Parts of the park are very rugged and desolate. Emergency response may be difficult and require some time. There are a lot of steep drops with questionable footing so stay away from the edge. This is also bear country so always be on the lookout for bears and other wildlife. Do not feed the wildlife. Be extra careful crossing streams and creeks. Stay aware of the weather and watch for changes. Obey all warning signs they are there to protect you and the park. I ran across the goat mentioned on Warning #2.
Permits are required when you stay overnight at the Olympic National Forest wilderness. There are seven ranger stations where you can obtain permits. Or you can call information. Also, don't use regular maps. You have to use a detailed topographic maps where you can obtain specific trails, primitive trails and pass. This map is called Into Olympic:Wilderness Trip Planner. You should stop by the stations and should inquire about ford locations and difficulty in crossing.
Remember to get the tides before you leave on your trip, get them online, or at trail head. Check maps carefully, will indicate headlands that can only be crossed at low tide.
Bear barels required for food, garbage, toothpaste, etc. Really it's for the squirels, raccons, etc. that go for your food (even damaging tents & backpacks)
Have a good water filter, know how it works and how to clean it. Expect to clean the filter for every 3 quarts at Cape Alava, every quart at Sand Point. Brown water after passing through filter is normal, think of it as leaf tea.
We seriously underestimated all the things you can see on the peninsula and how easy it is to fritter a day away; it's not a place to hurry. We also made a couple of bad decisions that, in hindsight, would have bought us time in places we would better have enjoyed.
We didn't explore:
Cape Flattery/Neah Bay - not part of the park but has an excellent Makah museum and hiking
Ozette area lake and Shi Shi beach
Sol Duc Springs
Kalaloch - drove by but didn't get to spend time on the beach there
Lake Quinault - quick stop
You can hit the highlights in 2-3 days (we had 4) but can easily spend a week here unless you're not interested in spending any time in a pair of hiking shoes. I had mentioned our 11 hours in one day on just 4 of the beaches? Honestly, you can walk for hours and never get tired of them. So my only warning here is to give yourself enough days to see it all and putter a bit when the putterin's good!
Figure anything wet is going to be very, very slippery - and most of the time EVERYTHING in the rain forest or on the coast is wet. Drift piles are especially dangerous; if you have to cross a heap of damp logs to get to the beach, stay low and move carefully. I took a bad one off a jumble of these and was very lucky to escape with just a few bruises. These piles may also be loose - another reason to proceed cautiously and test your footing before placing your entire weight.
At low tide, seaweed-covered rocks are just as slimy - it can be all too easy to take a header into a tidepool trying to get up close and personal with the starfish.
Other than they just don't like to be bothered, some of the wildlife you may encounter in the park may be sick, injured, or juveniles who will be abandoned by parents if touched by human hands. They had an unusual situation with a large amount of sick and dying sea birds when we were there and beaches were littered with dead or nearly dead scoters. It could have been exhaustion from a storm far out at sea or toxic alga bloom - also known as a "red tide." Whatever the case, admire the squirrels, elk, sea lions, otters and birds but keep your distance and report to the rangers any large animals that appear to be injured.
Red tides also affect mussels and clams so they are off-limits for digging during seasons when blooms are likely to occur. If planning to dig, see the attached link for seasons, regulations and licensing requirements and be aware that unexpected blooms can close beaches to harvesting at any time.
The waters of the Pacific are frigid all year long plus rocks and wave-tossed debris make swimming dangerous here. We saw a couple of surfers at Rialto and down near Ocean Shores: all were experienced, wearing wetsuits and not attempting their rides during extreme high tides. Enjoy the beaches and wade a bit for a better look at the tidepools but swimming isn't recommended.
Unlike many park environments, you are allowed to collect wood and build a nice beach fire on a chilly evening! Gathering is limited to driftwood found on the beaches and you can only build your campfire where high tide will wash away the evidence. Carry that tide table and be aware of when incoming waves will carry off the ashes but not you or your camp supplies. It's OK to pick up a few interesting rocks or empty seashells, too. See the link below on campfires, coastal hiking and other necessary stuff to know.
Having a tide chart is essential to exploring the coastal beaches - especially if planning to go any kind of distance. There are headlands that can only be breached during low tide and you can be trapped on the wrong side if wandering around unaware of how much time you have to do that. Parts of some of the beaches can still be accessed at high tide and others, not so. Incoming tides during stormy weather can also create dangerous wave activity so always have a current tide table and know how to read it.
Tables can be downloaded from the park website (see link) or picked up at the visitor centers. They're not difficult - if you look at a PDF of one for the month you're visiting (see the web address below) you'll see the rise and fall of the blue line that corresponds to time of day for any particular date. Where the wave hits the bottom of the chart, that's low tide. You'll also notice that not all high or low tides are the same - some are more extreme than others. Some days you'll be lucky to have 2 low tides during daylight hours, and others - especially at times of the year when daylight is short - you might only have a brief time after dawn or before dark to try and see those fascinating tidepools.
Big "Twilight" events - like Stephenie Meyer Day (Sept 13) - in Forks can swamp this tiny town with fans. Be sure to check the local calendar and book your accommodations WELL in advance if you're interested in staying here and your visit will coincide with one of these things.
Weather conditions can change very quickly on the peninsula - especially along the coast. It can be raining buckets one minute and bright and sunny the next. We arrived at beaches under calm, blues skies that turned to windy, grey clouds just moments later. There's just no good way to predict what it's going to be at any hour or at any location so come prepared for anything and everything.
I took these pictures of Second Beach just six minutes apart - this wall of fog just rolled in out of nowhere!
They warn you to stay well away from the beaches in stormy weather as extreme high tides can toss up huge pieces of driftwood or move existing piles around, making them very unstable. Here are a couple of examples of how big this stuff can be.
Traveling across snow banks on trails not yet completely free of the previous winter's snow can be tricky if on steep sections. Olympic was still full of snow at the higher elevation when we visited in August of 2008. The High Divide trail was just thawing out and while parts were entirely snow-free, there were still huge drifts of snow on parts not getting afternoon sun. There were a few hairy crossings and in lieu of having an ice axe, a simple hiking pole helps. Keep the pole on your upside. Never use the pole to lean on the downward side in an attempt to even the trail out. Dig your boots in as you walk to create some traction and make a flatter service on which to walk. By having the pole on the upside, if you do slip, you can use it to slow you slide down much as you would an ice axe, though certainly not as effective. The most important thing is to take you time and watch your step.
The Olympic Peninsula has massive tides and you need to pay attention to them when walking on the beaches there. This can be as simple as checking the tide charts at the Visitor Center so that you can be on the beach when the tides have just gone out, the optimal time for exploring tide-pools. But the more important thing to remember is that as soon as the tide is at its lowest, it starts coming back in. Remember that some places are only passable at low tide and you can become trapped not being able to return the way you came or worse yet, be crushed by waves against the rocks if you are somewhere underwater at high tide.
What? Don't drive too slow? Yes, my friend! There are warning signs. If you are too slow and have caused traffic and there five cars following you, you might get a ticket! Pull over to the side of the road specified for slow moving vehicles and let those cars behind you to pass! Highway 101 is the main access to the Olympic National Park and it has only one lane and if you are too slow busy looking at the views, you better watch out because it might cause traffic!
The tide along the Pacifc Coast creates dangers very quickly if you're not prepared.
The tide turns every 5+ hours. So, it is either coming in or going out. In less than 6 hours, the tide will go from it's lowest point (when the beach is biggest) to it's highest point and the beach may disappear.
1. Plan all you beach walks to get you back to a trail home, before the tide can trap you somewhere along the beach. There are numerous points of land that create secluded beachs. Beware that once the tide returns to the point, you'll be trapped on that secluded beach for hours. If it's a beach that disappears at high tide, you may never be coming home.
2. Don't walk on the floating driftwood when the tide is in. The logs twist and turn without warning and you will end up between two. In a moment, you're leg will be ground to pulp or you chest crushed smaller than a coin.