There are three distinct parts of Olympic National Park: the coast, the rainforest and the mountains. The first part that we visited in August 2012 was the coast. We flew into the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and drove directly to Forks on the Olympic Peninsula. It was about a four-hour drive.
Our first stop along the way was Ruby Beach. It was the first time we could really stretch our legs and get a break from the continuous, evergreen-lined highway scenery. It’s only a quarter mile hike down to a beautiful beach to see large sea stacks standing in the water. It was an overcast day and a little bit of drizzle, but it didn’t deter us from hiking around. The high tide seemed to be coming back in when we arrived so there were no tide pools. Unfortunately there was a dead sea otter on the beach, and even more unfortunate, the only one I would get to see on the entire trip. Nonetheless, it was very cool to look at him up close. We climbed around on the logs and rocks before heading on to our final destination of Forks.
Our second day we continued up the coast to reach Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly tip of the continental United States. From Forks it was a pretty drive on 101 to 113 to the scenic 112 Juan de Fuca Byway. There are great views along the way of the strait and you can see all the way to Canada. We pulled over at a roadside pull off near Sekiu to hike along one of the little beaches.
To get to Cape Flattery you enter the Makah Indian Reservation and need to get a recreational use permit to be on their land. You can either stop at the Makah Tribal Center, which I highly recommend NOT doing as that was by far the rudest man we met on the trip and they had no permits, and heading straight to the general store on the left hand side for a permit. It was a $10 registration fee in 2012. You’ll also pass the Neah Bay United States Coast Guard on the right, which is cool to see. I’ve never been to Alaska, but I picture it looking just like that with the hills, the bay and little fishing boats.
The road ends at Cape Flattery and it’s a .75 mile hike to the point. Along the trail there are four lookout points to stop at that offer amazing, colorful views of sea caves and wildlife.
To stand at the most northwestern point of the continental United States is an extremely weird feeling. To know you are at where the United States ends or begins (glass half empty or full?) makes you feel like you’ve accomplished some feat not many people get to experience. In the distance was Tatoosh Island and on another small, rocky island was a hoard of barking sea lions. It was well worth the hike and the registration fee.
From Cape Flattery we headed to Cape Alava in Ozette, the most western point of the continental United States. It’s a 3.1-mile hike along a wooded boardwalk from Lake Ozette. I highly recommend not getting there as the sun is on its way down as a 3.1-mile hike does take some time! Tide was so far out when we arrived at the Cape there wasn’t a lot to see and it stunk to high heavens of sulfur and rotten eggs. There wasn’t anything of interest in the tide pools, just kelp, seaweed and lots of flies. Maybe I caught Cape Alava on a bad day, but I have no desire to return. On the hike back about a mile out I thought I heard a woodpecker, then it sounded like a deep guttural growl and Blake and I got the hell out of there as fast as we could. Near the parking lot we saw a little boy and his dad who had hiked the three miles to Sand Point and saw lots of sea otters. I wish we had gone that route instead. However, I am glad to say I conquered the most western point of the United States.
On our third day we tried to find Rialto Beach and ended up at First Beach in La Push for sunset. Absolutely gorgeous at sunset. You can sit on the beach and take in the waves and surrounding views of the evergreen dotted hillsides or sit on the rocks with the rest of the photographers and try to capture the perfect sunset photo.
This was a perfect ending to our Olympic National Park coastal experience.