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
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