The far northwest of Washington state takes a bit of work to get to, but I love the rougher, more isolated terrain. I usually stay in the town of Port Angeles, and then drive to tail heads from there, using the start from town to adjust plans for weather and tides.
One of my favorites for solitude and a little wilder experience is the Ozette Triangle. This flat, 9 mile hike offers woods, meadows, and a long stretch along the rugged ocean coastline.
The trailhead is about 60 miles west of Port Angeles, with well-marked signs to this portion of the Olympic National Park.
Ozette Triangle Map
Since this hike is along the edge of the Pacific Ocean along a beach in its natural state, checking the tide tables is a must. There is not a “trail” along the beach.
The tides here average about nine feet, so the space available for hiking along the beach changes pretty dramatically between high and low tide. During high tide, sections of the beach are covered with heavy waves, allowing little space between water and thick forest.
My preference is to walk the rocky, driftwood strewn shore when the tide is pulling out, revealing tide pools and providing more choices for footing. Picking my way through is part of the fun. I also try to choose cloudy days.
There is lots of open exposure on the middle section of this hike and the rocks on the shoreline can radiate a surprising amount of heat on a sunny day.
Ranger station / Start of Trail
The trailhead starts right from the parking lot, next to Ozette Lake. There will also be people here who are fishing and kayaking this quiet lake. Hikes quickly see that the trail is well groomed, and an inviting path crosses a small bridge, skirts past the ranger station and living quarters, and then dives right into the nearby forest.
There is an outlet from the lake to the ocean that supports the Ozette sockeye salmon run. I like to pause on this bridge, listening to the water run from the lake to the sea.
On the way to this paved bridge there is boardwalk, and graveled path. There are no more paved sections once the trail crosses the short Ozette River.
From the bridge I can see the Makah Tribe’s smolt trap. It is a floating weir that counts the young salmon as they head out to the sea. According to the sign posted near the trap, “fisheries personnel work on the trap mostly at night” in order to minimize their impact on the tiny, silvery migrating smolt.
The Makah Tribe and the National Park Service are working together to restore the salmon run.
Decision: Sand Point or Cape Alava
Soon, I have to make a choice. The three sides of the triangle are equal distant, and all are just above sea level. My choice today is to head to Cape Alava first, so I’ll return to this spot on the trail from Sand Point.
Whichever way I choose, there will be Sitka Spruce, western red cedar, and western hemlock all along the first three miles. Salal and sword ferns of several varieties cover the forest floor as far as I will be able to see.
Boardwalk, winding steps, dirt paths all combine to create a shaded pathway through the woods toward the sound of the sea.
A little over two miles into the first side of the triangle is Ahlstrom’s Prairie. Swedish immigrants filled in a 160-acre bog so it could be used for farmland. Long since vacated and included in Olympic National Park, the space has returned to natural vegetation.
This is a great spot to watch for deer and elk. A sharp eye may well catch a glimpse of foxes or coyotes, especially early or late in the day.
Arriving at the Beach
My first glimpse of the beach is through a break in the trees, and reveals a small island that at high tide is separated from the mainland.
The coastline is covered with rocks of assorted sizes, worn round and smooth with the movement of the waves during high tides. At low tide the distance from the forest to the waves can be fifty yards, or more.
The only obstacle to the beach is smoothed by wooden steps. They are steep enough that a section of rope has been provided to steady those going down, or to make the climb a bit easier for folks who have had their time on the beach and want to return this way, or those who have hiked up from Sand Point and turn here to go back the three miles to the parking lot.
Once on the beach, to I turn left / south to explore the three miles of the next leg of the triangle. This section will give my calves and feet a workout, as the rocks are uneven. Brief sections of sand are not hard packed, and my boots slip a bit with every step.
The area to the right / north is the Ozette Reservation, the location of an important village site, and an important cultural and spiritual space, for the Makah People. There is an excellent museum run by the Makah Nation in Neah Bay, and it is well worth planning time to visit while in the area.
At low tide, there is a wide expanse to wander between the shore and the breaking waves. Good footwear is important as the rocks are often slick and move about under the weight of a solidly placed boot.
Tidal pools left by the retreating waters are filled with crabs, small fish, and other sea creatures for those who are patient enough to stop and observe.
This is my favorite part of this hike. I can spend hours, and only the rising tide forces me to scoot along to the three miles south to the return trail at Sand Point.
I did learn after my first visit to bring extra socks, thick waterproof sandals, and a small towel for drying off my feet. I just can’t seem to stay completely out of the water when there is so much to explore in the pools.
A word of caution. Take care – there are sections where the drift wood stacks up to form a serious barrier at unusual angles to the shore. Enormous logs that need to be climbed over carefully, or in lower tide, walked around are piled up by the winter storms each year.
This is another reason I prefer to walk the shore during low tide. I have more choices when confronted by these occasional, massive piles.
Sea stacks are off shore, portions of the former headlands. As the wind and sea eroded the land, these pillars of rock remained. This is the feature that is most often beautifully photographed by professional photographers who are adept at capturing their stunning forms against the ever changing sky.
Turning back to the Forest at Sand Point
There is a marker here to show the entrance to the trail at Sand Point, but it is small, especially given the heavy forest shading the way. Once I’ve noted the marker, I like to spend a bit more time here before heading back the last three miles through the cool, tall trees. The trail again is well groomed and there are long sections of boardwalk.
But before heading back, this place, where the rocks give way to sand is my choice to eat a bite of lunch. I can sit, watching the wildlife: abundant seabirds, sea otters bobbing off shore in the kelp beds, and in the spring and fall, migrating gray whales.
May is generally the best month to spot them from here as their northward route brings the nearer the shore. It is a lovely spot to reflect, to take it all in before turning back toward the car, and the drive back to Port Angeles where I’ll have a wide selection of restaurants to choose from for dinner.