How to Camp on Olympic National Park’s Beaches
Learn everything you need to know to have an incredible night under the stars with our backcountry camping guide.
There’s nothing quite like pitching your tent on the sand, building a driftwood campfire, watching the stars come out and falling asleep to the sound of the waves. At Olympic National Park, you can get a backcountry camping permit and make your beach camping dream a reality. If hiking to your campsite isn’t your thing, scroll down to find a list of beach-adjacent campgrounds that will still let you sleep next to the ocean, without all the work.
Backcountry Camping on Olympic National Park’s Beaches
Is there free camping in Olympic National Park?
All backcountry campers must have a permit to pitch their tent on the beach or anywhere else in the park’s backcountry. Permits for summer camping (May 15 through October 15) are released on recreation.gov at 7 a.m. PST on April 15. Most areas of the coast offer unlimited permits, so you can purchase one at any time before your desired trip dates. The Ozette Coast does have quotas in place, so it’s a good idea to get your permit as early as possible if you have your eye on that area.
Permits cost $8 per person, per night for the 2023 season, in addition to a $6 permit fee. You’ll also need a park pass valid for the entire duration of your trip to enter and park in Olympic.
What are the best beaches to camp at in Olympic National Park?
Shi Shi Beach is a gorgeous spot at the north end of the national park. Because it’s an easy trail to the camping area with boardwalks and beaches, this is a very popular destination with no quota in summer months, so expect crowds. The trail is between two and 4.5 miles, depending on how far you go. The beautiful sea stacks, protected inlet and tide pools make this a gorgeous place to spend the night. Water can be filtered from Petroleum or Willoughby creeks and three pit toilets are available. Parking for overnight visitors is only allowed in designated private parking lots.
Rialto Beach and the rock formation known as Hole-in-the-Wall is another great choice for backcountry campers. The hike from the parking lot to where the camping area begins is an easy one mile and there are lots of secluded campsites between the boundary and Hole-in-the-Wall. Spend time exploring the tide pools, look for bald eagles and checking out the natural rock arch. Get your drinking water from Ellen Creek.
For those looking for a multi-day backpacking trip, the challenging 17-mile trek from Third Beach to Oil City is an adventure you won’t soon forget. The hike winds through rainforests, includes climbing up and down rope ladders and involves plenty of planning to ensure you don’t get stranded when the tide comes in.
See a list of all camping zones with site and trail descriptions at www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/wilderness-trip-planner.htm.
How to Steer Clear of High Tide
The most challenging part of camping on Olympic’s beaches is dealing with the tides. The routes to some camping areas become inaccessible at certain parts of the tide cycle, so carrying a tide chart as well as a topographical map with tide warnings is essential. Learn how to read one here. Some trails disappear at high tide whereas some headlands are impossible to cross at low tide.
Tides are based on the phase of the moon and not the time of day so it’s imperative to check charts for your specific hiking days. High tide may occur at noon on one day and at midnight on another. All park visitor centers and coastal ranger stations have tide charts available for visitors. You can also check the NOAA Tide Predictions (tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/noaatidepredictions.html?id=9442396) online ahead of time, but note that cell service is often spotty or non-existent on the coast so printing the forecast is your best bet.
Where Do I Set Up My Tent?
None of Olympic’s backcountry beach camping areas have designated campsites. Instead, you’ll choose an area for your permit and find a place to pitch your tent once you hike in. It’s important to make sure you set up camp above the high tide line to ensure you don’t wake up to waves lapping over your sleeping bag. Look for sites that have been used by other campers and try to utilize those. If you don’t see any obvious choices, find the normal tide line by looking for a line of scum, oil, or other ocean debris like shells. Vegetation won’t grow inside the tide line, so that’s another clue.
Camping in pre-existing sites, or on the sand helps preserve the coastal trees and plants.
Campfires are allowed in most places along the coast. Be sure to check regulations before you set out and only collect driftwood (not wood from the forest) in order to preserve the coastal ecosystems.
What to Pack to Backcountry Camp on Olympic’s Beaches
While many of Olympic’s backcountry campsites aren’t a very far hike from the parking lot, you’ll still want to be prepared for a backpacking-style outing. Because of tides, river crossings and the difficulty of walking across sand and slippery trails, you won’t want to hike back and forth to your car, even on a short distance trip.
Pack a large, well-fitting backpack with all the gear you’ll need for the weekend. Bring a waterproof tent, sleeping bags and sleeping pads and warm and waterproof layers for chilly or wet nights. The coast is often rainy so bring rain gear to cover your body as well as your backpack. Even though you’ll be walking on sand, sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are a better option than sandals. You’ll want to have ankle support and good grip while carrying a heavy pack over uneven terrain and boots are warmer for cold weather.
Plan food that’s lightweight and easy to make at camp. Dehydrated meals or simple dishes that don’t require refrigeration are best. Bring everything you need to cook your meals, from a stove and fuel to a bowl and silverware to eat it with. Make sure to pack snacks as well since you’ll be burning more calories than you’re used to while hiking and will get hungry. Olympic requires beach campers to store their food and other scented items in a bear canister when camping on the beach. Raccoons and other critters frequent the coast and will get into your food if left in the open. Canisters are available for loan at the Port Angeles, Quinault and Hoodsport Wilderness Information Centers, but quantities are limited so it might be a good idea to bring your own or rent one in advance at a retailer like REI.
There’s no potable water at backcountry camping areas in the park, so you’ll have to filter from a freshwater source like a creek. Be sure to bring enough water for your hike in, a water filter and a backup in case your main filter malfunctions, and a container to filter your water into like a hydration bladder or a big water bottle. The creeks in the park carry cryptosporidium and giardia, so filtering or boiling is necessary, iodine tablets will not suffice. Never filter or drink ocean water.
Some sites along the coast have pit toilets, but others do not. Bring a trowel and toilet paper so that you can dig a hole to bury your solid waste, or a WAG bag to pack it out.
Campgrounds Near the Beach in Olympic National Park
If you’d rather drive up to your campsite, or stay in your RV, Olympic has several developed campgrounds to stay at with close proximity to the ocean. While you won’t be camping on the sand itself, you’ll be a short walk from the beach and can still fall asleep to the sound of the waves.
Kalaloch Campground is the biggest beachfront campground with 170 sites, including ones that can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length. There’s a dump station, flush toilets and potable water. It’s close to Kalaloch Lodge, which has a restaurant and is right on Kalaloch Beach. Sites can be reserved on recreation.gov.
South Beach Campground, as the name would suggest, is south of Kalaloch. It’s situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean and has incredible views. It’s a smaller campground, but it does have flush toilets and potable water in the summer and some sites can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length. It’s first-come, first-served.
Just outside the park is Quileute Oceanside Resort for those wanting full hookups for their RV. Some sites have Pacific Ocean views and can accommodate rigs up to 50 feet in length. It’s just one mile from the park’s Third Beach.