Olympic National Park, WA
Third Beach Trail
Animals don’t care about the view, of course. But it’s hard not to believe the abundance of wildlife along this mile-long stretch of shore doesn’t have something to do with the setting. Here, the Pacific meets the edge of the continent in startling fashion, with 200-foot sea stacks rising from the waves like giant tombstones and a 200-foot waterfall cascading off a rocky headland into the sea. This easy, 2.8-mile trip is your ticket to the zoo. Harbor seals park their pups on the partly submerged rocks just offshore in May and June, bringing orcas in search of a meal; that’s also the time to spot endangered sperm whales and gray whales spouting on the horizon. Sea otters and tufted puffins dabble on the water’s surface, while bald eagles soar overhead (especially in summer); black-tailed deer wander among tidepools filled with violet-shaded ochre sea stars and giant green anemones. A mostly flat trek through a hemlock and Sitka spruce forest will deposit you at this surf-pounded paradise. Up the solitude factor by heading north a half mile when you reach the beach to camp near the creek at its northern boundary. Camping is permitted anywhere on the beach—just be sure to pitch your tent well above the high-tide line.
Go May/June for whales and baby harbor seals Get there From Forks, take US 101 north 1.5 miles to a left on La Push Rd. Continue 11.5 miles to the trailhead. Permit Required; $5 plus $2/person/night Map BACKPACKER PRO Map Hoh River to Third Beach ($20, backpacker.com) Contact nps.gov/olym