Saturday, October 25, 2014

Olympic National Park - Ocean Beaches

In the fall of 2010, I made my first visit to Olympic National Park.  Located on the Olympic Peninsula (a huge arm of land directly west of Seattle) this incredible area totally enchanted me.  I vowed to return soon for more exploration.  

Well, it took four years before I finally got my act together, set a date, and made the journey north again.  The last week of September, my hubby and I made a long-overdue repeat visit.

Ruby Beach and the Pacific Ocean peeking through the trees

Olympic National Park is a land of diversity.  This park offers spectacular glacial mountains, mossy rain forests, swift wild rivers, and unspoiled ocean beaches.  The last visit I'd sampled a bit of each ecosystem.  This time, I wanted to spend more time exploring the coastline.

Ruby Beach

Roger and I packed his truck with food, camping supplies, and rain gear.  Although the PNW was experiencing a hot, dry autumn, the Olympic coast is known for it's frequent and plentiful rainfall.  Stopping at a ranger station just inside the park boundary, we checked the local weather forecast.  Although only a 30% chance of rain was predicted for that day, the lady staffing the station laughed and said "Up here a 30% chance of rain means it will rain 30% of the time."

Sea stacks at Ruby Beach

Our destination for that day was Rialto Beach, located directly west of the town of Forks (featured in the "Twilight" books and movies).  Enroute, we made a quick stop at Ruby Beach, one of my favorite places from our last visit. was great to walk this picturesque stretch of coastline and take in it's towering sea stacks, white-capped waves, and perfectly smooth rounded rocks covering the beach (no sand here!).  Luckily, the weather cooperated long enough for me to snap a few pics.

Waves at Rialto Beach

Then it was a long drive, through alternating second-growth forests and clear cuts.  Olympic National Park is fragmented - it's boundaries cover the interior mountains of the Olympic Peninsula, and fingers of parkland jut out from this center, following rivers.  There's a gap between the mountainous center and the ocean beaches (which is where all the logging takes place).  Then a narrow band of the National Park follows the Washington coastline from the Queets River, north to Shi Shi Beach.  Except for a couple of Indian Reservations, all of the coastline within the National Park is wild, undeveloped, and unspoiled.

No sand - only rocks on this beach

After a quick lunch at a crummy hamburger joint in Forks (besides Subway, the only fast food place in town), Roger and I headed due west, towards Rialto Beach and Mora Campground.  After a quick tour of the campground, it was time for more coast exploration.  We followed the wide Quillayute River to its end, and here, where river met ocean, was Rialto Beach.

Driftwood pile

Climbing up from the parking lot, the first thing I noticed about Rialto Beach was the huge amount of driftwood lying everywhere.  And it was another of those beaches with round rocks covering the shores, instead of sand.

Roger finds some kelp

Unfortunately, we arrived when the tide was coming in, so there wasn't much beach area to walk upon.  Roger and I tried to explore the coastline, but frequently had to clamber over piles of driftwood.

The waves were fun to watch

But incoming tides meant lots of huge, cool waves to watch.  The turbulent ocean was mesmerizing. 

Lone dead tree

Checking the tide charts, low tide was at 7 pm that evening (but it would be dark by then) and 8 am the following morning.  Roger and I decided we'd rise early tomorrow and hike Rialto Beach then.

Big tree on the trail to Second Beach

Luckily, the afternoon was still young, and there were other beaches nearby to check out.  Following the Quillayute River upstream, we crossed and headed along it's south banks.  A series of ocean beaches, First, Second, and Third Beach could be accessed south of the river.

Twisted tree roots

Roger and I chose to explore Second Beach, mainly because there were still places to park at it's trailhead.  A lovely 3/4 mile walk through a dense, coastal forest took us directly to the ocean shores.

Steps down to the beach

We passed huge old-growth fir and cedar trees, large ferns, and trees with massive, twisted root systems.  Then a set of well-constructed wood steps led visitors down to the sandy plain of Second Beach.

Forested sea stack

Second Beach was another lovely spot on the Olympic Coast.  It has a lot in common with neighboring Rialto - huge piles of driftwood, and amazing sea stacks jutting up from the surf.  But instead of rocks, this beach was covered with soft sand.

Lots of driftwood here too

I loved the huge sea stacks, rising up from the ocean floor.  Some of them were large enough to have full-sized trees growing on top.  Although Oregon has lots of sea stacks along it's coast, none of them sprout trees.

Second Beach had beautiful sea stacks

Roger and I walked along the ocean for about a mile, admiring views.  But by the time we reached this beach, the sunny blue skies had given way to murky clouds.  On our return trip, the clouds began to thicken and turn dark.  I remarked to Roger, "I think it's time for our 30% of rain."

There was actual sand here!

We beat the rainstorm back to the car.  Wanting to check out First Beach, the road took us into the Quileute Indian Reservation, and the tiny town of La Push.  Here, the road ended at First Beach.

Fishing boat dock at La Push

It appeared the people of La Push made their living fishing.  Dozens of colorful vessels were tied up at the main dock.  There were signs all over town advertising places to buy smoked fish and salmon, all of them private homes.

Grounded seagulls

Driving by the parking area for First Beach, I noticed a huge flock of seagulls, all sitting on the ground.  An interesting photo op, I hopped out of the truck for a few shots.  That's about the time all those heavy clouds decided to let loose.

Parking next to the boat docks, Roger noticed some pelicans swimming around with the gulls.  I stuck my zoom lens out the truck window, and caught a couple shots of a pelican flying away.  Really neat to see a few of these birds in action!

A pelican takes flight

By then, the rain was really coming down, and it was nearing dinnertime.  We headed back towards Mora Campground, hoping for a break in the moisture to erect our tent, and prepare a quick supper.  But - Mother Nature had other ideas.

To be continued......

Sharing with:  Saturday's Critters and Weekly Top Shot.


  1. What a gorgeous area! I love both the old forests and the rocky beaches with the driftwood. Enjoy your Sunday!

  2. A beautiful area I've only heard about. I'd like to go there someday. Lovely photos. We saw pelicans on the bay front in Newport a few weeks ago. They are fun to watch. Looking forward to the next chapter!

  3. Thats a great part of the world!

    I was given direction from Seattle to Forks once many years ago - they went a bit like this: Drive to Forks. Turn left at the traffic lights. We are the second house in the right! And they were!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  4. I've been to the Olympic Peninsula many times and to parts of the NP too, but never this section. This is totally MY type of beach and forest! LOVE the sea stacks, the driftwood, the pelican, the tree roots...
    Blessings, Aimee
    PS: Hope the windstorm didn't create any damage at your place.

  5. I love the beaches up there.. You really captured their charm and beauty.
    Great post, Linda.. Looking forward to part two!

  6. Even in the cloudiness, pics were beautiful.

  7. Stunning photography, beautiful drift wood, awesome waves = great adventure!

  8. Hello Linda, what a beautiful park to visit. The Coastline is gorgeous.. I love the haystacks and the driftwood.. Cool shots of the pelican and the gulls.. Thanks for sharing your post with my critter party. Have a happy Sunday!

  9. The coastline is very beautiful. I can see there truly is a ton of driftwood on the beach there though!

  10. Gorgeous place! It reminds me very much of Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island (except for the sea stacks). I've got a picture just like yours of Roger, of our kids holding up a long piece of kelp - from nearly 30 years ago. I think we've got to put the coast of Oregon and Washington on our bucket list!

  11. I used to work at Olympic NP and Rialto Beach was one of my favorite places. You are inspiring, you get to so many spots!

  12. Those huge waves crashing down onto the beach are indeed mesmerising.

  13. Beautiful, Linda. Your photos are a breath of fresh air. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  14. Your compositions are amazing. I just love that rain forest/beach area! I really appreciate these "natural" beaches. You've captured their loveliness, Linda.

  15. What a spectacular place. This is my idea of a great day! Love your photos as always, especially the lone dead tree.

  16. WOW! I hope to be able to visit the PNW one day soon and see the coastline. The sea stacks and waves were so majestic! Lovely post and photos!

  17. Brilliant Pelican flight shot, but also really like all that driftwood.

  18. Very nice- brings back memories- I visited many years ago- both the mountain and coast parts

  19. Amazing pictures of the waves and the drift wood. This looks like such a beautiful piece of the world Linda!! Can't wait for part 2. x

  20. I was on that peninsula once, many years ago, and I'd love to go back. Gorgeous photos!

  21. gorgeous scenery. those sea stacks are really cool and so are the pebble beaches, different from the sand.

  22. Awesome post. I've never been to this part of our state but it sure looks like a fabulous place to visit. Loved those crashing waves.

  23. OK, now I want to go there too! Wow!~ These pictures are beautiful!

  24. Seeing your photographs of my favorite coastline make me glad I live close enough to visit often. The wild Washington coast is worth the visit... thank goodness someone had the vision to protect so much of the coastline as a national park.


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