  Reservations are required in the summer south of Shi Shi Beach.

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery is the northwesternmost point of the lower contiguous 48 states.  It overlooks Neah Bay, which is home to the Makah people.  To visit the Cape, you must purchase a ‘Makah Recreation Pass,’ available at several stores in Neah Bay.

Cape Flattery trail itself isn’t inaccessible- it’s only ¾ of a mile from the trailhead to the overlook.  Hiking out, you’ll experience a 200-foot elevation loss, so hiking back from the overlook is a bit more strenuous.  To get here, it’ll take you just under two hours from Port Angeles, and about an hour and a half from the Forks.

Highlights: Besides being on the edge of the world, Cape Flattery features dramatic cliffs, caves, and islands.  The highlight of the bay is Tatoosh Island, dotted with pine trees and a quaint lighthouse.  Lastly, check out the diverse wildlife; if you are lucky, you may even see some whales.

Things to Know

Leave No Trace: Leave No Trace is the principal that after visiting a place, no one should ever know that you were there. Simply put, don’t leave anything behind, and don’t disturb the landscape.

Camping on the Beach: Many of the beaches allow camping on the beach, some with a permit. If camping on the beach isn’t your thing, then you can find campgrounds and lodging in La Push, the Forks, and at Kalaloch Lodge.

Swimming: The water is COLD, even in the summer. These beaches aren’t the tropical beaches of summer, where you’ll don your bikini and tanning oil.  The water is wild and rough; I would not recommend swimming, although we definitely dipped our toes in!

Driftwood: The driftwood is enormous, and you’ll occasionally have to climb over it when exiting the trail onto the beach. Take care that the driftwood doesn’t roll and that you have stable footing.  I recommend wearing hiking shoes or good walking shoes.  If flip-flops are your thing, then pack a pair in your bag for when you get to the sandy part of the beach.

Remoteness: Some of these beaches are REMOTE. If it seems as though they are at the edge of the world, they are.  Don’t count on being able to dip into the grocery store when you get out there; bring anything that you’ll need for the day with you.  Sure, there are convenience stores in the Forks, and in La Push, but once you get out to second and third beaches, there’s nuthin.

Takeaway

Whether you visit an easily accessible beach like Rialto, First, or Ruby Beach, or you venture further afield to Second or Shi Shi Beach, be sure to make visiting the Pacific Beaches of Olympic National Park part of your trip.  They are worth the trek- the relaxation, pristine beauty, and unfettered wilderness are second to none!

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