One of the magical things about Olympic National Park in Washington state is the diversity of the landscapes within its 1,442 square mile footprint- soaring mountains, lush rainforests, and craggy beaches. In fact, the park is stuffed with incredible beaches along the Pacific coastline- each with their own unique sea stacks, tidepools, and coastal forests. Here’s 10 epic Olympic National Park beaches you need to add to your bucket list.
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Table of Contents:
- Things you need to know before visiting Olympic National Park beaches
- Best Olympic National Park beaches
- When to visit Olympic National Park beaches
- Where to stay when visiting Olympic National Park beaches
- What to pack for Olympic National Park beaches
We also have a ton of content all around Washington state (what can I say, my home state is pretty awesome), which you can check out here.
Psssst.. headed to the Olympic Peninsula? I’m not gonna lie- it’s kinda one of my favorite places on the planet! So if you want to make your visit even more epic, check out our other articles about the park:
- Olympic Peninsula Loop: 15 Stops Along the Most Iconic Washington Road Trip
- Weekend itinerary for Olympic National Park
- 6 Best Hikes in Olympic National Park (the ONLY with Temperate Rainforests, Beaches, and Mountains!)
- Tree of Life: Washington state’s most unique tree (while it lasts!)
- Olympic National Park in winter | Where locals go when everything else is frozen
Things you need to know before visiting Olympic National Park beaches
Before we dive in (eh, get it? water pun!), let’s cover a few things you should know before visiting Olympic National Park’s beaches:
- The park is ENORMOUS, spanning a huge portion of the Olympic Peninsula. While there’s lots of small towns dotted throughout and around the park, most of the coastline is sparsely populated and, unlike some national parks, there’s no means of public transit or shuttles to get around.
As such, if you’re flying in for your visit, you will need a rental car to get to and from the beaches. Plus there’s SO much to see in the area- it would be a shame not to be able to explore as much as you can!
- Olympic is truly a special place- as just one example, it’s home to the Hoh Rainforest, which is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, but it’s so otherworldly, in fact, that it was a shooting location for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi!
Nerdy awesomeness aside, it’s important that we protect and preserve the park’s beauty by following the Leave No Trace principles, like disposing of waste properly (pack it in, pack it out), leave what you find (take only memories, leave only footprints), and respect wildlife (touch sea critters with your eyes only!). You know, all that wisdom you learned in kindergarten! So learn the Leave No Trace Principles, follow them, and leave Olympic National Park better than you found it.
- Olympic is the ancestral home of eight American Indian tribes: Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Elwha Klallam, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Quileute, Quinault and Skokomish.
And like many national parks, the history of white settlers entering this land and stripping its original inhabitants of their rights is problematic, to say the least, with the usual horror stories of settlers spreading novel diseases to the American Indians and the federal government pushing people from their homes into small reservations (see here, here, and here for a few examples of resources).
Despite these challenges, many tribes still live on reservations in or adjacent to Olympic’s borders, including some of its shoreline. These beaches may be subject to additional restrictions, like requiring permits (for example, you need a permit for camping on Shi Shi Beach) and even closures.
Please respect and follow any of these additional restrictions- they’re in place to protect the tribes’ lands and people.
With my “let’s be decent humans” spiel out of the way, let’s talk beaches!
Best Olympic National Park beaches
1. Ruby Beach
Location: Located here, a little over 30 minutes south of Forks, Washington
Do you have to hike to it? From the parking lot, you’ll walk along a 0.1-mile path downhill to get to the beach. Once the trail spits you out onto the rocky shore, you’ll have to scramble over several piles of driftwood to get on the actual beach.
Can you camp there? No
Why it’s awesome: Oh, boy- I don’t even know where to start with Ruby Beach. If you only have time to go to one beach during your Olympic National Park trip, this may be the winner.
Between the black pebbles that line its shores, the pine-tree topped sea stacks, and the picturesque lighthouse towering over a series of rocky outcroppings jutting out of the ocean, it’s hard to imagine a scene that captures the dramatic beauty of the Pacific Northwest more than this beach.
It’s an excellent place to have a picnic or just people watch (I’ve even witnessed some hearty souls trying to surf here!) and it’s especially stunning at sunset (like, seriously, stop everything you’re doing, go here for sunset, and thank me later).
2. Kalaloch Beach
Do you have to hike to it? From the Kalaloch Campground parking lot (which is free for day-use parking), you’ll need to look for a path lined by bushes, which will take you directly to the beach’s sand.
Can you camp there? No, but you can camp right next to it at the beautiful Kalaloch Campground.
Why it’s awesome: The beach, in and of itself, is quite pretty, with its wide sandy shores and craggy bluffs. But what makes Kalaloch unmissable is not the beach itself, but rather something perched on its rugged cliffs- the famous Tree of Life!
If you’re unfamiliar with this tree, it’s a sitka spruce (the tallest spruce tree species on the planet!) that has grown on the edge of the beach’s sandy bluffs- and is actually suspended between two cliffs. Over the years, water has completely eroded the ground beneath the tree, leaving the majority of the root system completely exposed to air. All that’s left to support this tree is a few root tendrils clinging on for dear life- and yet, not only does the Tree of Life not succumb to gravity, but its needles proudly remain evergreen.
So if you want to see a gravity- and odds-defying beefy tree that seemingly floats in thin air (who doesn’t?!), make sure Kalaloch Beach is on your Olympic National Park itinerary.
3. Beach 4
Location: Located here, about 4 miles north of the Kalaloch Campground or 38 minutes south of Forks, Washington
Do you have to hike to it? Yes, the trail is under a mile-long roundtrip. However, given that you have to scramble down a large rock (with a rope attached to it) to get onto the beach and steadily climb your way back to your car, this may be slightly challenging for beginner hikers.
Can you camp there? No
Why it’s awesome: The very originally-named Beach 4 is actually one of Kalaloch Beach’s many offshoots, but definitely is worthy of its own stop, especially for any geology nerds out there.
While it has some interesting features like cool tidepools, what makes Beach 4 truly special is the fascinating rock formations that jut out of its sand. These tilted layers of rock, called “turbites”, are caused by sediment settling after some kind of massive underwater landslide, with heavier debris settling on the bottom and finer particles on top. And these turbites are not any ol’ turbites- they’re between 16 to 24 MILLION years old!
4. Rialto Beach
Location: Located here, 22 minutes directly west of Forks, Washington
Do you have to hike to it? No, you can walk right from the parking lot directly on to the beach.
Can you camp there? You can! Check here for information about getting the necessary wilderness permits.
Why it’s awesome: Another pebble-y beach, strewn with bleached driftwood and surrounded by lush coastal forests and beautiful sea stacks. And while you don’t have to hike to this beach, I’d highly recommend that you do!
If you head north from the parking lot about a mile and a half (see the trail here), you’ll reach a cluster of sea stacks and a natural arch (creatively called “Hole in the Wall”), which you can pass through to explore its beautiful tidepools. If you want to try this hike, make sure you time your visit with low tide (check out the tides chart here)- otherwise, the majority of the hike will be scrambling over giant pieces of driftwood!
Even if you’re not up for the hike, Rialto Beach can be a great place to spot wildlife- so many different birds (during our visit, we spotted a bald eagle and TONS of pelicans), otters, and even whales call this beach home.
5. First Beach
Note: This beach is currently closed to the public, as ordered by the Quileute nation. Before making the drive here, I’d recommend checking the beach’s status here.
Location: Located here (which is technically outside of the Olympic National Park’s borders), right next to Rialto Beach in La Push and 22 minutes west of Forks, Washington
Do you have to hike to it? No (although you may have to scramble on some driftwood to get down to the sand)
Can you camp there? Previously, you were allowed to camp here, but please confirm with the Quileute Tribal Council when the beach reopens by calling (360) 374-6163.
Why it’s awesome: This beach is kind of famous- it’s where Bella Swan would go to watch her hunky werewolf friend, Jacob, go surfing in Twilight.
Even if you’re not a fan of vampire teen romances, this beach is still absolutely worth a visit- it’s an excellent spot to watch surfers (generally not of the werewolf variety, though) and there’s a ton of enormous driftwood logs (some of them that are well over 100 feet long!) to climb on. Add in its shores of black pebbles, rugged sea stacks, and dramatic cliffs and you’ve got yourself a must-stop beach.
6. Sand Point
Location: Located here, an hour and 20 minute drive Northwest from Forks, Washington
Can you camp here? Yes, check this site for instructions on snagging a wilderness permit.
Why it’s awesome: So Sand Point in and of itself is not particularly spectacular, but what is stellar is the Ozette Loop Trail (sometimes called the Ozette Triangle). The trail starts near the Ozette Ranger Station, where you can take either branch of the “triangle” that forms the trail (the North Sand Point Trail or the Cape Alava Trail).
Along either of these paths, you’ll follow a raised wooden boardwalk through a dense old-growth forest, which will eventually spit you out on the beach. Here, you’ll walk 3.3 miles across the beach (from Sand Point to Cape Alava, the westernmost part of the contiguous United States, or vice versa), where you’ll weave past thousands of tidepools, abundant wildlife (we saw some mega chill deer on this trail that couldn’t have cared less that we were walking past it), and even petroglyphs dating back 500 years!
It’s one of my favorite hikes in Olympic National Park- if you’re short on time during your visit, it’s a fantastic mix of the Olympic Peninsula’s rainforests and coastal landscapes.
7. Second Beach
Location: Located here, just outside of La Push and 20 minutes southwest of Forks, Washington
Do you have to hike to it? Yes, from the trailhead (located here), you have to hike 1.4 miles round-trip (with 278 feet elevation gain) through a coastal rainforest to reach the beach.
Can you camp there? Yes, check this site for instructions on snagging a wilderness permit.
Why it’s awesome: I, for one, love that some of the beaches in Olympic (like this one!) require you to hike a short distance through what looks like a magical fairytale forest to reach its shores. Not only does Second Beach offer a ton of interesting pine-tree topped sea stacks to the south, but also a stone arch to the north with a hole in it that eerily whistles and moans in the ocean’s fierce winds. I prefer to just think of it as a soundtrack to go along with the beach’s haunting beauty.
Perhaps because of the spooky soundtrack, Second Beach is often less crowded than some of the other beaches surrounding it, making it the perfect quiet spot to take in the Pacific Northwest’s beauty.
8. Shi Shi Beach
Location: Located here, an hour and 45 minutes northwest of Forks, Washington
Do you have to hike to it? Yes, from the trailhead (located here), you have to hike at least 4.0 miles to reach the shores.
Can you camp there? Yes, camping at Shi Shi Beach is INCREDIBLE, although, perhaps, not as straightforward as some of the other beaches.Given that Shi Shi is located on the Makah Indian Reservation, you’ll need both a wilderness permit from Olympic National Park PLUS a Makah Reservation Permit. Additionally, you’ll have to park in one of the designated overnight lots (i.e., someone’s yard with a parking sign!) 0.6 miles up the road from the day-use trailhead.
Why it’s awesome: Getting to Shi Shi Beach is a bit of an adventure in and of itself. It’s located in a remote part of the coastline, plus you’ll need to get a Makah Recreation Pass, which you can purchase in a variety of businesses in Neah Bay, before you can use the trailheads for Shi Shi Beach or the other incredible hikes on the Makah Reservation, like the Cape Flattery Trail.
Plus, then there’s the whole hiking along a muddy trail for about 4 miles to get to the beach itself.
BUT all of your effort will pay off when you make it out of that lush forest onto Shi Shi, where you’ll be rewarded with unspoiled coastlines, dazzling sea stacks in every direction, tidepools full of interesting sea life for you to observe, and some of the best sunsets the Pacific coast has to offer.
9. Third Beach
Location: Located here, 18 miles west of Forks, Washington. Note that the parking lot here is teeny tiny (with no overflow lots) and can get super packed on busy weekends. If there’s no spots available, I’d recommend hitting another beach first and circling back to this one.
Do you have to hike to it? Yes, from the trailhead (located here), you’ll have to hike 2.8 miles round-trip through a mossy forest that’s mostly flat until your final, very steep and muddy descent to the beach below (be careful after it rains here- the path is basically straight down!).
Can you camp there? Yes, check out this site for information on getting a wilderness permit.
Why it’s awesome: The hike walking to Third Beach looks something straight out of Jurassic Park- enormous trees and ferns, moss hanging dramatically from branches overhead, and so many mushrooms. Once you slide your way from the trail and scramble over the huge driftwood logs blocking your path, you’ll be greeted with a wide, sandy beach surrounded by craggy headlands.
On the south end of the beach, there’s Strawberry Bay Falls, cascading over 100 feet down into the ocean below and on the north side, you’ll find fantastic tide pools full of crabs, sea stars, and anemones at low tide (see tide tables here).
10. Dungeness Spit
Location: Located here (which is technically outside of Olympic National Park’s borders), 13 minutes north of Sequim or 28 minutes east of Port Angeles. The Dungeness Spit is a National Wildlife Reserve and costs $3 (which is included if you have an annual interagency pass, like America the Beautiful). Be sure you fill out a parking permit- people who don’t can get tickets that exceed $100!
Do you have to hike to it? Yes, you can either hike 1.0-mile roundtrip to reach the very beginning of the spit’s sandy shores or 11 miles roundtrip to walk all the way down the spit’s narrow peninsula to a historic lighthouse.
Can you camp there? No
Why it’s awesome: The Dungeness Spit is one of the most unique beaches you can stop at along the Olympic Peninsula. For one, it’s a five-mile long incredibly narrow sand spit (i.e., basically a supersized sand bar) jutting into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
For another, it’s a wildlife reserve, boasting a stunning amount of bird species and sea critters – during our hike here, we saw multiple seals, a bald eagle, and dozens of the different species of birds that call the spit home. Finally, if you’re up for the 11-mile round trip hike (that’s totally flat!), you’ll get to explore a beautiful lighthouse, from 1857, set against the stunning Olympic Mountains towering above.
When to visit Olympic National Park beaches
The best (and most popular) time to visit Olympic National Park is in the summer (June through October), when the temperature is pleasant and the skies are usually clear.
Outside of this window, Washington tends to be pretty rainy- but as a Seattlite and Pacific Northwest-enthusiast, I’d argue that the region exudes even more of its moody and mysterious beauty during the rainy season. In fact, Olympic National Park in winter is at its most hauntingly beautiful, thanks to the Pacific Northwest’s low-hanging fog and mystical rain.
Plus the coastline rarely gets below freezing (December, the coldest month, has an average low of 38°- which, coming from a previous Chicagoan, is not bad!). So throw on a raincoat (like this one for men or this one for women) and prepare yourself for all of those moody vibes!
Where to stay when visiting Olympic National Park beaches
If you’re planning on doing a bunch of beach hopping (or stopping at other attractions on the west side of the park, like the Hoh rainforest), I’d recommend making the tiny town of Forks, along the Washington coastline, your homebase. Check out the following accommodations:
- The Woodland Inns: Cozy private cabins with a communal fire pit to maximize the summer camp vibes
- Pacific Inn Motel: Locally owned motel in Forks, within walking distance to the town’s small downtown area. Plus, there’s an entire Twilight-themed room, if that’s your thing!
- Hoh Valley Cabins: If you like staying somewhere that feels a bit more homey, each of these bungalows come with kitchenette, a wide deck, and barbecue grills.
If, instead, you’re just doing a daytrip to visit a few beaches and plan on exploring other areas of the park with the rest of your time, I’d consider staying in Port Angeles, especially if you’re interested in exploring the Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge areas (which you should!). Consider:
- Olympic Lodge: About as bougie as this port town gets, with reasonable rates, spectacular mountain and ocean views, and a pool!
- Emerald Inn: Quaint and cozy lodge right by Lake Crescent, with comfy beds, a view of the mountains, and a gaggle of cute farm animals running about.
What to pack for Olympic National Park beaches
Word of warning- it’s way more appropriate to bring a sweater to the beaches in Olympic National Park as opposed to a bikini, regardless of the time of year you visit. For example, the annual average high on Rialto Beach is 61° in August- so it’s generally going to be more enjoyable (and less chilly) to admire the water from afar, rather than splashing in it.
And even if you stay dry throughout your visit, you’re going to want to bring a couple of layers to keep warm- even 61° can feel pretty cold if the cool ocean breeze is blowing on you.
So what else should you bring?
Waterproof hiking boots:
Given the amount of scrambling on driftwood many of these beaches require and the incredibly muddy nature of the trails, I’d highly recommend bringing along some waterproof boots, like these ones for women or these ones for men, to help provide some semblance of traction on the enormous logs or quicksand-like pathways.
No matter what time of year you visit, there’s a decent chance it may rain- the western section of Olympic is actually the wettest part of the contiguous United States!
And you know how they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing? Take that adage personally and bring along a raincoat (like this one for men or this one for women)- a little bit of rain shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the park’s coastal beauty!
There are black bears that call Olympic home. It’s unusual for them to be aggressive towards humans and it’s unlikely they’ll harm you, although mother bears have been known to be aggressively protective around their young. Because of this risk, I take bear spray (which is used much like pepper spray to temporarily disorient, but not injure aggressive animals) with me whenever I go hiking in bear country. Although we thankfully have never had to use it, we have this one.
Cell coverage ranges from spotty to non-existent along Olympic’s coastline. I’d recommend downloading offline maps on your Google Maps app before you leave.
Olympic National Park beaches offer some of the most mind-blowing beauty in the United States- and I hope you get to explore a ton of them! Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!