backpack: Olympic Coast – Shi Shi Beach
On this three night backpacking trip over the Summer Solstice, we explored tide pools during the lowest minus tides of the year, escaped to sea caves to avoid the scorching sun, and watched the longest sunsets I’ve ever seen.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 5 miles, 400 ft. gain
- best months: May to July
- location: Olympic Peninsula; nearest town: Neah Bay
- land management: Olympic National Park
- trail conditions: Olympics: Shi Shi Beach
- hike description: Washington Trails Association – Shi Shi Beach
- permits: required in advance for all backcountry campsites
- trailhead pass: Makah Tribe Recreation pass ($10 annually), available in several locations in Neah Bay. There is no overnight parking at the trailhead, so you have park back 0.6 miles at one of the local’s lots ($10 a night).
- regulations: dogs are not allowed; bear canisters are required for food storage
It’s a long drive from Portland to Shi Shi, made longer with two stops for permits (see above) and construction delays. We stopped at a Hood Canal park to eat lunches we brought with us, then headed to the Port Angeles ranger station and Neah Bay for permits.
The first section of the trail heads through dense forest with boardwalks and interesting bridges.
When the boardwalks end, it’s pure mud for the next mile or so of trail. Side trails go up and around some of the worst sections, but there’s a fair amount of bushwhacking involved. No matter which way we went, it was impossible to keep our shoes out of the mud on this hike.
The mud ended just before the National Park boundary. At this point, the trail heads down (about 150 feet) to the beach via a steep slope . A rope is provided to make it easier to descend on the slippery trail. At the bottom, the trail continues through the woods but there are several openings to the beach.
When we reached the beach, we hiked for another two miles to be closer to the Point of Arches. We tried to find campsites in the wooded sections, but they were all taken so we setup camp on the beach above the high tide line.
We were exhausted by the long drive and hike in, and it was late after we set up camp so we went to bed early after a quick dinner.
We got up to explore tide pools during a -2.4 low tide. Minus tides are when the low tide line is below 0, and the lowest tides of the year were during the week we were here. It was low enough that you could walk out to the last sea stack in the Point of Arches.
Our water source for this trip was Willoughby Creek. All of the water sources in this area have tannins from leaf decay that tints the water a light brown color. Filtering doesn’t alter the color, but the water tasted fine.
Long shadows on the longest day of the year.
Two bald eagles were regular beach companions… they perched in a tree above our camp and occasionally would walk along the beach in front of us.
It was unusually warm for the Olympic Coast, with temps in the high 70s to low 80s. Since there’s no shade on the beach, we headed to a sea cave with our backpacking chairs to hang out and stay cool.
In the evening, we hung out at the Point of Arches and watched the sunset. I slept with my tent vestibule doors open and at 11:30 pm, there was still sunset color in the sky.
We got up to explore another minus tide, this time it was -2.7. We spent several hours walking around the tide pools, went for a long walk on the beach, then escaped to the sea cave again when it got hot.
We had another absolutely stunning sunset on our last night.
Time to leave this beautiful beach. The hike out was similar to the hike in, with plenty of mud to walk through. Shi Shi is a lot of work to get to, but it sure is a special place. I hope to repeat this trip again someday.