Rialto Beach to Chilean Memorial
Stats: 3.8 mi // 0 ft elevation change but expect 2 scrambles over headlands during high tide
Dates hiked: May 29-31, 2021
Conditions: Beware of slippery kelp and be prepared to scramble through boulder and log fields. Check tide tables for timing your hike and picking a spot to camp. Bear canisters are required and will keep your food safe from raccoons.
Permit: Reserve your overnight permits at recreation.gov
After a wonderful experience on the South Coast Route last September, we decided to give the North Coast Route a go over memorial day weekend. It’s a long haul from Seattle to Rialto Beach, where we started our trek. As such, we spent the night before at Mora campground, a short 5 minute drive from Rialto. The beach has two parking lots, one of them being an entire large gravel lot designated for overnight vehicles, so finding parking was not an issue. The beach access point also has flush toilets and running water.
From the Rialto Beach access point, head North (right, if you’re facing the ocean). Although there isn’t a designated trail with markers, it is easy to follow the trail by following the beach. Crowds thin out after passing Hole in the Wall, less than halfway through the trek. The Olympic coastline is rugged, with many headlands, rock formations, driftwood stacks and boulders. For this reason, despite being a trekking pole loyalist, I left them behind to free up my hands for scrambling and going up headlands accessed by rope. On the flipside, they might have come in handy while crossing slippery kelp and algae-covered rocks – there were countless wipeouts amongst our group on the way in, as the rocks were still wet from the morning tide. Keep an eye out for wildlife sightings as you make your way across the beach – we spotted two raccoons and several anemone.
The memorial stone itself has fallen over and can be easy to miss, but you’ll know you’ve arrived once you’ve descended down the second overland rope. Water sources were tough to come by and there were very limited camping spots on the beach that were safe from high tide so we opted to go back up the last rope and camp in the trees, where there were several nice tent spots along the trail.
After setting up camp, we basked in the warmth of a fire made from abundant driftwood chopped with the axe we brought along. We savored this rare treat, as fires are not permitted above 3,500 ft (where we do most of our backpacking) in Olympic National Park. If you plan on making a fire, be sure to always check WA state DNR burn restrictions before you go and minimize campfire impacts by containing the fire, never leaving it unattended, and thoroughly extinguishing it when you’re through.
We spent the next day leisurely exploring the beach and surrounding rock formations during low tide while taking in the meditative sights, sounds and smells of the crashing waves. Spending a full day in one spot gave us the opportunity to appreciate the power of tides on the landscape and the rich biodiversity of the coast – from the algae, starfish and anemone in tide pools, to the crabs and wildflowers on sea stacks. We spotted many pristine bald eagles soaring over our site as well.
After efficiently making the trek back out to the cars at Rialto on the third day, we made a short and worthwhile detour through Forks to try a promising Mexican food truck we found on Yelp. FYABES did not disappoint – a perfect way to toast our successful summer hiking season opener!
Shoutout to @petersandifer for capturing so many of these great shots!