Around this time last year, we took a few days off work and treated ourselves to a long weekend along the coast. Until then, we hadn't explored the far west of this beautiful state, including the beaches and scenic hot spots that line the Washington coast.
And, in terms of saving some cash and avoiding the tourist crowds, taking advantage of the calm shoulder season was a top-notch idea. Spoiler: At one point in the trip, we scored a one-bedroom hotel room in Forks, Washington for less cash per night than our rental unit in Seattle. I kid you not. The greatest perk of all: during the entire road trip, we were joined by no more than five or six people at each spot along our coastal tour. Peaceful and serene, it was just the trip we needed.
Heading south from Seattle, we looped the Olympic Peninsula in three and a half days and returned home by way of Port Angeles and the Bainbridge ferry. Much like the Oregon coast, the Washington coast sees the most visitors in the summer months when the weather is warm and the days are long. But much of the beauty of this region is best witnessed in the fall when coastal storms roll in and paint the sky with dramatic clouds and pigmented colors. The catch is that you have to be willing to weather the rain. As Seattleites, that's no feat for us.
Following 101 north up the coastal section of Olympic National Park, you'll pass the well-known Kalaloch Lodge before reaching Ruby Beach. Park in the upper lot and follow the path down to the water, where an Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary welcomes you with diverse marine wildlife, including urchins and starfish in the tide pools, and bald eagles and Western gulls in the sky. As with all of the sites noted in this post, be sure to monitor the tides before setting out on the beach. It's quite easy to become stranded when the tides rise, making regions of these beaches and trails impassable (and quite dangerous).
Continuing north from Ruby Beach, you'll drive past the Hoh River Trail area and straight through the tiny logging town of Forks, made famous from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight book series. The town has become a tourist destination in recent years but, despite the huge increase in visitors and the rebranding of Twilight-themed everything, Forks has certainly kept its small-town vibe in tact.
We stayed at Olympic Suites Inn for a night. At $40 for a one-bedroom unit (with a kitchen and living room) with a greater square footage and cheaper nightly rate than our year-round rental in Seattle, this was a steal. Maybe even a little luxurious, regardless of its 3-star rating.
THIRD, SECOND, & FIRST BEACHES
Heading west on 110, you'll reach a series of numerical beaches, including Third Beach, Second Beach, and First Beach. Each offers a different perspective of the coastal bluffs and towering sea stacks. And although they're close to one another, don't be fooled by their proximity. You can't hike from one to the next due to the headlands in between. Rather, you'll need to drive to each beach parking lot and walk to the water from there. Or, if you prefer, car camp at one of the first-come, first-serve tent sites in the forests surrounding each beach and explore them all day by day. Note that in the summer, you best get to the campsites immediately before check-out times to grab a spot. These sites are hot commodities. Oh, and don't forget your bear cans. Black bears (and raccoons) aren't exactly rarities in this area.
Second Beach is certainly the favorite among the three. From the lot, it's a quick hike (easy, about 2+ miles roundtrip) through a lush, green forest before coming upon the beautiful, serene views of the shoreline. Walk the sandy shores as far north or south as you choose to get more bang for your hiking buck. (Sorry, bad metaphor. Didn't quite work as planned, and I'm too lazy to try any harder.)
RIALTO BEACH & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL
This is one stop we elected to pass up this time around. The clouds and fog were rolling in fast and, having seen the other beaches earlier in the day, we dropped it from the plans and continued toward Cape Flattery. Though it's certainly considered to be a coastal gem, especially among the surfing community. It's a drive-to beach and, from the beach, visitors can hike out less than two miles to find Hole-in-the-Wall, a picturesque scene of beautiful sea stacks. Remember to leave at just the right times, or you're sure to end up stranded during high tide.
NEAH BAY | CAPE FLATTERY, SHI SHI & HOBUCK
The northernmost point of the continental U.S., Cape Flattery, has scenery unlike any other PNW hot spot. No competition, this was the spot where we stayed the longest--on an evening that spoiled us with a beautiful pink sunset. Of course, with the lush greenery, exquisite blue waters, and active wildlife that surround this area of the coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it's no wonder the Makah Tribe made this their home.
You'll be greeted by the Makah Tribe just before you reach Cape Flattery. Back in Neah Bay, you'll need to purchase a Makah Recreation Pass for about $10 at a local establishment (like the museum or visitors center). Given the year-round traffic this region sees, the Makah Recreation Pass accounts for the impact made by those who travel here. From the parking lot at Cape Flattery, follow the 3/4-mile boardwalk down to a handful of Cape Flattery viewpoints, and keep your eyes peeled for seals and whales down below the overlooks. This place is sure to take your breath away.
Much like Rialto, Hobuck is a hot spot for surfers. Book a night at the Hobuck Beach Resort on the Makah Reservation (picture the cutest little cabins) and treat yourself to an early morning coffee call with the surfers. The rolling waves are unreal and, for combers, this beach is a true treasure. We spotted seashells, sand dollars, and lots of sea glass.
For summer visitors, consider camping seaside for a few nights at the beloved Shi Shi Beach. A quick Google Image search will show you the true beauty of this place--a coveted camping destination among PNW locals. In July and August, be prepared for a packed beach, sporadic showers, and maybe even a furry, four-legged visitor. It's a hot spot, even among black bears (bear cans are required).