Sunday, August 24, 2014

Olympic National Park Beaches

2nd Beach, La Push.  Photo by Bruce Hansen (c) Mt. Hood Press
There are many reasons to visit Olympic National Park in summer - hike stunning ridgelines of tall, glacier
2nd Beach, Olympic National Park
capped mountains, explore wildlife-rich riperian zones of blue, glacial water, and walk among giant trees, dripping with ancient-looking moss.

Still...the number one reason I wanted to visit Olympic National Park was to walk the coastline, explore life-filled tide pools, and gaze at enormous rock monoliths in the pristine beaches of northern Washington State.

In my short, four day stay, I was able to visit three beautiful beaches.  Details about our itinerary are available on the Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park.  Since my favorite part of the stay was the beaches (as well as the reason I came), I decided it was appropriate to do an additional post of these magnificent spaces.    Below is advice, descriptions, and directions to three of the most spiritual beaches of the region.

Ruby Beach on a cool, foggy morning

1.  It's Cold - Don't expect Santa Monica sunbathing.  Even in August, these beaches are cool, cloudy, and have freezing water.  It's part of what makes them unique and home to abundant wildlife.  Enjoy the beach as a place to walk, explore, and photograph, but leave your beach towel and bikini at home.

2.  Check the Tide - Check a local tide chart.  It's best to explore the coast at low tide when you can poke around the pools and walk more of the beach.  

3.  Go Early to Avoid Crowds - None of these beaches will reach SoCal type crowding, but after noon, expect to see families and tourists exploring the beach. For a pristine, empty beach, get there early...or better yet, camp out on the beach!

My adventures - Three Olympic National Park Beaches and how to get there...

2nd Beach - La Push, WA

It's unfortunate this gorgeous shoreline has the un-romantic name of "2nd Beach".  It doesn't do it justice.
Little Girl finds Sea Star home
While 1st beach can get crowded due to it's easy street access, and 3rd beach is the the first crowded parking lot from La Push Road, 2nd Beach is tucked away between it's sisters.  It's the perfect escape.  After a short, wooded hike through giant, ancient trees, I emerged onto a open (and empty) one-mile stretch of beach.  Sea stacks and small rock islands pierced through a sea of fog, and as I walked, the wave of cloud would move, revealing and hiding new rock monoliths.  This was a great spot to explore tide pools.  I was relieved to see groups of healthy sea stars - not yet struck by starfish wasting disease.  It was exactly why I had wanted to visit this park.  It felt magical. 

Get there:  We drove 2 miles north on Rt. 101 to Rt. 110.  Turn left (West) on Rt. 110.  This will turn into La Push Road.  Travel about 13 miles on 110/La Push road.  You will pass the parking lot for 3rd Beach and the Quileute Tribal Office before coming to the parking lot for 2nd Beach.  

2nd Beach, La Push

2nd Beach, La Push

On the jetty at First Beach
1st Beach - La Push, WA

This is one of the easiest beaches to access in the park - No Hiking Required.  This beach sports a long jetty covered in large and battered driftwood.  I climbed on the largest piece of driftwood I've ever seen - a uprooted and weathered tree that had a root system still standing at least 25 feet high!  Rocky islands and needles rise offshore and create a unique coastal landscape.  I visited this beach to watch the sunset and even though it was foggy, it was amazing to watch colored sky peek through the cracks in the clouds.  

Get there:  We drove 2 miles north on Rt. 101 to Rt. 110.  Turn left (West) on Rt. 110.  This will turn into La Push Road.  Take 110/La Push Road to the end and you will enter the town of La Push.  Follow signs to 1st beach parking.

Ruby Beach - Olympic National Park

We were fortunate to reach Ruby Beach at low tide where I could get a hands-on experience with
Rock Needles at Ruby Beach
the many tide pools.  Large green anemones carpeted the rocks, rough blue mussels clung to the stone, and hand-sized orange and purple sea stars cooled in the pools.  We enjoyed the morning fog and many rock needles rising out of the sand while we wandered.  Our 9 am walk left us one of the only people enjoying this heavenly piece of nature.  It was the perfect way to end our trip in the park.

Get there:  From Forks, take Rt 101 south 27 miles to Ruby Beach parking area (there is a sign on the right).  Walk a quarter mile trail to the beach below.  

Although I loved every part of the park we explored, the beaches were my favorite.  The rock islets, foggy days, and enormous tide pool organisms create a place of wonder and peace.  It calms my soul and makes me yearn to return.  

Sea Stars in Olympic National Park

Ruby Beach

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