Camping at Shi Shi Beach: Everything You Need to Know

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Olympic National Park has tons of stunning beaches, but Shi Shi Beach, with its dramatic sea stacks and otherworldly sunsets, is in a league entirely of its own. And even better? You can actually call Shi Shi your home for a night or two, by pitching a tent along its shores!

But camping at Shi Shi Beach isn’t exactly super straightforward- so here’s everything you need to know to make your trip here as epic as possible, from what permits you need, the best spots to pitch your tent, and exactly what to bring!

tent on shi-shi beach washington at sunset

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About the Shi Shi Beach Trail

  • Length: 8.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 561 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Woman walking down a switchback along the Shi Shi Beach trail
  • Are dogs allowed? Kinda- but not really. 

    The trailhead and the first 1.7 miles of the trail are actually on the Makah Indian Reservation, whereas the remainder of the trail and the beach itself are in Olympic National Park. Dogs are allowed on the first half of the trail, which is on the Makah Reservation, but are not allowed in the national park. 

    So theoretically, you could take your furry best friend part of the way in, but you wouldn’t be able to reach the actual beach part- and where’s the fun in that?!
  • Permits required? You actually need two permits to camp here. 

    To enjoy any of the trails or beaches that the Makah tribe has so graciously opened to visitors, like Shi Shi Beach or Cape Flattery trail, you’ll need to pick up a Makah Recreation Pass, from a variety of businesses in the town of Neah Bay (you can check out where they’re sold here). They cost $20 per vehicle and are good within the calendar year in which it’s purchased. 

    Additionally, because the beach itself is on national park land, you’ll need to pick up a wilderness permit for Olympic National Park from Recreation.gov– when selecting a permit, select North Coast as the starting location and Shi Shi Beach as your campsite. This will run you $8 per person, per night, plus a $6 processing fee.
Makah Tribe Recreational Use Permit for the Shi Shi Beach trail

How to Get to the Shi Shi Beach Trail

The Shi Shi Beach trailhead is located close to the northwest-most corner of the contiguous United States, near the small fishing village of Neah Bay, Washington.

It generally takes between four and a half to five and a half hours to drive here from Seattle (depending on which route you take and if you’re willing to take a ferry boat) or five hours and 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon. Before you hit the road, I’d recommend downloading offline maps for your GPS app of choice- cell service can be quite spotty in the Olympic Peninsula!

You’ll reach the town of Neah Bay first (remember to pick up your recreation pass here!) and continue on to the trailhead. If you’re just heading to Shi Shi as a day hike, you can park at the small gravel lot by the trailhead. However, if you’re camping at Shi Shi Beach overnight, you’ll need to park in a private lot (essentially someone’s yard), approximately 0.6 miles from the trailhead. 

Parking lot for camping at Shi Shi Beach

To park here, it costs $10 per day (in cash), regardless of when you arrive and leave- so if you arrive on Saturday and leave Sunday, it will cost you $20 or if you arrive on Monday and leave Sunday, it will cost you $70. While this seems a bit steep, per a sign at the lot, the money goes to support the elders of the Makah Tribe.

What to Expect Along the Shi Shi Beach Trail

As mentioned above, the first 1.7 miles of the trail are through the Makah Indian Reservation, consisting of a dense coastal forest. 

The ground here is quite marshy, so the first mile of the Shi Shi Beach hike is almost entirely over wooden boardwalks and bridges.

From the second mile on, though, the bridges disappear and you’ll have to walk across the ground itself, which is, pretty much year round, kind of a muddy hot mess. And I mean, like, Indiana-Jones-getting-stuck-in-quicksand kind of SUPER muddy. So be sure to wear waterproof boots here- my husband, Justin, has these and I have these.  

Woman hiking along the muddy Shi Shi Beach trail

Approximately two miles in, you’ll start to see peekaboo glimpses of the ocean- this is an excellent vantage point to scan the ocean below for wildlife. In fact, Shi Shi Beach has been recognized by the Whale Trail organization as one of the best spots on land for whale watching in Washington!

Eventually, you’ll reach the edge of a bluff, where you’ll take a few steep switchbacks and finally drop onto the sandy shores of Shi Shi, one of the most gorgeous beaches in Olympic National Park.

From here, it’s about 2.4 miles to the south tip of the beach, where the cluster of sea stacks, known as the Point of Arches, is. Try to time your visit with low tide (see the chart here), when you can hike on the wet, hard sand that’s waaaay easier to walk on than dry sand, especially when you’re carrying a heavy pack.

Woman hiking along Shi Shi Beach with camping backpack

Between the lush forest, the rugged sea stacks, and the jaw-dropping sunsets, Shi Shi Beach is definitely one of the best hikes in Olympic National Park!

Frequently Asked Questions about Camping at Shi Shi Beach

How do you say Shi Shi? 

Real talk- I’ve been wanting to visit Shi Shi for years and always said it in my head as “She She” – but it turns out it’s definitely pronounced “Shy Shy”! In the Makah language, this means surf or smelt beach, for a small fish found along the coastline.

Can you have a fire at Shi Shi Beach?

Yes, you can have a fire so long as there’s no fire restrictions in place (be sure to check this site to see if they’re allowed during your visit).

Couple camping at Shi Shi Beach with a campfire

You can only use driftwood found along the beach, which, depending on when you visit, may be challenging to light if it’s been raining (this is the Pacific Northwest, after all!). I’d recommend packing some fire starters– we visited during a dry spell and still had quite an interesting time trying to get our fire going.

Is there drinkable water at Shi Shi Beach?

Technically, there is an extremely shallow stream that runs from the forest to the ocean along the beach (about three miles into the trail) called Petroleum Creek. 

I wouldn’t recommend drinking out of this stream, though. It’s the runoff from the coastal wetlands, which leaves the water with a rather brown hue (hence, its name!). Further, birds tend to feast in this creek, so there’s got to be a pretty high concentration of, ahem, bird fecal matter in it. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t exactly smell like something I’d want to put in my mouth.

Petroleum Creek along Shi Shi Beach

The creek is known to harbor both giardia and cryptosporidium, the latter of which cannot be treated with iodine or chlorine. So if you’re planning to camp at Shi Shi Beach long enough that you can’t physically pack in all your water, be sure to bring along a water filter (we brought our Sawyer Mini, just in case).

Whether you decide to brave the water of Petroleum Creek or pack in your own, just make sure you bring enough of it! 

When should you camp at Shi Shi Beach?

Shi Shi Beach is open and accessible year round, although you have the best chance of getting decent weather from May through October. 

Birds at sunset at Shi Shi Beach

Where’s the best spot to camp at Shi Shi Beach?

You’re free to pitch a tent anywhere along the beach, but I’d personally recommend hiking all the way to the south of the beach, near the Point of Arches. It’s pretty spectacular to wake up in the morning, peek out your tent, and see these incredible sea stacks! 

But be sure to pitch your tent above the high tide mark (which you can generally tell by where the driftwood is carried along the beach)- the waves literally crashing into your tent would be a pretty horrifying wake-up call!

Woman in a tent camping at Shi Shi Beach at sunset

Are there bathrooms along the Shi Shi Beach trail? 

Yes, there are toilets by the trailhead parking lot, as well as three pit toilets on the beach itself, marked by orange buoys hanging in nearby trees- one at the very southern end near where the trail spits you out onto the beach, one south of Petroleum Creek, and one by Willoughby Creek towards the south of the beach. 

Olympic National Park asks that you only go to the bathroom on the beach in these toilets, so please do so (just don’t forget to pack toilet paper!)

So I get that I need the permits- do I need to bring anything else?

Yes, similar to most of the other backpacking trips in Olympic, like the Enchanted Valley trail, you must bring along a bear canister, due to the presence of black bears here.

Bear canisters are essentially like giant Nalgene bottles on steroids that bears can’t get into- you’ll put all your smelly stuff in them (think food, deodorant, and toothpaste) and place it at least 100 yards away from your tent. If a bear gets a hold of human food at campsites, they’ll keep returning there and unfortunately, usually have to be put down- so please don’t be the guy to not use a bear canister.

You can rent one for free from the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center (although they do run out on busy times, like summer weekends or holidays) or, alternatively, you can buy one. Here’s the one we recommend.

Is there anything else I should know before camping at Shi Shi Beach?

Sand gets everywhere- and, I mean EVERYWHERE- when you camp here. So if you have anything that you don’t want to get tiny bits of sand in (think expensive camera lenses), I would probably recommend leaving them at home for this one.

Woman in a tent camping at Shi Shi Beach at sunset

What to Pack for Camping at Shi Shi Beach

  • Olympic National Park wilderness permit: Rangers may ask to see it.
  • Tent: We have this one and absolutely love it. It’s super cute, has big ol’ vestibules to set your gear in (to shield them from rain and morning dew), and is reasonably light for its price point.
  • Inflatable pillow
  • Sleeping bag: I have this one (I’m 5’4”) and Justin has this one (he’s 6’0”).
  • Sleeping pad: I have this one and Justin has this one.
  • Backpacking chairs: We picked these up on our way to Shi Shi and I’m obsessed- they literally weigh one pound and collapse down to the size of a travel umbrella. Amazing!
Couple camping at Shi Shi Beach with a campfire
  • Cookware: We always bring along this cook set, which comes with a lidded pot and two plastic cups (which double as bowls), as well as a  larger steel cup with foldable handles, that fits snugly around the cook set.
Woman camping at Shi Shi Beach and drinking coffee
  • Bear canister
  • Garbage bags: To pack out your trash- and even help haul away some of the enormous piles of trash that have washed up from the ocean (remember to always leave no trace!)
  • Baggie with toilet paper 
  • Bug spray: The mosquitoes in the forest portion of the trail are real, y’all.
Man hiking along Shi Shi Beach trail
  • Rain jacket: We are in Washington, after all (women’s and men’s).
  • Headlamp
  • Phone, battery bank, and charging cables 
  • First aid kit
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Hiking sandals: It’s a beach- you’re going to want sandals! Justin and I both have a cult-like love for our Tevas, which also handily double as water shoes if you feel like wading around in the ocean (his and hers).

I hope that you add this incredible beach to your Olympic National Park itinerary posthaste- so what are you waiting for? Do you have any additional questions about camping at Shi Shi Beach? Let me know in the comments below!

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