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Trip Report - Olympic Coast - Third Beach to Oil City

    For 40 years I've wanted to backpack the Olympic National Park wilderness coastal strip. Last week I finally did just that with my 12-year-old, Ryan. We hiked from Third Beach, south of LaPush (left Saturday noon) to the Hoh River (arrived Tuesday noon). While we had some rain Sunday and Tuesday mornings, we also had about as much brilliant sunshine as we could handle. It was never cold or windy. The trip involved miles of fine, broad, firm sand beaches, but also many steep, muddy trails over headlands that can't be rounded. At least one spot was downright dangerous. The park service recommends that hikers consider how many miles they normally cover in a day, then cut that in half.

    Here are a few tips for anyone considering the trip:

    While you hike 15 miles down the coast , your car needs to move about 35 miles to meet you. Ted and Prudence Miller, of Forks, have a business they call Roadrunner Shuttle (360-374-5195). They aren't licensed to carry passengers, but they'll move your car from one place to another for a reasonable fee.

    Tides control your life. There are some headlands you can't climb over; they must be rounded on the beach, and that can only be done when the tide is low enough. On our last day we had to hike 5 miles to reach a cliff that we had to pass before 11:30. Missing it would require setting up camp for another day. Some days the tide never gets low enough.

    You need detailed maps. It takes four 7.5 minute USGS maps to cover the strip we hikes, but the National Park has a better solution. For a little over $4 they sell a custom map with that entire hike on one page. Better still, all those tricky spots where the tide is an issue are marked with the maximum tidal height in red.

    The park requires a Wilderness Permit. You have to pay for this one, but it was only about $11 for Ryan & I for three nights. Not a big deal. The southern strip of beach that we hiked is little-used enough that reservations are not required. Not so if you hike the northern section from Rialto Beach to Cape Alava.

    The Permit and map are available at the park's Visitor Center in Port Angeles. (Well, actually the Wilderness Info Center is in a portable building behind the Visitor Center.) Service there was prompt, friendly, and helpful.  The park also requires that food be kept in bear-proof containers. Not to worry - they lend them out. They suggest a donation of $3 each to cover expenses. Pay it with a smile. Their bear cannisters are hard, smooth plastic, with no protrusions for a bear to get a purchase on them. They are about a foot long by about 9 inches in diameter. Ryan and I carried one apiece. As they get empty you can cram other stuff in with your food. Ours had a lid in one end that was unlocked with a coin. Keep a few pennies in your pockets and your pack, and you won't starve.  The nice Park people will hand you a tide table with the usual high and low tide times and heights and a graph of the tides for the whole month. I had gone them one better. A free program called JTides (the J is for Java) can be downloaded from I used it to print full-page graphs for each day. We could read it to within a few minutes and a few inches. JTides has a large database of geographic locations (it will first come up with Port Townsend), including Cape Alava, whose tides are within about 20 minutes of LaPush.

    Check the tides for Puget Sound, too. On Saturday morning we needed to catch the first ferry out of Keystone, because the second one was canceled due to low tide. Find the ferry schedule at Then, above the times listed, click the link that says "Tide Cancellations".

Bring marshmallows.

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