Olympic NP: Backpacking the Southern Coast, Part I

In a world where nothing seems certain, it’s nice to know there are absolutes you can bank on. The sun will rise. The birds will sing. And in Forks, Washington? Sparkly vampires and hunky werewolves are as real as real can be.

Also, you can bet your bottom dollar that it rains in Hoh Rain Forest. A lot.

Our initial plan was to forge ahead to 5 Mile Island along Hoh River Trail before retracing our steps back to the Visitor Center. After a cold and wet night spent in the rain forest, however, we ready to be done with the elements. Inclement weather had followed us for the better part of a week now–in mid-July, no less–and our spirits (and patience) were worse for wear.

Forget the herd of elk grazing along river’s edge. To heck with boiling water for coffee and hot chocolate. We were bailing, and in a hurry. We broke camp in record time, hitting the trail just after 7 am. The trickle of a waterfall we’d passed yesterday more closely resembled a flood after last night’s heavy rains. Fresh moss carpeted the forest floor in a layer of slick green; speckled fungi sprawled skyward like mythical beanstalks. It was as if every living thing in the forest had vied overnight for the title of Most Alive.

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Making our way out of the Hoh
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Beautiful Hoh River
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Ten minutes to the parking lot…happy campers

Still, nothing could match the lure of our warm, dry car. Come mud or high water–or both, as it were–we were a family on an escape mission. What had taken almost two hours to hike yesterday took less than one this morning. No stops for ceremony or high-fives in the parking lot; we slammed our packs in the car trunk and piled in.

With fresh socks and heat came relief and then excited chatter, namely: how Adam Richman had nothing on our appetites and what was for breakfast? The soggy granola bars stashed in our bear canisters had lost all appeal. Conversation fixated on a restaurant we remembered passing on our way into the forest, the one with the clever name–Hard Rain Cafe.

Equal parts quaint eatery and mercantile, Hard Rain Cafe boasts a range of eclectic offerings from espresso and burgers to kitschy trinkets and backpacking essentials. As tempting as the souvenir racks were, every hungry hiker knows there’s nothing more enticing than a juicy burger post-hike–nine in the morning or otherwise. Hard Rain Cafe’s bacon cheeseburgers delivered the savory oomph we craved. Portions were small-ish and pricey, but thick-sliced bacon has a way of mitigating all ills.

The hour-long drive out of the rainforest took us past the coast and into the heart of Forks, the sleepy Olympic town immortalized in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying Twilight paved the way for many of us who’ve since landed agents and contracts in the young adult publishing industry. And the city of Forks? Consider it a living homage to all things Twilight. From billboards proclaiming the city’s current vampire threat level (red, of course) to the Team Jacob/Team Edward posters plastered across every shop window, it’s all great fun.

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The infamous sign featured in the movie Twilight
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When in Forks, you pilgrimage to Forks High School and scan for the Cullen family

Twilight fever aside, there were still chores that needed tending to before our afternoon coastal trek. Chief among these were showers and laundry. God, but we needed a shower! In the interest of keeping it real, I have to admit that we hadn’t showered since Glacier, five nights ago. Seriously gross, I know. We stopped at Forks 101 Laundromat (our clothes were so filthy, they practically stood on their own!) and Forks Outfitters Thriftway, where we stocked up on backpacking food for the next two nights. Our last stop was Three Rivers Resort, a rustic lodge and campground in La Push, for coin-op showers ($1 for the first three minutes, one quarter every minute thereafter). I literally could not pump those quarters in fast enough. It was the hottest, most glorious shower of my life. Slipping into clean clothes, I felt like a new woman, excited and eager for our final trek: the southern Olympic coast.

It was a short drive to Third Beach Trailhead parking lot. Even with bear canisters and packs strapped to our backs, everyone was in good spirits. We were headed to the beach, after all–what wasn’t to love? Having hiked earlier in the day, our planned mileage was minimal–just a mile and a half to Third Beach, where we would camp overnight and meet my brother and his partner in the morning to backpack to Toleak Point. More importantly, the rain had stopped, and though it wasn’t exactly sunny, it wasn’t pouring either–a win in our book.

The short hike to Third Beach took us through coastal forest reminiscent of the Hoh, albeit flatter and less lush. There were moments where I wondered if we were on the right trail–Isn’t this supposed to lead to the beach…?–but it wasn’t long before we heard the telltale roar of the ocean. We stopped at a bluff overlooking Third Beach and marveled at the the juxtaposition of forest and coast–behind us, only trees; ahead of us, nothing but ocean and salt air. Here, sand and soil gave rise to ferns and wildflowers that thrived in the unique coastal mix of mud and grit.

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Familiar but different. Coastal forest en route to Third Beach
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Third Beach Trail, Olympic National Park
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Our first glimpse of the beach

The descent from the bluff was steep, but we barely noticed, so mesmerized were we by the ocean. When our feet finally hit the sand, it took every ounce of self-restraint not to make a beeline straight for the water. Instead, we made note of the creek before us for water resupply and took stock of the massive driftwood pile blocking our path. Climbing over individual logs wasn’t overly difficult; scaling stacks of driftwood piled 8-10 feet high proved more of a challenge. Backpacks made balance tricky, but we all made it safely over to our first unobstructed view of the Olympic coast. 

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Driftwood logjam
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We didn’t realize how high the logjam was until we got there
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Balancing was tricky…
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…but the rewards were immense.
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Admiring the coast, Olympic National Park

The Pacific isn’t unfamiliar to us–it surrounds our tropical island home, informing our culture and way of life. But this Pacific was something else entirely, tempestuous and untamed. Here, horizon and water melded into an impermeable wall of gray. Wind-sheared trees clung to lonely cliffsides and sea stacks. And the thunder of crashing waves reminded us that we were but powerless spectators to Nature’s formidable display. The Olympic coast was every bit as wild as we’d hoped for and then some.  

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Giant’s Graveyard in the distance
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Watching eagles swoop across the headland
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Stark beauty, Third Beach
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The Olympic Coast
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Entranced by the ocean
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Solitude and wilderness along the Olympic Coast, Third Beach

From a driftwood perch, we watched an eagle swoop across the headland. We surveyed the tide–high at the moment–taking note of the tide’s reach and all it had veiled. Soon, all that was gray would darken to evening black, and we would retreat to the warmth of our tent. But for the moment, at least, finding a campsite could wait. For now, we would admire the forlorn beauty of the coast. We would memorize the wind and salt and sand in our hair. And though it would be impossible to hear each other over the roar of the ocean and the whipping wind, our contented smiles would need no translation.      

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16 thoughts on “Olympic NP: Backpacking the Southern Coast, Part I”

  1. Thanks for taking us along on the journey! I can’t believe there was so much rain in July, glad you guys were prepared. I hear you about the juicy burger post hike – sometimes I hike so I can eat a no-guilt burger with the works. Twilight! How cool that you guys visited Fork, WA!! The laundry sign was hilarious! 😂 Third Beach looked very mystical – so Twilightish! It’s so interesting how the Pacific Ocean looks so different from up in WA. Glad you guys enjoyed your time there 😁!!

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    1. Totally not as prepared as we should’ve been, which is why this story is split into two parts, lol! Hiking for burgers….that’s a thing, right? 😀 When we hike at home, we always stop at 7-Eleven to pick up spam musubi for the summit. So weird to stop at 7-Eleven on the mainland and not see a rack of musubi. Burgers always do the trick, though!

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  2. What a fun trip! Those trees and the ocean?!! 👌👌 gorgeous photos! And I love how you threw the Twilight information and pictures in there… the little fan girl in me secretly loved it! Lol… thanks for the share sure loved reading this!

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    1. Right?! It was like being at the Twilight mecca. You could even get a pic with Bella’s red truck at the Chamber of Commerce! It was funny because everything in Forks was Team Edward, but everything in La Push was Team Jacob, lol. Thanks so much, Melanie!

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  3. Haha…I can so relate to this post. The woes of hiking/camping in miserable, wet weather make for a humorous read but it is no fun at the time. The rain this year, particularly in June/July when we expect improvement, was (is) frustrating. Don’t get me started…October was a disaster (26 days of rain in Vancouver). But despite the moss between my toes, the rainforest is a beautiful place. And the Hard Rain Cafe…love it. Third Beach is fabulous, I love the wildness and the eerie fog-shrouded islets.

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    1. Oh, no! 26 days of rain? I can’t even imagine how gloomy October must have been. My hat’s off to you–PNW hikers are cut from truly hardy stock. The irony, of course, is you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful place when the sun shines! It’s funny that the same wet weather we lament makes for the stunning PNW landscape we love and crave. And I’m totally with you regarding Hard Rain Cafe… espresso in the rainforest? Yes, please. 😄

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  4. Oh my, all the rain and cold you experienced are giving me second thoughts about visiting the PNW next summer, lol! This Florida girl along with the rest of my family may not be able to handle so much cold and clouds in the summer time. 😕 We’ll probably do it anyway because we are traveling to broaden our horizons, right?!

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    1. Broadening our horizons? Hmm… right, I think, lol? Kidding! The PNW is amazing; we just ran into freak weather this summer. I hear you about the cold and rain, though. Low 70s is sweater weather in Hawaii. 😄 Fingers crossed for blue skies when you visit. I’m sure it’ll be gorgeous–can’t wait to see your pics!

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