The Olympic Peninsula is known for its rainforests, giant trees, national park, and Pacific coastline. Living in Seattle, the waters of Puget Sound give a fix for water lovers, but I always like to go to Olympic Peninsula beaches a couple times of year. Why?
I grew up on the east coast where the summers were HOT and HUMID. Summers in the PNW are mild yet sunny. Even though the ocean isn’t warm, the waves crashing, the sea stacks, walking barefoot with sand between your toes makes it feel like summer.
With the first full sunny week in Seattle, a friend and I took two half-days from work for the first camping trip of the season. The car loaded and queued up for WSDOT ferry, we left the urban city behind to access the peninsula and drive the four hours to the coast. Disembarking the ferry, the drive began with the sun’s heat warming our pale skin.
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Next stop: Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center
Here the rangers inform us what is needed to camp on the national park’s beaches. Below are a few topics the ranger will cover, along with other tidbits of information to help plan your Olympic Peninsula beaches trip.
Wilderness camping permits are required year-round and for each person on the trip. If you’re visiting during a weekend, consider making a reservation by mail at least two weeks prior to your trip. Weekday permits can be easier to obtain as a walk-in reservation. Add extra time to your drive and stop at the Wilderness Information Center to pick up permits and a bear canister (more below).
Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent annual National Park Pass needs to hang or show in the car. Annual passes will save you money if you frequent trails in the national forests or parks. Day passes can be purchased for $5 at most trailheads.
2. High and low tides
Rangers provide a printed table of the monthly tides when you pick up your permit.
If the hike to where you plan on camping involves hiking on the beach, you may want to time when you start the hike based on the high and low tide times. The Wilderness Coast Trail is where you can test your tidal chart reading skills.
When camping, consider how high the tide may rise up the shore. On a recent trip, I was 60% sure the tent would be safe but decided not to stake down the tent until after high tide. I even had escape options planned in case we had to make a run for it.
3. Bear canisters
With the amounts of visitors, the national park tries to limit the impact to the natural habitat. As part of camping on the peninsula, bear canisters may be required (they definitely are for the beaches). The canisters aren’t only to keep your food from bears but from racoons and other small animals. Cook and keep food away from your campsite.
I’ve witnessed racoons at my campsite at Second Beach in the evening where they were sniffing around our packs sitting yards away from us. Stash anything that has a smell in the canister and place the canister away from camp at night to prevent the critters from waking you from your slumber.
Campfires are permitted on the sand only with driftwood. Cutting down trees or branches from surrounding trees is prohibited.
5. Potable water
Always filter or boil water. Iodine tablets are ineffective against cryptosporidium, which is in the water that drains to the beach. Depending on your length of stay, it may be worth carrying in all the water you need for the trip.
6. Leave no trace
If you bring it into the park, take it out of the park. Be familiar with where to bury human waste if you must go. Learn more about leave-no-trace principles.
Leave the dogs at home or research where they are allowed. Dogs aren’t permitted on the most of the beaches as they disrupt wildlife.
Getting to the Olympic Peninsula
Since you have to stop in at the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center, factor in going through Port Angeles. After Port Angeles, continue to drive Highway 101 towards Forks, Washington. Right before Forks, turn right onto WA-110 towards La Push to access First, Second, and Third beaches.
From Seattle you have two WSDOT ferry options to get your across the Puget Sound: Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry or the Edmonds-Kingston ferry.
Another option is to drive around without taking any ferries by crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
My favorite Washington coastal trails
- South Coast Wilderness Trail – Toleak Point
- Ozette Triangle
- Shi Shi Beach
- Download offline maps on your phone with Gaia GPS. Sign up and save 20%.
- National Park Service website has all the information you need for planning your trip and where to start.
- Online tide tables can be found on the NOAA Tide Predictions website.
- Washington Trails Association is a good resource for finding information on a specific trail with recent trip reports.