There's something about the sound of waves hitting a beach that makes you sleep like a baby. But if you haven't camped on a deserted coastal beach before, you're missing a whole lot more than just some great shut-eye. Things like a tidepool filled with 10-legged starfish and shimmering sea anemones, and mornings with laughing seagulls and the sun dancing on the waves. You're missing a climb up a 50-foot cliff to gaze into the ocean's sapphire water and-if you're lucky-catch a glimpse of a whale breaking the surface a few hundred feet offshore.
I've hiked countless beaches, and the Coastal Strip in Washington's Olympic National Park is the place to go. The 60-mile stretch from Shi-Shi Beach to the Hoh River is the longest tract of virgin coastline left in the Lower 48. You'll hike a section of white-sand beach, picking your way over ocean-slicked cobblestones and massive, algae-covered logs. When that section of the beach ends and a headland juts out into the sea, you'll claw your way up out of the sun and into the cool cedar forests above. Then it's back down to the beach, often via handy rope ladders. The wonderful up-and-down pattern continues along the entire coast, creating a hike that's varied and beautiful. Pay careful attention to the tides, so you don't get stranded on the wrong side of
Permits: Permits are free and available at ranger stations, visitor centers, and many trailheads. Call ahead to check on quotas and reservations (see Contact below).
Access: Access to Shi-Shi Beach is through private property. Contact the Makah Information Center at (360) 645-2201 for details. For a shorter hike, start at Third Beach and hike south to the Hoh River (18 miles).
Season: High summer brings more stable weather and more hikers. Spring and fall can be wet, but you may have the coast to yourself.
Guides: Custom Correct maps North Olympic Coast and South Olympic Coast (www.olypen.com/lre; $3.25 each) are available at park visitor centers, ranger stations, or from the Outdoor Recreation Information Center, (206) 470-4060; www.nps.gov/ccso/oric.htm. 100 Hikes in Washington's South Cascades and Olympics: Chinook Pass, White Pass, Goat Rocks, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, by
Ira Spring and Harvey Manning (The Mountaineers, 800-553-4453; $14.95).
Contact: Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center, (360) 565-3100; www.nps.gov/olym.