The Olympic Coast in Washington state, USA includes 73 miles of beaches on the Pacific Coast, most sitting within the Olympic National Park or protected wildlife reserves.
Unlike Pacific Coast beaches in southern California, most Olympic Peninsula beaches are made for exploring far more so than swimming. They are some of the most interesting beaches in the world, with incredible rock formations, driftwoods and millions of years of evolution ready to explore.
For this reason, not all are kid-friendly, but here are our tips for those that ARE relatively easy to get to with some top pointers if you’re taking kids. Many you have a short trail to tackle before the beach, so be prepared with some good aqua shoes of kids or sturdy kids hiking shoes in the wetter season as you traverse from rainforest to beach in this stunning little corner of the US.
This post is part of our PNW Road Trip series
Things to Know Before Visiting Olympic Peninsula with Kids
Camping on the Beach: Many of the beaches on the Olympic Peninsula allow camping on the beach. If you’d prefer something more protected, you can find campgrounds and motel style lodging in La Push, Forks, and at Kalaloch Lodge. When camping, make sure you pick up your permits and bear cans before the National Parks Service Ranger hut shuts (generally 4pm). Find more information on Wilderness Camping Permits here.
Bring the right clothing: sometimes, there’s just no winning when it comes to dressing the kids right for outdoor adventures. The PNW is notoriously changeable! It is essential to have really good grippy shoes and a warm sweater. By all means, they can wear swimmers but have something warm to change into immediately, and possibly a further set of clothing ready in the car if that gets wet!
Swimming: Even at the peak of summer, the water is cold and pretty rough! We’re talking about 54°F/12°C; you’re not headed to the Olympic Peninsular to sunbathe. It’s not recommended kids swim due to the rough conditions, although we definitely did dip our toes in, briefly! As above, bring towels – anyone with a child-like our Master J knows what will inevitably happen!
Driftwood: Not all driftwood is the same. Fun to climb but can be slimy and unpredictable; you need to be sure-footed and be prepared to get a little grubby and wet if you go scrambling. We’d recommend wearing hiking shoes or good grippy walking shoes with a solid sole rather than flip flops or Crocs. You can always go barefoot on sandy parts of the beach.
Remoteness: Remember although a popular part of Washington, it is still a pretty remote corner of the US. At the less accessible beaches don’t expect to have mobile reception, nor grocery stores nearby when you need them. Stock up well in Port Angeles, Forks or LaPush.
Closures: Due not only to ongoing COVID regulations but weather restrictions and tribal reasons there can be closures. Always check in advance before you set out what the current situation is on the Olympic Peninsula and the individual beaches you plan on visiting.
Tide times: Tides can make a big difference when exploring the beaches around the Olympic Peninsular due to beach accessibility issues; many parts of the Washington coast can become inaccessible at high tide. You can check tide times here or download something like the My Tide Times App (Goggle | Apple)
Leave No Trace: As with all National Parks and natural places of beauty in the USA, the Leave No Trace principle should be applied wherever you visit in the Olympic Peninsula.
Family-Friendly Beaches in Olympic National Park
Use this map to guide you to the best beaches on the Olympic Peninsula, along with lodging options or read on to see which are the most accessible and family-friendly.
We can’t help but start with Rialto Beach, in the Mora area of Olympic Peninsula, across the Quillayute River inlet and the small town of La Push. Super easy to access from the parking lot to the beach and restrooms to hand. If you only have time to stop at one Olympic National Park beach, travelling with small kids or have members of your group with limited mobility to consider, make this your first stop.
Rialto Beach offers the classic Olympic Peninsula package of sea stacks, driftwood and tide pools for hours of exploring.
The most famous feature here is a little further afield (about a 4-mile round trip) Hole-in-the-wall, a beautiful natural stone arch and tonnes of smaller tide pools for kids to explore, though you’ll need to time your trip for low tide.
Camping on Rialto Beach: A wilderness camping permit is required, and no more than 12 people can be in a group. Bookings open 6 months in advance, recommended for high season. Find the town of Forks nearby if you’d prefer motel accommodation.
La Push/First Beach
First Beach is the first in a series of three beaches accessible near the small town of La Push, Washington, via the La Push Road.
From First Beach, opposite Rialto Beach, you can see the Rialto sea stacks and more sea stacks further south. If you only have time to make one stop but want to explore it thoroughly without a long hike, First Beach could be your best choice.
Note that First Beach is actually part of the Quileute Indian Reservation, it’s not part of Olympic National Park.
Camping/Lodging: You can rent a campsite or a cabin at Quileute Oceanside Resort & RV Park or stay nearby in Forks.
Back in the Olympic National Park again, the hike out to Second Beach from the trailhead is only 0.7 miles; however, be mindful that you will trek DOWN about 100 feet with kids. All good on the way there, but don’t forget about the way BACK! In theory, a 15 to 20-minute walk, but with kids…
Plentiful beautiful driftwood can be found but this also creates quite the obstacle for little legs. It’s certainly not stroller friendly, little ones are best in a carrier and anyone with bad knees will likely want to avoid the climbing.
It is nonetheless also one of the most rewarding and beautiful of the Olympic Peninsula beaches!
You’ll find fewer crowds here than at First Beach because of the physical challenge. The journey there is equally as beautiful as the beach through enchanting rainforest paths. Impressive sea stacks await, plenty of tide pools to explore. Definitely, with older kids capable of a bit of scrambling, give this one a try.
Camping: Beach camping is permitted here with a permit.
Third Beach – as the name suggests – is the third beach near La Push. One of the most beautiful beaches, it is more challenging to reach; 1.4 miles out (nearly a 3-mile round trip), descending around 240 feet, which yep, you guessed it, you’ll need to ascend after your play at the beach. You need to be a fit and energetic family to tackle this one
If you prefer your beach to yourself and the kids are up for the challenge, this could well be the Olympic Peninsula beach for you. You will pass through coastal forest, beautiful cliffs, and at the southern end of the beach, you’ll find Strawberry Bay Falls plunging into the Pacific Ocean.
You’ll find more large sea stacks at Taylor Point, which require some ropes and ladders to get to.
**Note: Per the NPS, do not try to access Third Beach from Second Beach around Teahwhit Head – it is impassable, even at low tide.
Camping on Third Beach: A wilderness camping permit is required and no more than 12 people to a group. No permit is necessary for the South Coast.
Ruby Beach is another picturesque and very popular spot on the Pacific coast. This Olympic National Park beach is about 35 minutes south of Forks (15 minutes south of the Hoh Rainforest turn-off). It’s a great idea to combine the two on a day trip – check your tide times when you set out which one to tackle first to make the most of your day.
Be warned, it’s a rocky beach rather than a sandy beach, so you’ll want a good pair of water sandals or closed trainers depending on the season. Come at low tide to make the most of it as there’s also a shallow inlet, a great place if kids do want to brave a swim.
The sea stacks from here are spectacular, as are the sunsets. Proximity to the car park makes it an easy short trail if you want to bring along a picnic for the beach too, but be aware it’s still a decent hike down and back up the hill.
Camping on Ruby Beach: You are not allowed to camp at Ruby Beach; the only places to camp on the Southern coast of Olympic National Park are Kalaloch Campground and South Beach Campground (just south of Kalaloch).
Kalaloch Beach is about a 10-minute drive south of Ruby Beach. A long stretch of white sandy beach there are four entry points only a short walk from the parking areas off the 101 (marked on Google Maps as beaches 1 to 4). There’s a lot more driftwood here and softer sand for playing on which appeals to families. You’ll also find the Kalaloch Ranger Station (with picnic tables and restroom facilities) on this stretch of the Pacific coast.
The highlight of Kalaloch beach is Tree Root Cave, an old mangled tree that appears to bridge two sides of a cliff, so it looks like a cave has formed. A fun and spectacular site to see. Beach 4 at low tide is a favorite with kids with plenty of interesting rock pools to explore.
Lodging at Kalaloch Beach: The Kalaloch area has a large campground suitable for families with 175 sites (pre-booking in high season a must), and you’ll also find the stunning Kalaloch Lodge. The lodge is set back a bit from the beach; however, the campground is right on the Pacific coastline, be prepared for the breeze!
Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach is in Olympic National Park; however, a section of the hike runs through Makah Reservation tribal lands. In order to visit Shi Shi Beach, you must therefore purchase a ‘Makah Recreation Pass,’ available at several stores in Neah Bay.
Please note: As a COVID-19 safety measure, the Makah Tribal Council has decided to keep the reservation closed until at least October 1, 2021
Shi Shi Beach trailhead can be found just over two hours from Port Angeles. There is then a decent 2-mile hike (4 miles + round trip) to make from the trailhead to the beach which can also be quite muddy. This is followed by a steep ascent towards the end.
Shi Shi is not an ideal choice for families; You will, of course, be rewarded with spectacular coastal views, including Point of the Arches, a further 2 miles away along the beach. You should set aside a full day hike, so we strongly recommend leaving this one to your experienced hikers only.
Camping: You can camp on the beach; however, a wilderness camping permit is required. Reservations are required in the summer south of Shi Shi Beach.
Cape Flattery is famous as the northwesternmost point of the lower 48 states. It overlooks Neah Bay, home to the Makah people. To visit the Cape, you must purchase a ‘Makah Recreation Pass,’ available at several stores in Neah Bay.
As above – Cape Flattery remains closed for Summer 2021.
Cape Flattery is just under two hours from Port Angeles and about an hour and a half from Forks. The hike from the trailhead to the overlook is about three-quarters of a mile, with a 200-foot descent. You guessed it, that means uphill on the way back.
You are, of course, richly rewarded with not just bragging rights from the viewing point but dramatic cliffs and islands. The highlight is spotting Tatoosh Island, filled with pine trees and an adorable lighthouse. In the right season, you may even get in some whale spotting (spring and fall.)
The fact you can’t access the beach though, the need for permits and the strenuous climb back to the car park, we’d reserve this one only if you feel it’s a must to experience.
It’s also important to note, Cape Flattery is a stand-alone trip out and back, whereas the other beaches we’ve mentioned are easier to visit en route to your next stop and can be mixed and matched with trips inland to Olympic National Park
More on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula
We have plenty more coming to help you plan your trip to the Pacific North West including:
- Highlights of the Olympic Peninsula with kids
- Best short hikes for kids on the Olympic Peninsula (coming soon)
- Easiest to access waterfall trails in Olympic National Park
- Family packing list for the Pacific North West (coming soon)
- Continue your family journey onwards down the USA West Coast
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