Does the gloomy winter Pacific Northwest weather already have you planning for summer? A tradition for Captain Wifey and I is to drive the 3-4 hours from Seattle to the Washington coast and do a little backcountry camping near Rialto Beach.
The drive out there from Seattle takes you on a ferry ride (take the Edmonds ferry in the morning and Bainbridge on your return to beat the rush), through the town of Port Angeles where you need to stop and get your backcountry pass (more on this later), past lovely Lake Crescent (pictured above), right by the town of Forks (vampires anyone?), and finally to the Olympic National Park Rialto Beach parking lot.
Rialto Beach is gorgeous. If you're staying overnight you'll park in a different parking lot since you're leaving your car. The pass you picked up at the Ranger Station in Port Angeles will go both on your dash and with you on your pack. They give you a giant bear canister (to store scented things and food overnight), that goes with you too (and is a suggested $3 donation). Off you go!
Heading north, you'll hike a fairly short distance and reach Ellen Creek. Camping is allowed anywhere north of here, but we always keep walking past the Hole-in-the-Wall to find a secluded spot. The tides greatly affect the route and time you'll need to get places on the coast…make sure to get a tide-table book (or app, however, cell coverage can by spotty…some apps work offline, some don't) and plan accordingly.
Two-hours of hiking at high tide can become only 20 minutes at low tide! Sea-stacks block the way at higher tides forcing you to take the occasional steep jungle route (picture below!). At high tide, normally easy to walk on hard sand becomes deep gravel. The lower the tide the better.
One of the greatest things about backcountry camping, besides being only $11 per night, is you don't have to take the risk of camping next to some loud, rude dudes. You pick the spot. We like to find a bay or inlet that becomes hard to get to when the tide comes in. Look toward the tree-line for camping spots others have used (and fire-pits). The panorama below is a view from our elevated campsite. The sea-stacks in the distance to the left are from the town of La Push - far enough, but not too far.
Another perk is campfires on the beach. Little rain in the summer often causes the inland parks to initiate burn-bans although the coast is rarely affected.
Sometimes you have to get creative. We were truly roughing it, trying to chill our sake that we brought along…We decided to use the cool waters of the Pacific! It kinda worked.
Another benefit of hiking/exploring at low tide is the abundant sea life in tide pools. It's nature's aquarium out here.
Hopefully we've sold you on the breathtaking Washington coast. Let's review:
1. The tides make or break this trip, plan accordingly.
2. Edmonds ferry there, Bainbridge ferry back.
3. Pit stop in Port Angeles at the ranger station (it's at the beginning of the road leading to Hurricane Ridge) to get your passes - $11 a day.
4. Bring your own water (which is heavy), or, what we do - bring a fancy filter to purify before drinking (or boil)…iodine tablets are not enough out here.
5. Wear supportive hiking boots, not sandals…there's lots of rock.
6. Leave room on your pack for the giant bear canister.
7. Check the weather - windstorms bring high surf. Layer…it's cold, even in the summer.
8. Check here for more info from the National Parks!
~Paul & Amber ETC
We had to do it. Every Northwesterner feels the urge…the urge to drive out to the most northwest point in the contiguous US - Cape Flattery.
Located in Washington state, Cape Flattery is part of the Makah Indian Reservation and although it's in Western Washington like Seattle, it's still a whopping 4 hours and 24 minutes away. If you live in the state, the drive and experience is a ritual you must participate in...eventually. It took us 10 years of living in the state before we made the trip!
As you get close you'll enter the Makah Indian Reservation. This was one of the big reasons we wanted to make the trip out here - to check out the Makah Museum - we heard it was great (it is). It's probably a good idea to read the giant "Recreational Use Permit" sign on the side of the road as you enter the Res. The permit is kind of a toll for visiting. A few local businesses sell it for anyone who wants to park a car on the reservation (which is you if you're visiting). If you plan to check out Cape Flattery, you'll need one (I carelessly drove past the giant sign, parked at the Cape, hiked, and returned without getting a ticket…but I think I just got lucky).
The hike out to the Cape viewpoint is mostly boardwalk and pretty easy. There's lots of smaller side-lookouts to enjoy as you make your way to the point.
The view from the final viewing platform (picture below) is of Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery Light - the northernmost lighthouse on the West Coast of the US.
As far a views go, well, that's about it. Far more stunning were the views to Canada and the north on the drive out. Other than that, Cape Flattery, to be honest, isn't that grand…but we had to do it, we had to!
Way cooler is the Makah Museum - so far the best Native American Museum we've ever been to, and worth the adventure out here in the first place. Sadly they don't allow photography inside the museum so I don't have any pics from the inside:(
The museum is large and has lots of exhibit space, a cool gift shop, and great interactive stuff for the kiddos. They've done a great job and I can't wait to go back. Because of the 4 1/2 hours it takes to get here from Seattle, you might want to venture out as part of a bigger trip. Whether staying a night in a nearby cabin, camping on the coast, or hitting up a nearby Northwest Inn, it's a nice addition to the agenda. We finally made it and you will too…eventually!
~Paul & Amber ETC
(P.S. Don't let this museum website scare you - it's old - the museum is 10 times more modern than this site…seriously!)
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