Washington's Olympic Coast

It's the longest stretch of virgin coastline left in the Lower 48. But that's just one of many reasons to hike it.
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It's the longest stretch of virgin coastline left in the Lower 48. But that's just one of many reasons to hike it.

Most of the "wild" shorelines of the United States are branded with the symbols of progress—asphalt roads, souvenir shops, and tacky cottages. One notable exception, though, is the strip of coastal wilderness in Washington stretching from the Hoh River to Shi-Shi Beach. By long-trail standards, the 60-some-mile hike along the ancient shores of the Pacific is short. But, because streams and rivers must be forded, because you're often racing against or waiting on the tide, and because most of the walk is over sand beaches, algae-coated cobbles, and root-riddled headlands, each mile seems twice its length.

This hike, all within Olympic National Park, runs along the longest stretch of virgin coastline left in the Lower 48. It takes you across white-sand beaches, past wave-pounded cliffs and surreal sea stacks, and through misty cedar forests. Because the likelihood of spotting whales and black bears is high, readers rated the Olympic Coast hike third for wildlife; seeing deer, seals, sea lions, and hundreds of shore birds is a certainty. Scavengers, too, are plentiful. "In places," says guidebook writer Vicky Spring, "you'll be throwing pine cones to keep the skunks and coons away from your food." While the Olympic coastlands may be virgin, the trail's popularity has taught the wildlife much about the human diet.

For best information:

Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center, (360) 452-0300; www.nps.gov/olym/wic.htm. Ask for the Wilderness Trip Planner.

100 Hikes in Washington's South Cascades and Olympics, by Ira Spring (The Mountaineers Books, 800-553-4453; www.mountaineersbooks.com; $14.95).