As you drive around Olympic National Park, you won’t want to miss visiting the beaches, even when it’s wet and freezing in the winter. The wild beauty of crashing waves and forested cliffs is just that good…even in the rain…okay, maybe not in really heavy rain, but definitely in moderate rain or a light sprinkle. Which beach you ought to visit, however, depends entirely on what you are looking for. Here’s what you need to know about the best beaches of Olympic National Park.
Best for: A sunset photo shoot
Aptly named, this jewel of Olympic National Park is one of the most popular beaches, and for good reason. A short trail leads down from a parking lot to a beautiful rocky shore with sea stacks in the distance. It’s a popular spot for portraits and for watching the sun go down.
There is rocky arch on the beach here that is popular with photographers, and a forest of driftwood on the beach for kids to climb. There’s also a lagoon perfect for skipping stones. My kids straight up love this beach.
As a bonus, it’s also just about 10 minutes from Kalaloch Lodge, which is part of the reason it’s popular…but also because it’s straight-up gorgeous.
Best for: A family day at the beach
Rialto Beach is a family favorite of ours. It’s a starting point for the beach hikes up the coast to Hole-in-the-Wall, but it’s also just a fun beach with an incredible forest of driftwood that seems like something out of a fairytale for little kids. This is an addition to the standard stunning scenery that the northern Washington coast has to offer: sea stacks, giant trees rising from the mist, and bald eagles and other wildlife are all on display. This is a good place to spend the day!
Rialto Beach is easy to access, about 20 miles from Forks, Washington. The Mora campground is only three miles away, so if you aren’t into wilderness beach camping, you still have options here. We have done Rialto beach in a very long day trip from the Seattle/Tacoma area (tire the kids out, stop in Forks for dinner, then let them fall asleep on the way back) so I’d say it would be a doable day trip from Port Angeles, too.
Second and Third Beach
Best for: A day hike through the rainforest
What kind of names are these? It’s like somebody got tired of naming beaches and just gave up. There is a First Beach — it’s an easily accessible beach in La Push, on the Quileute Reservation, with oceanfront cottages available for rent.
Second and Third Beaches are the wild Olympic National Park beaches you would expect. Both require a little hiking through rainforest to reach them: Second Beach is 0.7 miles from the parking lot and Third Beach is 1.4 miles from the trailhead. Third Beach is also the starting point for the “South Coast Route,” a popular wilderness backpacking trail along the beach and through the forest from Third Beach down to Oil City.
Best for: An overnight stay
I wouldn’t head to Kalaloch specifically for the beach, but the shore here is as wildly beautiful as anywhere else. You’ll find waves crashing against driftwood and trees rising from the cliffs.
You’ll want to stop at Kalaloch for other reasons. Kalaloch — which is really just a bump in the road — features a nearby Olympic National Park Ranger Station as well as Kalaloch Lodge, a historic oceanfront hotel with cabins. It’s one of the best places to stay in Olympic National Park for storm-watching in the winter months.
Beach 1, Beach 2, Beach 3, Beach 4
Best for: The world’s shortest hikes, jumping out of the car for a last quick Instagram shot
As if First, Second, and Third Beach weren’t confusing enough…there are also Beaches 1, 2, 3 and 4, which are far more accessible. These beaches don’t even have parking lots, which should tell you how isolated you will be. Park on the side of the road, then walk down a very short trail through the rainforest to the beach. You’ll be rewarded with phenomenal views. These beaches are better for hikers and photography than for a family day at the beach, but they are gorgeous.
These trails are perfect for toddlers, by the way — flat and short.
Shi Shi Beach
Best for: Bragging rights
Shi Shi Beach is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Washington. I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t braved this hike with our family yet. It’s an eight-mile roundtrip hike to Shi Shi Beach, and although the beach is on federal land, the parking is on Makah tribal land, so you’ll have to buy a Makah Recreation Pass in Neah Bay prior to parking at the trailhead. If you’re looking for a serious day hike or a one night backpacking trip, consider Shi Shi Beach.
Family Travel Pro Tip: Olympic National Park has a special “Ocean Steward” Junior Park Ranger badge, which you won’t want to miss; if you haven’t already hit up a Visitor Center, you can pick one up at the Kalaloch Visitor Center, located right on Highway 101 at Kalaloch.