The Wildest Shore: Backpacking the Southern Olympic Coast

In Backpacking, Family Adventures, National Park Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   13 Comments

By Michael Lanza

On a remote, sandy beach on Washington’s Olympic coast, we stop in our tracks and gaze up. A wall of muddy earth rises some 300 feet into jungle-like rainforest. A thick strand of hemp rope dangles down this steep, eroding embankment. A ladder of wooden steps built into the muddy ground rises in tandem with the rope.

We’re going up it.

We’ve reached this spot after an hour of stepping and clambering cautiously over a beach tiled with big boulders, each one coated with wet, slick kelp and barnacles. Our group of six—including my wife, Penny, our school-age son, Nate, and daughter, Alex, my brother-in-law, Tom Beach, and his 15-year-old son, Daniel—crossed that beach while racing the clock against an incoming tide that was rapidly transforming that rocky stretch of coast to ocean.

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13 Responses to The Wildest Shore: Backpacking the Southern Olympic Coast

  1. Daniel   |  July 31, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Hello Michael. I was wondering if the trail was deserted, few people, or popular.

    • MichaelALanza   |  July 31, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Hi Daniel, it’s certainly not deserted on any part of it, unless you go during the off-season (between mid-autumn and early spring). From Toleak Point north to the Third Beach trailhead, you’ll see other backpackers and eventually some dayhikers, but I don’t think so many that it feels “crowded.” Between Mosquito Creek and Toleak Point there will probably be some other backpackers. South of Mosquito Beach, in the hardest part of the hike, there are fewer people.

      Good question. Good luck to you.

  2. Nancy East   |  June 25, 2016 at 11:15 am

    I absolutely love your site (and book!) and have duplicated some of your trips with my own family (Grand Canyon and Teton Crest Trail, specifically). Thanks to you again, we are leaving next week for Olympic National Park! We plan on backpacking from 3rd Beach to Toleak Point (out and back). Our kids are like little mountain goats (ages 9,10, and 12) and don’t fear heights, but I wanted to get your input on the rope ladders on this stretch of trail. Are they fairly safe to climb without any additional safety measures in place? I had the thought of bringing some webbing and making a swiss seat style harness and attaching a prusik to it and the rop the NPS has in place already. But is that complete overkill, or worse, would it actually put them in more danger if they’re having to mind the prusik if their hands should be focused more exclusively on the ladder instead of the rope? Many thanks for all that you do–you are quite an inspiration to me! 🙂

    • MichaelALanza   |  June 26, 2016 at 3:32 am

      Thanks for the compliments about my blog and book, Nancy. Your question is a good one. Before we backpacked the southern Olympic coast with our kids, who were nine and seven, I checked with park rangers and a guidebook author friend about the rope ladders. I decided my kids would be fine on them without any belay or setup like a prusik, but I did carry their packs for them and I descended/ascended each rope ladder immediately below each of them (one at a time). The stretch between Third Beach and Toleak Point has an overland section with a rope ladder, but it’s not a hard one. (The hardest is between Mosquito Creek and Toleak Point; it’s exposed but not terribly hard as long as it’s not in disrepair.) I think the prusik is unnecessary and would only complicate going up and down it. Remember to bring a tide chart and time your crossing of some spots for low tide.

      Thanks for following my blog, get in touch anytime.

      • Nancy East   |  June 27, 2016 at 7:04 am

        Thank you so very much for the quick reply and helpful information. It’s great to hear that this stretch isn’t overly difficult. We will definitely bring a tide chart and discuss the timing of everything with the rangers when we get our permit. Many thanks again!

        • michaellanza   |  June 27, 2016 at 7:55 am

          You’re welcome, Nancy. Have fun, it’s a wonderful hike for adults and kids.

  3. Pingback: Photo Gallery: 11 National Parks, One Year | The Big Outside

  4. Dave Dougherty   |  May 30, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Excellent resource for this hike. What kind of shoes do you recommend for this trip given the varied terrain and obstacles?

    • Michael Lanza   |  June 4, 2013 at 6:55 am

      Hi Dave, Good question. Boot advice is always tricky because fit, needs, and preferences vary so much between individuals. But generally, I think you want a lightweight to midweight, mid-cut boot that protects ankles on the rocks and offers moderate support in steep terrain. Check out the boot reviews I have at https://thebigoutside.com/tag/backpacking-boots-reviews/. I think either of the Scarpas and the La Sportiva would all be excellent for this trip, depending on how heavy a boot you prefer (and your backpack weight). But look at my review of the Keen boots for my thoughts about waterproof vs. non-waterproof. That issue also raises the question about whether you want to wear waterproof, neoprene socks. Always try on and walk around in boots before buying, and get your foot size measured accurately. Good luck, it’s a great trip.

  5. Jason Graham (@JasonNGraham)   |  April 11, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    The first overnight backpacking trip I ever did as a kid was Third Beach to Toleak Point with my step-dad when I was about 9 or 10. I love that hike and area, and have been back many times. I can’t wait to take my own kids there soon. I just showed the video to my four year old to get him excited and inspired!

    • MichaelALanza   |  April 11, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      Your son will receive the gift of a wonderful memory, just like you did, Jason. Thanks for sharing that story.

  6. MichaelALanza   |  January 2, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Hi Ken, thanks for the nice words. It is a great trip for families.

  7. Ken Peterson   |  December 21, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I love your video. Last June my wife and I took our two kids 10 and 8 to the Lake Ozette Triangle for our family’s first 2 night backpacking trip(wish we started sooner!). We loved it and look forward to going back there. This area is beautiful and a great spot for kids to explore. We saw deer, eagles, small sea life in tide pools and even saw a whale on the first night. Super fun. Thanks for doing what you do, it is inspiring.

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