Oil City Road Trailhead to Third Beach Trailhead.
A moderately difficult yet rewarding trek along the coast of Washington. The Pacific Northwest Trail weaves back and forth between the temperate Hoh Rainforest and the sandy Pacific beaches dotted with giant rock towers. Hiking schedules must be planned around the tides, use of a tide table is absolutely imperative. Numerous sections are very slick and steep. Use of fixed ropes and rope ladders is necessary. Gloves are recommended. A handful of river crossings and wet terrain necessitate appropriate footwear. Essentially this hike would be an extended beach walk if it were not for the impassible pieces of protruding landmass, or “headlands”. Some heads can be circumnavigated during low tide, while others must be overland traversed. Some heads have no overland trail and you must time your arrival perfectly with the tides or be stuck waiting for hours before the water levels are low enough to proceed.
Location: Olympic National Park, Washington
Trail: Pacific Northwest Trail
Length: 16 miles
Time: 3 days, 2 nights
Start: Oil City Road Trailhead, Forks
Finish: Third Beach Trailhead, La Push
Logistics: It is not necessary to reserve campsites, you just need to stop in at a backcountry office to pay for a permit and bear canister (yes, these are required). In total this costs under $15 I believe. In order to do the through-hike you will need to park your vehicle at Third Beach Trailhead and get a ride down to Oil City trailhead, or vis-versa. There is a shuttle company run by Willie Nelson (no, no that Willie Nelson) that will take you the full distance, but it is pricey if you don’t have a large group. I believe he charges about $140 for as many as he can fit in his passenger van. We chose to try our luck at hitchhiking, which went fairly well! An easier and simpler alternative to this route is to hike in from Third Beach trailhead to Toleak point. This version is much less strenuous, equally beautiful and less complicated… you just have to backtrack!
“Man, you’re gonna love that place, its magical. It’s prehistoric, you’re gonna expect to see pterodactyls flying around!” – Local hiker / hitchhiker Greg
My partner Jenn and I set off to complete this trek in August 2014. We drove from Iowa to Olympic National Park with a few stops along the way. Here is our photo journal of the hike. Hopefully this offers an idea of what to expect on the trail, as well as some helpful tips. Enjoy!
61 °F Overcast, Light Rain
Park the car at Third Beach Trailhead. Hitch a ride south.
Finished prepping our gear and locked the car. Started looking for a ride to Oil City Trailhead. After 15 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to hitch a ride with passerby’s, we met a group of 3 women packing out from a night at Third Beach. They offered to drive us about 75% of the way, where Oil City Road meets Highway 101. Great group of people, “hello and thank you!” if you’re reading this!
Dropped off at Oil City Road, 10 miles from Oil City Trailhead.
We thought we would have no trouble hitchhiking the rest of the way from here, but we were mistaken. The only traffic on this old forested road was the steady stream of large logging trucks. We tried thumbing a few down for a ride but they just smiled and waved.
63.0 °F Overcast, Fog
Start hiking from Oil City Trailhead
6 miles in, 4 miles to the Oil City Trailhead; we finally hitched a ride with a local in the back of their pickup truck. High tide was quickly approaching at 3:30PM. Our chances of making the first low-tide pass had dwindled.
Blocked by the tide
We hit an impasse. The first two points along the coastal hike require a low tide to make it around the headland. The next low tide was not until 9:30PM. Drizzly weather put a damper on the mood. We erected a shelter and decided to wait it out, not as if there were any alternatives. We ate a late lunch and made some coffee. A few “would-be” hikers stopped by to assess the situation only to pack it out and head back. They offered to drive us back to La Push but we politely declined.
The waves were barely receding from the coastline as we set out to beat the sunset. The slippery, ankle twisting rocks were treacherous in the overcast light. The water was frigid, and only bearable for short moments. Our heavy packs made the boulder scrambling quite an ordeal. The second point had an eery feel as we rounded the last corner. There were two ragged ropes hanging from the protruding ridge for any poor soul who happened to get caught against the cliff by the tide. Not an ideal scenario.
Success! Climb over the final boulders and hit the first beach, Jefferson Cove.
We spent over an hour clambering over those rocks in the background! Walking on the flat beach felt like sprinting compared to our previous ordeal. We were still in a rush to make camp before nightfall.
Beach walk. Big ladder.
Crossing the beach went quickly, and at the end we encountered our first rope ladder. It’s marked by a circular black and red warning sign. These signs mark where you must go up, there is no coastal route. This particular landmass is Hoh Head. the ladder is steep, muddy, slippery, and broken in places. The ropes are frayed and prickly, gloves are very helpful. I wish I had brought some. Following the ladder the path ascends steeply along the edge of Hoh Head. Our first campsite appeared shortly as a beautifully cleared area. We were ready to make camp anywhere, but this site was prime.
60 °F Overcast, Fog
Make camp. Cook Dinner. Eat. Stow bear canister. Sleep.
60 °F Overcast, Fog
Wake up. Shake off wet gear, pack everything up damp.
There was no sunshine and so much fog. We hit the trail and ate breakfast on the go. I’m not sure if there was a way to descend quickly from there to the beach to hike to Mosquito creek. We took the 3.5 mile overland trail. It had been raining, so there was plenty of mud. The foliage held lots of moisture, so our pack covers and rain jackets stayed on while our legs got drenched. Lots of static ropes, wooden bridges, slippery spots and lush forest throughout this section. We saw many large frogs and giant banana slugs underfoot.
65 °F Overcast, Fog
Arrive at Mosquito Creek.
Lots of people were camped out, the first people we’ve seen since the trailhead. A couple groups were in the woods, and 5-7 tents down on the beach. They were mostly clustered around the mouth of the creek. Mosquito creek looked a bit murky, we watched some people gathering water to filter. This is the first river crossing. During low tide it is only a few inches deep as it cuts through the beach, but during high tide I assume it backs up and crossing may be more ideal further upstream. We stopped to clean our feet off. I had been hiking in Tevas, Jenn had been switching back and forth from Tevas to mid-height waterproof boots (Merrell Moabs). Everything was so wet that my alternative amphibious shoes were nearly pointless. My feet were constantly soaked and just asking for blisters. Good hiking sandals saved me for sure. It would have been nice to have my dry, sturdy boots for some of the trail though.
Arrive at the overland trailhead to traverse the next headland.
Since the Mosquito Creek crossing we have been hiking alone on a foggy beach. The receding Pacific had left many tidal pools with huge starfish, colorful sea anemones and lots of other ocean wildlife. Very cool! If it hadn’t been so foggy I’m sure we would have seen many rock features in the ocean. I can’t imagine all the sites we missed due to the fog. We stopped to take a snack break and tend to our feet. The incessant moisture and sand were a rough combination. Jenn had roughly 30% of her feet covered in tape to dissuade blisters! She switched back to her boots to begin the climb upwards. Muddy rope climb to begin the ascent!
Ford Goodman Creek. Water is nearly knee deep with a very mild current.
65 °F Cloudy, Fog
Ford Falls Creek. Water is not very deep, fallen trees provide bridges. Waterfall!
This is the first place that we began to pass other people on the trail. This is also the first place we filtered and refilled our water supply. I believe this was the best water available throughout the hike. We started with 1.5 liters each and tried to maintain that amount, though we had the capacity to carry more if necessary. I use a First Need XLE Elite Water Purifier, a 2-in-1 solution that filters both bacteria and viruses. I’m not necessarily worried about viruses in the US, but it is safe, convenient and pumps super fast.
Reach Toleak Point and make camp!
We made camp on the south side of Toleak Point. We thought about going further, but the spot we found was perfect. A massive sea stack protruded from the Pacific directly in front of us. A giant wash of driftwood was within a short walk, and someone had left a fire smoldering in a nicely prepared fire pit. There was only one other tent a couple hundred yards down the beach from us, opposed to the other side which we discovered was full of overnighters. We stoked the fire back to life and boiled water for lunch. Our main meals consisted mostly of mountain house meals and snacks. There is a stream at the driftwood wash, but we found a much cleaner source of water about .5 miles south of Toleak Point from a small trickling stream. The spot is marked with a buoy hanging on a large tree stump. The sun came out intermittently, and we were able to dry our gear out sufficiently.
65 °F Partly Cloudy, Rolling Fog
Bask in the glory.
57 °F Light Rain
57 °F Fog
Wake up, cook breakfast. Pack up.
We appeared to be the earliest risers as we passed many tents and people still huddling around their morning fires. The fog had lifted enough for us to begin to appreciate the enormity of the sea stacks. I definitely would not have been surprised to see pterodactyls flying amongst the huge pillars of rocks.
Cross Scott Creek, traverse Taylor Point
Low tide was at 10:35AM, so we hit the next two sections around Scott Creek right on time. Scott Creek had a giant tree across it for a bridge. There were quite a few campers still getting up when we passed through. A quick overland trail took us over Taylor Point. We descended to the beach using a combination of ropes and a floating rope ladder.
73 °F Sunny
Arrive at Third Beach and head for the parking lot.
Third beach is beginning to fill with day hikers and some overnight campers preparing to climb the ropes up Taylor Point behind us. The trail ahead of us into the mainland was steep. A static rope tied to a tree helped us up the muddy slope. The rest of the way to the car was rather level and enjoyable. The beach scenery here is amazing and definitely worth the quick 1.4 mile hike in from Third Beach parking lot.
Finish. Arrive at Third Beach parking lot.
Unload at the parking lot. We recommend filling up on burgers and fries at the nearby Mora Campground diner. The Twilight themed menu is humorous and entirely delicious.