The Olympic Coast boasts some of Washington’s most beautiful and challenging terrain, offering stunning vistas no matter the season or weather. While the coast is often characterized by the Third Beach to Oil City 17-mile thru-hike, it also provides shorter trips for backpackers simply looking for a weekend getaway. The stretch of coast from Third Beach to Strawberry Point is notorious for its stunning beaches and twists of trails punctuated by ladders. While it does require hikers to time the tides, the planning is definitely worth it.
The start at the trailhead is innocuous, boxed in by an almost claustrophobic net of alder and hemlock. Oregon grape and huckleberry bushes line the trail, hiding the beautiful coast vistas to come. The trail quickly distances itself from the road, plunging deeper into the typical Pacific Northwest forest, dotted with old growth trees. In the first mile, the trail loses relatively little elevation, providing backpackers with an easy warm-up for the hurdles to come. After approximately a mile of stunning, forested trail, the trail begins to descend in switchbacks along the ravine that feed into the Third Beach campsite.
While many hikers and overnight guests tend to stay at Third Beach, I highly recommend moving on. The trail leads through the campground and onto the sandy shore, offering a shallow creek crossing before stretching along the inlet. In roughly a quarter of a mile, the trail affords a new obstacle. Due to a recent slide, during higher tides hikers and backpackers will need to climb up along the slide in order to reach the beach on the other side. The ascent and decent over the massive slide is enabled by a makeshift trail and a series of helpful ropes that guide backpackers up the steepest portions. After being briefly reunited with the sandy beaches, backpackers should keep their eyes out for a large icon— a quartered circle painted red and black— that marks a trail over the impassible headland.
The trail cuts sharply up the sandstone bluff. A reliable rope is available and, depending on your agility, is a necessary tool to safely ascend the bluff. After this brief climb, the trail cuts into the lush foliage that lines the bluff, ascending rapidly. Ropes line the trail, offering hikers stability in wetter weather. Here, the trail is punctuated by a wood-and-wire ladder, challenging backpackers to climb almost vertically up a short, slick portion of the trail. After several switchbacks, and a few more ropes, the trail levels out along the top of the forested headland. This mile-long stretch winds leisurely through the forest, descending briefly to cross a creek before gradually meandering to the far side of the headland. The trail begins to descend in a lattice of roots and remnants of crumbling stairs before switchbacking down the bluff, affording spectacular view of the cove, punctuated by seastacks.
The trail descends back to the beach, coming up along the far side of the cove. The tide will dictate which direction needs to be taken. If the tide is low enough, backpackers can make their way through the cove, crossing stony tide pools. If the tide is too high to permit a crossing, a series of ropes provide assistance over a small sandstone bluff. After a short hike along the beach, the trail runs into another impassible headland. Just look for the headland icon in the cliffs. A sturdy rope provides assistance up the sandy cliff before the trail winds over another forested headland. After roughly a half mile of forested trail, the trail once again descends, this time into Scotts Creek campground.
Boasting campsites both in the forests and on the sand, this campground offers a great fallback for backpackers who don’t meet the tidal requirements. Those who are interested in continuing onward towards Strawberry Point can head on along the beach, enjoying spectacular views of seastacks and the ocean. After continuing along a long cove, Strawberry Point becomes visible, distinguished by a cluster of large seastacks, several of which can be accessed during low tides. While the water access is located on the far side of Strawberry Point, campsites line the cove, accessible by a forest trail that can be easily reached by the sand. Unlike other campsites along the 17-mile trek, Strawberry Point provides more than a mile of potential camping, making it a great choice for those who want to get away on a popular camping weekend.
Length: 10 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Highest Point: 200 Feet
Tide Safety Information: National Park Service
Directions: From Port Angeles follow US 101 West for 55 miles to its junctions with State Route 110. Continue westward on SR 110. When SR 110 splits in 7.7 miles at Quillayute Prairie, take La Push Road, the left fork. Follow La Push Road 3.8 miles to the trailhead.