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National Parks Hall of Fame: Best Coastal Hike

Swap summits for sand scrambling along nearly 18 miles of quiet coastal terrain.
november 09 nat park coastal hike 445x260Third Beach to Oil City, Olympic, WA (Terry Donnelly)

Third Beach to Oil City, Olympic, WA

Backpackers, by instinct, head for the hills. The beach north of Mosquito Creek should fix that. A grand arc of sand nearly three miles long, the shoreline paradise is bounded by the rocky fortresses of Hoh Head to the south and Toleak Point to the north. Thick conifer forest hems it in where cliffs don’t. Blue Pacific swells explode into white chrysanthemums of spray as they smack sea stacks. And there likely won’t be another soul in sight. Replay that image many times for 17.7 miles–add mad scrambles up rope ladders over steep headlands, tidepools filled with a menagerie of colorful sea creatures, and sunsets viewed from a driftwood perch–and that pretty much covers the three-day hike from Third Beach to Oil City. It’s the southernmost of three backpackable sections of the most primitive coastline in the Lower 48.

While mostly flat, the hike is hardly a breeze. Soft sand, jumbles of giant driftwood, and rock obstacle courses slow progress. And the tide dictates whether you can round a rocky point or ford a creek. Campsites are plentiful and undesignated, with several fine spots near Hoh Head. Schedule downtime for the beachcombing on Hoh Head’s seldom-visited north shore.

Essentials
Season June to October
Permits Required
Map Custom Correct South Olympic Coast ($7 laminated, customcorrectmaps.com); tide charts available at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles
Contact (360) 565-3100, nps.gov/olym

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