Northwest Hiking Trails

Ozette Lake-Beach Loop, Olympic NP, Washington

This is a fascinating, picturesque walk. Three miles of beautiful beach are bracketed by a pair of three-mile boardwalks. It's a long trip from Seattle, though--about 120 miles plus a ferry ride, all of which can take 5 hours or more. Reservations and fees are required for backpacking on this trail. Click the link below for the number to call.

Boardwalk We started our hike early in the afternoon, and soon emerged from the deep coastal forest onto the beach at Cape Alava. The tide was receding, so we walked on the beach for another mile south and camped just north of Wedding Rocks.

Photo:   [Top] Three miles of boardwalk connect Cape Alava to the Ozette ranger station. Another connects the station to Sand Point.

In the three miles between Cape Alava and Sand Point, there are no headlands that can't be either rounded (at low tide) or overland hiked (at high tide). When high tide drowns the beach, you can use the coastal trail, which follows the beach just a few feet above the high tide line. The trail is brushy and primitive along this stretch, but it gets you there.

Campsites along this route are comfortable. They are perched on the edge of the trees, behind the drift piles and three or four feet out of reach of a normal high tide.There's a campsite every 100 yards or so, except around the trailheads and headlands. Water is available at Wedding Rocks and at the trailheads. Streams that reach the beach are stained brown by root tannins. Proper filtering or boiling make the water potable, but it still looks and tastes horrible. Take your own water-- one gallon per person per 24 hours was the rule we followed in Arizona's deserts, and that should be plenty here.

The whole reservation requirement thing had us thinking this stretch of beach would be crowded, but it wasn't. A doe and fawn passed our camp a few times. We also saw golden eagles, bald eagles, crabs, raccoons, and a fur seal pup on the beach.

Speaking of raccoons, they are as much a problem for campers as bears in the high country. (But at least you don't have to worry about raccoons dragging your friends into the woods and mauling them.) Come prepared to hang your food and anything else scented in a tough container, like a bucket, day and night. Take your backpack into the tent with you at night, to keep the varmits from ripping it open with their razor-sharp little claws. During the day, leave your tent open and empty. I once lost an empty dome tent to raccoons who wanted to see what was inside. Don't underestimate their tenacity or intelligence.

Where we camped, at low tide, the wide beach was fully exposed for tide pool exploration. About 200 rocky yards from shore, we found a second strip of sand--a low-tide beach that parallels the high-tide beach. Pacific breakers crashed into this beach just as they do up above at high tide. From camp, we couldn't see the lower beach beyond the rocks. It looked just like the ocean sends wave after huge wave crashing to shore in an endless assault, but an invisible wind halts them short of the rock bed and sends them, defeated and sulking, back into the sea.

Petroglyphs The next day we continued south past Wedding Rocks and the 30-plus petroglyphs left there some 300 years ago by the Makah and Ozette Indians. Look for them on dark volcanic rocks at beach level just south of the large outcropping. Many are below tide line and all require some searching.

Photo: [Bottom] Indian petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks depict whales and other animals, as well as their native predators.

You can continue south past Sand Point to Yellow Banks and beyond, if you wish. For our loop trip, the formation at Sand Point was a scenic place for a snack break before heading inland on the final three miles of boardwalk that returned us to the Ozette ranger station and the car. The sun came out mid-morning, at lowest tide, and put a bright finish on a very enjoyable walk.

Stats: 9 mile loop, insignificant elevation change, trailhead near sea level.

Getting there: Get to Port Angeles at the north end of the peninsula, via ferry or whatever means you choose. Continue west on 101 and shortly bear right on 112 toward Clallam Bay. Just beyond Sekiu, turn left on the road marked for Ozette Lake. If you're coming from the south, follow 101 north past Forks, turn north at Sappho to 112, turn west on 112 to Sekiu, and turn off as above to Ozette Lake.

Note :   This is wilderness beach travel. You are responsible for informing yourself of the tidal hazards and taking the necessary precautions. Boardwalks are slippery when wet. And please drive carefully.

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