Backpacking in Olympic National Park | Third Beach to Scott Creek along Washington Coast
This trip was planned last minute on a spur of the moment itch to get outdoors. With so much going on, we really needed some quiet time away from all distractions to recharge.
Little did we know, this was a very challenging trail (for this time of year at least) and not the easy walk in the park we expected.
We had a blast, and the views were totally worth it, but this trail is definitely for dedicated backpackers who aren't afraid of obstacles or getting dirty.
For optimal conditions, visit between June and September.
Note: Matthew and I did this trip in February which is definitely not peak season. Our experience with the tide, weather and wildlife may be a lot different than yours depending on what time of the year you go.
Here are some shortcuts for you if you'd like to skip to the information you need.
Also, here are a couple maps to help you visualize where we were and plan your hike.
This is where we began our trip. To get here, we drove through Forks and turned west onto Highway 110. There are signs marking the beaches along the way, so we kept our eye out for third beach. The trailhead is easy to spot because of the wide parking lot right off the road.
At the third beach trailhead, you'll find informative signs about the beach as well as some bathrooms.
The 1.4-mile trail to the beach was pretty well maintained and wasn't a struggle even with our packs on. Between the moss-covered trees, the abundance of ferns, and the mist hanging in the air, this was the most Pacific Northwest looking place I've ever seen. Below you'll see a picture that Matthew captured when we first began the hike.
This first leg of the trail makes for an excellent day trip to the beach and is the most popular section of the trail. The trail was a bit muddy in patches because of the time of year we visited. We saw several other hikers with gators on which is an excellent idea if you're planning on visiting the Washington coastline in the rainy season.
We got to the beach at noon which happened to be high tide, so our beach trail was being pummeled with waves. We used this as an opportunity to have lunch and explore a bit while we waited for the tide to recede.
After crossing the driftwood barricade, we began our walk on the beach. While it wasn't a terribly long distance, it took longer than we expected because of the many obstacles we faced. There were numerous landslides and patches of driftwood to scramble over all while timing our steps right to avoid getting hit by the rushing waves. Had we gotten a tide chart, we could have started the trail at a better time and avoided some of these obstacles.
But what's an adventure without some drama?
We were told by Miguel, a super nice trail runner we chatted with, to keep an eye out for ropes which marked the entrance to the upper trail. Turns out the rope did more than just mark the trail. It was much needed to help hoist ourselves up the steep and slippery climb.
The trail above the beach was a lot of steep elevation gain and decent with many patches where ropes were provided and definitely necessary. Thankfully there were also log bridges across most of the mud pits, but plan on getting your boots incredibly muddy and bring extra socks.
After walking on the beach for a while, it came time to pass another point jutting out into the ocean. This is called Scotts Bluff.
There was an option to climb up off the beach, but the climb was incredibly steep and slick with mud, so we didn't feel comfortable with that route. In other times of the year, when the ground isn't so slick from the rain, I'm sure this option is much more doable.
Thankfully, the tide was far enough out that we were able to scramble over the rocks at the base of the bluff to make it around. It was slow going and took some good balance, but we made it across safely.
We even got to see some cool ocean life! Hidden in the tide pools around the bluff were starfish, sea anemones, and tons of muscles.
Once you get past the bluff, by either the upper trail or the beach, you'll see a long stretch of flat beach. You'll see Scott Creek running into the ocean off in the distance.
The whole shoreline is marked with a thick driftwood barrier. This proved to be nice for camping since it created a wonderful wind block.
Right in between Scotts Bluff and Scott Creek is where we camped. Past the pile of driftwood, there was a sandy clearing that was perfect for pitching a tent. With the tree line right on the beach, we were also able to set up a hammock with an uninterrupted view of the ocean.
We were surprised to see a brand-new biffy at this site. Turns out, it was built only two months ago which explains why it was in such great condition.
When the tide was out, which was roughly 7 in the morning and 7 at night the best we could tell, the beach was huge! On the one side we had the tide pools and dramatic cliff face of Scotts Bluff, and the other side offered a nice creek which was perfect for washing dishes.
The Hike Out
We decided to head out in the morning so we could catch a low tide. Rather than climbing back the way we came on the barnacle covered rocks, we decided to take the upper route. Turns out, it only takes you to the opposite side of the bluff where you then climb back down onto the beach. This is the upper route that we saw and avoided the day before on the way in, and we once again wanted to avoid it.
The trail split off, so we decided to take our chances with that one even though we didn't exactly know where it went. It started going further inland and gained elevation fast. We quickly got to the top of the hill and walked the ridgeline for some time before heading back down the other side.
After some time, the trail became a road, and we began to see signs for logging. At this point, we realized we had left the National Park.
We thankfully crossed paths with another couple who filled us in on what happened. They were heading the opposite direction on that trail as us to do some volunteer work with Coasst doing a bird survey. Apparently, we should have gone out the way we came on the rocks at Scotts Bluff or the slippery climb from the upper trail because this trail would just take us to a service road and eventually to the 110.
It added a few extra miles to our day but was much easier than turning back to face the many obstacles the beach had for us and a rising tide. Just like we were told, we met up with the 110 about 2 miles away from the Third Beach parking lot where we were parked.
Since this trail is in Olympic National Park, permits are required for backpackers. We were able to do the whole process online at recreation.gov. You can also get to this from the National Park Service website at nps.gov. When selecting a hiking area, this trail is under the South Coast group.
For the two of us for two nights, it cost us $38 to get our permits.
As of now, the ranger station in Quinault is closed so we could not pick up our permits in person. They will send a confirmation email about your purchase, and you should receive your permits via email within 5 business days. The ranger station being closed also meant we were unable to receive our included tide chart and bear canister.
Since Matthew and I did this trip super last minute, we bought our permits the night before we started the trip, so we did not receive our official permits. We did have the confirmation email showing we bought permits and some other important details so I don't think we would have had any problems.
Having a tide chart for this trail is very important since many parts of the beach are uncrossable when the tide is in. There are typically alternative routes provided for an upper trail when the tide is not in your favor. However, they are a lot more challenging and very slippery in the wet season. Even without the mud, it is still a more challenging route full of steep inclines, steep declines, and rope ladders.
You should get a tide chart when you pick up your backpacking permits assuming you can pick them up in person from a ranger station. You can also look up the current tide chart before hitting the trails.
We really didn't see much wildlife on this trip though that is probably due to the time of year we went. While we saw elk on the drive in and some scatt on the trail, we never saw any while on the trail. We did see one chipmunk though. Just one.
There were plenty of cougar warnings, but we thankfully didn't encounter any of those either! We were still sure to store and prepare our food away from our tent. Scott Creek proved to be a great food prep area. With the fallen trees, came multiple areas to hang our bear bag and we could clean our dishes in the stream.
Had the Ranger Station been open, we would have gotten a bear canister for our food which would have been nice, but we did fine without it. We also didn't see any bears though they are in the area.
The starfish were truly the stars of this trip, no pun intended. There were lots of tide pools around Scotts Bluff full of starfish, sea anemones, and muscles.
We also saw lots of bald eagles and heard them multiple times throughout the day.