Weekend Backpacker: Seattle
Olympic National Park Headquarters/Wilderness Information Center
600 E. Park Ave.
Port Angeles, WA 98362
Olympic National Park is a study in contrasts. You can hike for miles on a roaring, rugged coastline, disappear into the insulated peace of 1,000-year-old forests, or walk in the shadow of the snowy peaks that crown the peninsula. There are almost 600 miles of trails within the park, and because it has many sides, it's best to try both a coastal hike and one farther inland.
Recommended trip: Rialto Beach to Ozette Ranger Station.
This hike takes you along the nation's last wild coastline (also known as the Shipwreck Coast), past tide pools, sea-lion rookeries, and groves of Sitka spruce. Even better, this sea-level hike can be done from spring to fall while you're waiting for the mountain snow to melt. But be warned: This 20-mile backpack requires a solid understanding of tide tables. If you miss the tide going around a headland, do not try to hike around it (wait for the next low tide). There are no designated campsites along the coast, so you can camp anywhere above high tide. Repeated use has created several nice wooded sites near water sources, especially at Kayostla Beach, near the Norwegian Memorial, Cedar Creek, and the Chilean Memorial. Fires are allowed along the coast except north of Yellow Banks, where a major revegetation project is under way near Sand Point. The last 2.8 miles is on the Sand Point trail, which takes you back to the Ozette Ranger Station.
Getting there: Take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry from Seattle to the peninsula (for Washington State Ferry information, call 206-464-6400), then follow signs to Port Angeles. Continue west on Highway 101 until about 1 mile before Forks. Turn west on La Push Road and go 7.6 miles to the fire station. Turn right and drive 4.8 miles to the end of the road and the Rialto Beach trailhead.
Permit information: Backcountry permits are $5 at the trailhead, plus $2 per person, per night. (Under 16 years old are admitted free.) Reservations are required from Memorial Day to Labor Day from south of Sand Point to Cape Alava; call (360) 565-3100 for more information.
Maps: Use the Custom Correct map of the North Olympic Coast. Tide tables are posted at all trailheads, but carry one with you just in case. Tide tables are available at the ranger station between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. during the summer.
Practical information: Many stretches of this hike are rocky and rugged, so boots with good ankle support are a necessity.
Guidebook: The Falcon Guide Hiking Olympic National Park notes all important junctions and offers easy-to-read maps for orientation. Appendixes with campground information are a bonus.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication