Olympic National Park in Washington State has some of the most diverse camping and backpacking opportunities in the USA. You can theoretically hike and camp through lush temperate rainforests, glacier-capped mountains, subalpine meadows, and rugged coastlines, all in one Olympic road trip.
One of my very favorite backpacking trips in Olympic National Park is a fun coastal adventure to Second Beach.
Backpacking to Second Beach and camping on Second Beach are such exciting experiences. While day hiking Second Beach allows you to get a preview of the rugged stretch of sand, towering sea stacks, thriving tide pools, and diverse marine life, backcountry camping gifts you the full show.
Trek through the dense forest, hike along the coastline, and set up camp in the sand while you watch the tide recede and the sun sink below the sea stacks.
While this guide is geared toward backpacking and camping on Second Beach – one of the easier, more accessible, and less remote beaches along the South Shore of the Olympic Peninsula – you’ll receive valuable information that is applicable to many of the other beaches along Washington’s coastline, such as how to camp on the beach, what to pack for a beach backpacking adventure, how to read a tide table, and how to obtain a wilderness permit for all of Olympic National Park’s coastal beaches and backcountry spaces.
Backpacking to Second Beach: Everything You Need to Know
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Why Should You Backpack Second Beach?
There is a myriad of fantastic routes along both the North and South Shores of the Olympic Peninsula: longer backpacking trips such as Third Beach to Oil City (17 miles) and Shi Shi Beach to Rialto Beach (35 miles), and shorter to mid-range trips like Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall (4 miles) and Shi Shi Beach to Ozette Trailhead (15 miles).
But if you’re a newbie to backcountry camping or brand new to the Pacific Northwest region, Second Beach is that sweet spot that will award you a taste of wilderness beach camping without removing yourself too far from civilization.
From the Second Beach parking lot to the sandy shore, you’ll twist through a 0.8-mile trail ensconced with old-growth hemlock and spruce trees. From the conclusion of the forested trail to the far end of Second Beach is another mile, so the furthest you’d be from your car would be about two miles, making it a doable escape should you become entangled in a dicey situation or need to bail for any reason.
When to Backpack Second Beach
April through October is the best time to backpack Second Beach!
Washington’s coastline stays pretty mild year-round. While the alpine region further from the coast becomes buried in piles of snow, the coast remains mild and wet. That being said, while the temperature might stay consistently mellow, the wind and the storms mixed with the ocean waves, nearby river currents, and dense fog can create an untamed weather concoction.
Here is what to expect when camping on Second Beach in each season:
- Winter brings mild but rainy weather along the coast. The coast sees an average of 100 inches of rain annually, most of which occurs between November and April. Snow is rare, but temperatures can drop to 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.
- Spring brings mild, but still relatively cool, conditions along the coast. Weather can be unpredictable, and rain is still very common through April.
- Summer brings foggy conditions along the coast; since temperatures are warmer, this is the most popular time to visit the Olympic Peninsula.
- Fall brings a cooler climate and more drizzly and windy conditions by October.
How to Obtain a Second Beach Wilderness Permit
Wilderness permits are required for all overnight stays in the Olympic National Park backcountry year-round. This includes Second Beach. Trailhead permits are not available anymore, so you will need to obtain a permit up to six months in advance on recreation.gov.
When your trip date is 5-7 days away, the WIC (Wilderness Information Center) staff will issue your official permit so that you can print it out yourself. If you cannot print the permit yourself, you can contact the staff at (360) 565-3100 between 9 AM and 4 PM PST for assistance.
Park rangers regularly make their rounds through the backcountry areas – especially the popular sites like Second Beach – to ensure that campers are carrying their valid permits. Keep the printed permit in your backpack or accessible in your pocket so that you can present it to a ranger if you are asked.
Second Beach Backpacking Essentials
- 40-60L backpack + rain cover
- Tent + footprint
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Headlamp + batteries
- Map + compass + GPS
- Emergency beacon
- First aid kit
- Repair kits (for tent, sleeping pad, etc.)
- Phone + camera
- I.D. + permits
- Portable charger
- Meals + snacks + coffee kit
- Water bottles
- Water filter
- Stove + fuel
- Lighter + matches
- Spork + mug + bowl
- Trash bag
- Toiletries: toothbrush + toothpaste + wipes
- Bug spray + head net
- Toilet kit: trowel + toilet paper + sanitizer + resealable bag
- Vitamins + meds
- Bear spray + canister
- Solar lantern
- Camp sandals
- Small microfiber towel
- Playing cards
- Mini broom + dustpan
- Camp chairs
- Hiking top
- Hiking pants, leggings, or shorts
- Merino wool socks
- Merino wool underwear
- Hiking boots/trail runners
- Neck gaiter
- Sun hat
- Baselayer top
- Baselayer bottoms
- Mid layer fleece top
- Mid layer fleece pants
- Waterproof wind/rain jacket
- Rain pants
- Extra pair of socks
- Extra pair of underwear
What to Expect Hiking and Camping at Second Beach
To access Second Beach, park in the lot off La Push Road. While there are only spots for roughly ten or twelve cars and SUVs, there is a much bigger overflow lot just east of the main parking area that any size vehicle – including vans, RVs, buses, and trailers – can claim.
Hiking to Second Beach
- Length: 0.8 miles from the parking lot to the beach. 2 miles from the parking lot to the furthest point along the beach, which is just before Teahwhit Head.
- Elevation: 310 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
The densely forested trail that leads from the parking lot to the beach is quite simple to weave through. The trail becomes narrower the closer you get to the beach; you will feel like you’re getting a hug from the hemlocks and spruce trees by the end.
When you reach the sand, you’ll have to hobble over some log obstacles before making your way to the shoreline. On your right, you’ll see a giant rock with a hole carved in it; on a windy day, you’ll hear a whistling sound as the breeze whips through the cavity. To the left will be the dramatic sea stack with the trees growing atop it that is often portrayed in travel blogs, calendars, and advertisements.
You can choose to find a camping spot close to the trail, or venture anywhere from Quateata Head to Teahwhit Head, as long as you pitch your tent above the high tide line and away from fellow campers.
Camping on Second Beach
Camping on the beach is an exciting endeavor, but the experience along the Washington coast is a bit more wild and rugged than traditional beach camping. It’s important to be prepared by researching your trip ahead of time, consulting a ranger prior to heading out, and carrying a physical copy of the area’s tide chart.
Arrive early if you are camping on a weekend or holiday; the beach can become crowded, and while the rangers only distribute a certain number of permits daily, prime camping spots can fill up quickly. Your permit will state what time you can arrive to set up camp, so it’s best to arrive as close as possible to that time in order to have a variety of spots to choose from!
Select a Good Campsite
Selecting a campsite is part of the fun! You can choose to set up camp right after the forested trail meets up with the sand, or you can walk over a mile down the coastline to find a more secluded spot. While there are a few forested sites, most of the camping is on the beach. Prepare for a sandy (and dewy) tent!
Campfires on Second Beach
Campfires are allowed on Second Beach as long as you build them below the high tide line and use only the driftwood that’s speckled across the beach. Driftwood may be scarce in the summer as more people are camping and building fires during these months.
Bears on Second Beach
Bears are prominent along the coastline. It’s crucial that you put all of your food, trash, and scented items in a bear canister and stow it between some logs at least 100 yards from your tent.
We heard bears rummaging around in the middle of the night. (Yes, our food and trash were properly stowed in a bear canister. Also yes, we forgot to slip our gummy vitamins in said bear canister, oops. Lesson learned).
No Sound Machine Needed
Lastly, when you fall asleep for the night, there is no need to press play on a white noise track courtesy of Spotify; the sound of the ocean will lull you into la-la land.
Second Beach Rules
The rules that the NPS have instilled not only ensure the safety of the fragile landscapes but the wildlife and visitors. These rules not only apply to Second Beach but all beaches, mountains, forests, glaciers, and all other areas in Olympic National Park.
Store Food, Trash, and Scented Items in a Bear Canister
Bear canisters are required along the entire Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast. All food, garbage, and scented items must be stored in a park-approved bear canister for all overnight stays and anytime left unattended.
A few bear canisters are available to borrow at the Wilderness Information Centers in Olympic National Park, but since the inventory is slim and office hours are limited, it is recommended that you bring your own.
Obtain a Permit
Permits are required for all overnight stays in the Olympic National Park backcountry. As mentioned earlier, you must purchase backcountry permits in advance for each person who will be camping in the wilderness areas of the park.
Never set up your campsite before the arrival time indicated on your permit, and always leave by the “check out” time to allow space for the next round of backpackers.
Be Conscientious of Area-Specific Rules
Make sure you are abiding by all of the park’s guidelines, including but not limited to camping where you are supposed to and avoiding lighting campfires above the high tide line and in high fire danger zones.
Pack Out All Waste
While there is a pit toilet at the Second Beach trailhead, there are no privies on the Second Beach shore. For all solid human waste, campers must dig a 6-8 foot cathole that is at least 200 feet away from any water source.
Store your trash and toilet paper in a bear canister when camping, and pack it all out once you leave.
Never Round Quateata or Teawhit Head
The two headlands surrounding Second Beach are impassible, even at low tide. Never attempt to round the headlands. If you wish to access the other beaches, you must hike back up the Second Beach forested trail to the parking lot, and drive to the next beach access.
Some headlands can be crossed further up the coast at low tide (NOT on Second Beach), but always consult a ranger and a tide table before attempting this.
Build Campfires Below High Tide Line and Burn Only Driftwood
Currently, campfires are allowed on Second Beach as long as visitors build a rock ring to contain the fire and keep the flames below the high tide line to avoid spreading wildfires. Burn only driftwood that you find scattered along the beach.
Other beaches along the Washington coast may not allow campfires, and since current wildfire danger can affect regulations, always check with the NPS before building a campfire in Olympic National Park.
Camp Above the High Tide Line
To avoid waking up to water licking the walls of your tent and sloshing the inside of your sleeping bag, camp above the high tide line.
The high tide line is easy to spot; simply look for the line where the darker, wet sand meets the dry, loose sand. Debris like seaweed, shells, or sea creatures wash up with the tide, so they will usually be found strewn across the wet sand.
Set up camp on the dry, loose sand!
Do Not Disturb Living Organisms
Collecting a few unoccupied seashells is permitted, but visitors must not disturb or collect any living organisms, such as but not limited to sea stars, crabs, mussels, and barnacles, that might be found in tide pools or on the beach.
Leave No Trace
Always leave the campsite better than you found it! Never leave behind toilet paper, food, or trash. Remove all evidence of campfire construction.
Beach Camping Tips
After camping on Second Beach, I learned so many things. Here are some of the things I learned along with a few beach camping tips to help make your adventure smooth.
Remove any driftwood or twigs from the sand and smooth the golden granules before laying your footprint and tent on top of it.
Instead of stakes, anchor your tent by tying guy lines to heavy driftwood logs. Make sure you select logs that won’t move or roll. OR use sand/snow stakes to secure your tent.
Don’t allow sand to shimmy between your tent zippers! Sand is detrimental to those intricate mechanisms, so be mindful when stepping in or around your tent.
Bring a small broom and dustpan to sweep sand and debris out of your tent. You won’t want to go camping without one – whether you’re on a beach or not!
Lay a cloth, tarp, or towel in front of your tent to act as a doormat. Remove your shoes and wipe your feet before entering the tent.
Consider leaving your sleeping pad in your car. While it’s a personal preference, I found that sleeping on the sand was more comfortable than on a pad!
Bears and raccoons are extremely active on the beach. Store all of your food, trash, and scented items in a bear canister.
Keep your canister far away from your tent (at least 300 feet), and try to tuck it between some driftwood logs to prevent any creature from rolling it away.
To build a campfire, collect some river rocks that are scattered between the sand and the trees. Select flat ones that can easily be stacked; you’ll want at least two or three stacks; make your ring whatever size you’d like. This ring will help contain your fire.
Once you’ve assembled your fire ring, begin your hunt for kindling – like dry twigs and beach grass – and small driftwood logs. Use a lighter or match to catch the kindling on fire, and assemble your driftwood logs in a teepee position. Once the driftwood logs catch, you’ll have yourself a nice fire! Continue to add logs until you are ready to call it quits.
Ensure that the fire is completely doused before leaving it unattended. Disassemble your fire ring and all traces of a fire once you leave your campsite.
Any water you collect from the ocean, rivers, or nearby streams must be filtered or brought to a roiling boil for at least one full minute. Iodine tablets do not kill cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes diarrheal disease.
→ READ NEXT: 10 Tips for Beach Camping
Understanding Tides and How They Affect Your Trip
Before heading to the Olympic National Park beaches, ensure you are well-versed on the tides. Know how to read a tide chart and how the tides affect your trip. Carry a topographic map that you can reference before your trip as well.
Some headlands between beaches tend to vanish during high tide, making the route impossible during certain times of the day. While these longer routes from the North to the South end of the coast tend to warrant more crucial knowledge on the topic of tides, you’ll still need to know the low and high tide times for your trip to the coast, no matter where you’re going. Chances are you’ll be visiting other beaches in the area, and you’ll want to be familiar with the tide times for both your safety and enjoyment.
Tides at Second Beach
Specifically, some things to note about tides at Second Beach:
- You cannot round Quateata Head or Teahwhit Head (the rocks jutting on each side) from Second Beach. They are impassible even at the lowest tide.
- Camp above the high tide line. To find the high tide line, look for the line where the dark, wet sand meets the dry, loose sand. Camp above that line on the dry, loose sand.
Why Are Tide Tables Beneficial?
- To determine the best time to explore tide pools and sea creatures.
- To determine the best time to beach comb for shells and other coastal treasures.
- To determine the best time to round a headland when coastal hiking.
- To determine where it will be safe to set up camp for the evening.
What are Tides?
Tides are the periodic waves that move through the ocean in response to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. As a result, the water levels rise and fall, affecting the shoreline. The Pacific coastline experiences two high tides and two low tides per day, which are all predicted on a tide table.
At low tide, the water pulls back, drawing the curtain on a whole new world teeming with underwater life. Tide pools, little nooks and crannies tucked between rocks, appear in droves, along with colorful creatures like crabs, starfish, mussels, sea snails, barnacles, and sea urchins. These orange, yellow, purple, blue, green, and pink invertebrates, fish, and plants that are tucked between crevices and rocky alcoves are only visible when the tide recedes; it’s a sight you can’t miss! Many visitors come to the ocean just to see the slow reveal of a rainbow of exotic underwater creatures that were once hidden beneath the tide and are now exposed to the naked eye.
At high tide, the water is at the highest level along the shoreline. Tide pools and headland routes vanish under the curling waves, and sea creatures are once again covered in a salty blanket.
How to Read a Tide Table
- Go to Tides and Currents website, visit one of the Olympic National Park ranger stations, or download a Tide App to learn current tide information for your trip dates.
- Use the tide heights and times to gather data on what headlands can be rounded at which times. The safest time to round headlands is within one to two hours before low tide.
- The tide height numbers tell you how high the tide will rise vertically. This number doesn’t indicate how far up the beach or coastline the tide will go, only that the tide will be “X” feet above the reference level of the MLLW. In Layman’s terms, the high tide number is configured based on how much higher the water level will go above the average of the lowest low tides.
Whether you choose to camp on Second Beach or one of the other fantastic coastal beaches along the Olympic Peninsula, enjoy your adventure, stay safe, and always respect these precious wild spaces we get to call home!