The trip is an all-day affair. I leave home early to catch the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend, stop at the Olympic National Park Ranger Station in Port Angeles to get a permit and bear canister (don’t forget a tide chart!), drive around Lake Crescent and then up Highways 113 and 112 zigzagging through all those tight turns, and arrive at Neah Bay. Then I purchase my Neah Bay Recreational Permit ($10, good for a year), drive to the trail head, drop off my pack, drive back to the overnight parking place ¼ mile away, register/pay for the correct number of nights parking (overnight parking is NOT allowed at the trail head, the overnight parking is at a private residence, ¼ mile BEFORE the trail head, at the top of the hill, on the right. Bring cash, $10 per vehicle per night) and then schlep back to the trail head, grab my back and finally start to hike!
It’s almost two miles of easy (but always VERY muddy) hiking through the forest until you come to the National Park Boundary, where the trail immediately drops down to the ocean. There are some cool sea stacks just to the right of where the trail hits the beach, one of which looks a lot like the Sphinx. Looking to the left the shore arcs south and you can see Point of the Arches in the distance. The ocean breeze is a welcome companion for the last leg of the journey, another 1.5 miles down the beach.
Actually, once you hit the beach you can camp anywhere. But I always hike south and camp as close as possible to the Point of the Arches Sea Stacks.
There are several good reasons for this: the beach is flatter and wider, there are two creeks which emerge from the forest at the south end of the beach providing drinking water (be certain to bring your filter!) and most importantly, the views are absolutely unsurpassed.
For me the entire trip, from my door to the camp site, takes about 8 hours. I arrive just in time to set up camp and prepare for the sunset! Leaving camp I grab my camera and tripod headed towards the sea stacks to begin another magical photo tour.
When the tide is completely out you can easily walk out to the farthest set of sea stacks.
There are multitudes of tide pools everywhere adorned with greener than green seaweed, oranger than orange (and purple!) star fish and sea anemones.
Often there are colonies of sea otters cavorting in the water.
Caves and grottoes and hidden nooks are everywhere. The place is a wonder for children, old and young.
Camping on the beach is such a treat! Fires are allowed and drift wood is literally everywhere. Listening to the waves breaking, watching the fire, enjoying all of the smells and wind…nothing beats it.
Mornings at Shi Shi beach are some of the most magical I have ever experienced. As the sun slowly creeps up above the trees it illuminates the ocean and then little by little the sea stacks.
The colors (did I mention the colors?) are amazing, blue sky, green grasses and trees on the stacks, bright orange star fish and the green waves…
If you’re lucky enough to be there when the sun is shining you can explore endlessly. Bald eagles frequent the beach, they perch up high on the trees overlooking the ocean. Deer emerge from the forest to take a stroll along the water. Bear canisters are required for all camping on the beach here, but they should be renamed raccoon canisters (bears are not likely to visit the beach area!). Although I have camped here more than a dozen times I have yet to meet any raccoons…
The closer you camp to the south end the easier it is to be there for the sunrise and sunsets. There are many great spots along the edge of the forest, right on the beach, already set up with fire rings and great places for tents. Just inside the edge of the forest there are at least 15 fully established camp sites, maybe more. These sites provide more shelter from the wind and rain in stormy weather but also block the views.
One October while camped on Shi Shi I ran into another camper who told me that the Shi Shi Beach area was a rather new addition to Olympic National Park. When the state purchased the land to add it to the park there was an entire community of people living there on the beach and in the forest. It’s easy to understand why!
I have visited in every type of weather (clouds, rainy, stormy and sunny) but I must admit to being partial to sunny skies. I now watch the weather service forecast closely before heading out there, but like most things weather related, its always a bit of a gamble.
The hike from the car is so short and easy that you can bring your bourgeoisie camping gear and food to enjoy relatively spoiled comfort. I always bring a book or two as well as a Frisbee, when the tide is out the beach is wider than a football field is long.
Every sunrise and sunset I am wandering around with my camera, excited to see what new wonders I will find…my current dream is too capture a rainbow over the sea stacks… and to capture images of the sea stacks on a moonless, clear and starry night…