Even though it’s a long drive from Seattle, Olympic Coast backpacking at Second Beach in Olympic National Park is an excellent first backpacking trip for beginners as well as a fun and relaxing trip for those with more experience. At just two miles and with only about 100 feet of elevation gain and loss, this is also a good backpacking trip to take kids on for the first time! You can go up to an additional mile walking on the beach (and can repeat that as many times as you like!) so you can get in plenty of exercise if you want, and if you want a short hike and a day of reading on the beach, you can have that too! It should also be noted that this makes for a great day hike if you don’t want to backpack. Bring a headlamp for the walk back and enjoy a sunset! Second Beach has as good a sunset as anywhere in the world!
There are several parts of Olympic National Park where you can backpack on the coast, this post will focus on Second Beach because it doesn’t require advance reservations and has more straightforward parking than Shi Shi beach (which is also fabulous for beginner backpacking and is four miles round trip). It does require a wilderness permit ($8) from the park service and a bear bin (which you can borrow for free from the park when you pick up your permit). This route also does not require a car shuttle (it’s a round trip hike on the same trail).
Dogs are not allowed on this trail in Olympic National Park.
Is Olympic Coast Backpacking at Second Beach right for me?
This is a short trail (you’re on the beach in one mile, you could be walking up to an additional mile on the beach looking for your perfect campsite)! If you like the idea of a short hike this is a good option. It’s also a great trip if you like to hang out at the beach, either watching the waves or exploring tidepools or taking in a spectacular sunset. Be aware that the trail while short tends to be extremely muddy. I highly recommend wearing rubber boots! This is also a place where you can have a campfire (made of driftwood) while backpacking, which makes it quite unique!
When is a good time for Olympic Coast Backpacking?
You may already know that the Olympic Coast is extremely rainy. While this is a great year round destination, keep an eye on the forecast (it could be dry in Seattle but very wet here). The forecast is the biggest consideration rather than the time of year. Statistically, the driest time of year is late July and early August, but the weather on a particular set of days you plan to go is most important! Rain gear and an excellent rain fly on your tent are critical year round.
Where is Second Beach?
Second Beach is in Olympic National Park and the trailhead is about a mile from the town of La Push, which is about 15 miles west of the town of Forks, which is about 60 miles west of Port Angeles. Port Angeles in turn is about an hour and a half from the Kingston or Bainbridge ferry terminal. It will take a solid 3 hours to get there from the ferry terminal (plus the ferry ride, plus waiting for the ferry, plus getting to the ferry from wherever you are).
If you are backpacking, you’ll need to stop at the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles to get your wilderness permit. This is IMPORTANT! You need the permit to camp ($8 per person per night) and you can’t get it at the trailhead. Check with the park service for their hours as they vary throughout the year. The park service also requires that you have a bear bin (a container which bears cannot get into to keep your food and toiletries in). If you don’t have one you can borrow one from the park service for free.
The park service says there are times that too many people have already gotten permits for that night and they don’t let anyone else get them, although this has never happened to me. I would suggest getting to the Wilderness Information Center as early as possible if it’s a weekend in the summer.
At the trailhead there is an overflow parking lot which may be necessary on a summer weekend.
The trail is a short (just under a mile) walk through the Olympic Rainforest, with thundering ocean waves getting louder as you approach the beach. There can be a lot of mud on this trail, so use caution (and wear rubber boots). The last few hundred yards go down a very steep cliff (about 100 feet) so be careful here as well, especially with your backpack. At the base of the cliff the trail ends and you come out on the beach. There is an outhouse here at the base of the trail.
Once on the beach, walk along until you find a spot to put your tent, making sure it is well above the tide line. You can build a fire from driftwood here, which is a fun treat (bring those smore materials).
After your tent is set up, you can sit and look at the water, or read, or walk on the beach or check out the amazing tidepools. The sunset here is spectacular when it’s not too cloudy.
I have even seen bioluminescence in the water from plankton that glow when they’re disturbed (like when the waves break at the beach). It’s not always visible, but if you see the waves glowing, that’s what’s going on. Really amazing.
One other tip: I would bring the drinking and cooking water you need with you, especially if it’s just one night. Finding water that isn’t brownish on the beach is hard and tends to be more of a trickle. Bringing water the short distance is easier!
When you’re ready to head back, pack up (make sure to pack everything you brought including trash out with you) and head back to your car. Make sure to stop to return your bear bin at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles if you borrowed one.
Breweries and Bakeries
The River’s Edge Restaurant in La Push is not a brewery or a bakery (though they do have good food and serve beer), but it’s a great place with a good view to grab a meal after your adventure.
Check this post about bakery, coffee and beer options in Port Angeles on your way home from your Olympic Coast Backpacking Adventure.
Electric Vehicle Charging
Olympic Coast backpacking is challenging with an electric car if it’s one (like mine!) with a more limited range. There are not many fast chargers on the Olympic Peninsula, and none in Forks or La Push. There is a Level 2 Charger (this works for my Nissan leaf) at the hospital in Forks, which unfortunately isn’t that close to the shops and restaurants in town. There is also a Level 2 charger at Lake Crescent on the way back to Port Angeles. There is fast charging available in Port Angeles at the Nissan Dealer (for Nissan Leaves only) and several Level 2 chargers downtown.