There are many great sources for the logistics of famous hikes of this caliber such as a the Mountaineers hiking books and articles online. My goal is to approach the review from the standpoint – “Is this hike for me? Is this a must do?”
The approach: A long, long drive. Make no mistake, it can take 4 to 6 hours to get there from Seattle. If all you have is a weekend, it’s a tough call, I always like to spend more time on the trail than in the car. The hike can be done successfully in 3 days.
Difficulty level: Easy as it gets! The first day is 3 miles on a boardwalk. Flat. No elevation. Tell that to all the non-hikers out there! If elevation is what they fear, there’s nothing to fear on this hike. It rains often and the boardwalk can get slick, so make sure to wear boots or shoes with good treads and step carefully. The second day is another 3 miles, but a much more eventful route along the beach. You will need some knowledge of tide tables, which can be obtained at the Olympics National Park Wilderness Information Center. You do need a permit and bear canister for the hike, so a stop in Port Angeles is mandatory. If you’re not sure how tide tables work, the ranger will explain for you. Be sure to call well in advance for your permit. It’s an extremely popular hike. During your second day, you will spend some time in sand, some time in the rocks of the sea floor, and some time boulder hopping. Nothing too difficult, but if you want your feet to be happy, wear boots and gaiters. The third day is another 3 miles on the boardwalk. There’s your loop, 9.5 miles total.
Camping spots: Top notch, beautiful spots. Cape Alava has sites in the forest line right up to the beach. Cape Alava is a rocky beach, so it’s best to camp in the forest. There are limited sites, arrive as early as you can! There is a major raccoon problem at Cape Alava so be sure to keep all your food in your bear canister. Sand Point provides a lot more options. It’s a beautiful sandy beach so you can pitch your tent right next to the driftwood. They have designated spots in the forest, behind the driftwood. That’s where I like to camp. Protected from the elements and sand isn’t going to seep into everything you own.
Activities: This hike is designed to give you free time. A lot of the thru-hiking I do involves 10-15 mile days. When you only have to go 3, there’s plenty of time to hang out. I bring my stunt kites. The Washington Coast often provides fantastic wind. My last trip to Sand Point provided my best day of kiting ever. Bocce ball is a huge hit on the beach. With the help of my friend Madie, we created an ultralight bocce ball set which involves a pink golfball (easy to spot) and 4 softballs, decorated in team colors. Photography of course! The Washington Coast is a favorite for many Northwest photographers.
Bottom Line: It’s a fantastic loop trail to take hikers and non-hikes alike. Every time I’ve done the hike I’ve brought kids or non-hikers, and they always have a blast. The boardwalk hiking is somewhat uneventful, but the second day beach hike and the fantastic camp sites provide more than enough incentive to put this on your “must do” list.
If you have any questions at all about the hike, ask away!