This year for the May long weekend a group of 12 of us headed to Olympic National Park in Washington to do a portion of the North Coast route from the Ozette Lake trailhead in the south to Shi Shi Beach on the Makah Tribe Reserve in the north, a total distance of about 25km.
We set out from Vancouver on Friday morning and made the long drive down to ONP. We decided to go via Whitbey Island and the Keystone to Port Townsend ferry. We didn't make reservations for the ferry since we weren't sure how long it would take to get there with the long weekend border waits. Consequently, we barely squeaked on to the ferry.
We stopped in Port Angeles to pick up our backcountry permit and rent bear canisters, which are required for trips on the coast. We also went to Safeway in Port Angeles to pick up groceries.
We made the long drive down the windy roads to Ozette Lake where we would camp at the little car campground. During the drive we had periods of pouring rain, interrupted by periods of blinding sun, which made us nervous about the weather to come over the weekend. We set up camp and waited for the rest of our group to arrive from Vancouver. They finally pulled in around 3am.
Bright and early Saturday morning (too early for those that had arrived at 3am), we got up and started organizing food into bear canisters. We also sent two of the cars up to the Makah Reserve to set up the car shuttle. The remaining 10 of us packed up and set off down the trail towards Cape Alava.
The trail to Cape Alava is mostly boardwalk as it winds through swampy forest and bog.
A quick 5km later we popped out on to the gorgeous beach at Cape Alava.
After a leisurely lunch in the grass at Cape Alava, we set off down the beach and soon passed by Tskawahyah Island, which is actually a tombolo (joined to land at low tide).
Next was a mile of beach walking, followed by the rounding of two headlands that require lower tides to pass. There was some mild rock scrambling and lots of interesting tidal life to look at.
We finished up the day by fording the Ozette River. This can only be done at low tide unless you like swimming! We crossed right at low tide and the river was just above knee high.
We camped on the north side of the river up on the bank in the trees as the tide came in too high to camp on the beach. In total, we travelled about 9.5km on Saturday.
On Sunday morning we had a leisurely morning as we need to wait for the tide to begin going out before proceeding around a nearby headland.
We set out along the beach and soon came to the headland, which was still slightly submerged. Some of us chose the wet foot option, while the rest opted to scramble over some rocks and roots.
We then had nearly 5km of narrow beach to travel, followed by several hundred meters of boulder field travel, which felt like it took forever.
We then rounded a couple tidal dependent headlands and started up the steep trail for the mandatory overland bypass. The ascent up was grueling, especially after we realized that the contour interval on our map was in meters, not in feet so we would be doing a lot more climbing than we thought. Thankfully, there were ropes for assistance in a few key places. In the middle of the overland trail, it drops down into a little cove, then goes right back up the other side. After nearly 2km on the overland trail, we descended steeply to a little gravel beach with great views.
From that little beach we walked a few hundred meters around the corner to pass by Point of the Arches, a collection of spectacular sea stacks extending out from shore.
Once we rounded Point of Arches, Shi Shi Beach spread out before us. This beach is flat and sandy and over 3.5km long. We hiked about half way down it to the campsite at Petroleum Creek. On this day we hiked about 10.5km.
Our campsite had an awesome view and a warm night with no wind made it perfect for a beach campfire.
On Monday morning we sent our drivers on ahead to start the car shuttle, while the rest of us ambled up the rest of Shi Shi Beach, pausing along the way to look behind us at Point of the Arches.
After reaching the end of Shi Shi Beach, the route leaves the coast and heads into the trees. It then goes steeply up the bank and joins an old road, which it follows for a while before returning to a trail. After a brief stretch on boardwalk, the trail ends at the day use parking lot. On this day we covered an easy 6km or so.
After relaxing in the parking lot with the remaining snacks, our drivers showed up with the cars, and we set off for the long drive back to Vancouver.
This was an awesome trip with scenery that rivals the West Coast Trail and I highly recommend it. However, there are some logistical challenges involved in doing it, including a car shuttle, permits and reservations with ONP, renting bear canisters, and paying for a Tribal Recreation Permit to cross and park on Makah land. For transportation issues, there is the border to consider, as well as the ferries. While less scenic, taking I5 down to Edmonds and taking the Edmonds-Kingston ferry is probably a bit faster than the Port Townsend-Keystone route since the roads are faster, the ferry is bigger, the ferry runs far more often, and the ferry doesn't require reservations.
For pit stops on the drive down, I can't believe the food heaven that is Mount Vernon. The Calico Cupboard has awesome breakfasts and baked goods, and the Skagit Brewing Company is great for dinner and of course beer.