Olympic Wilderness Coast – Southern Loop

I spent some time browsing tide tables this winter and decided that early April, with reasonably low tides during daylight hours, would be a great time to explore the Olympic Coast. As the date approached, I was thrilled to see that the low tides were going to line up with one of only a handful of sunny and warm days that Western Washington has experienced since October!

True to the forecast, Monday was a gorgeous spring day, and I had a great time traveling down the southern Olympic Wilderness coast on two wheels, and then traveling back up on foot. My route is mapped below, and the GPX file is here.

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Bike (in red) – approx 37 miles and 2000 ft of gain. Hike (in blue) – approx 17 miles and 3000 ft of gain (according to Caltopo, anyway – that seems kinda high to me)
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Stoked on the ferry

I drove to the coast from Seattle on Sunday night and camped in my van near the Third Beach trailhead. I was up and making coffee by 6 am, and ready to roll by 7 am, just as the sun was rising. The morning was beautiful – crisp and clear, but still cold enough to keep the bugs at bay.

I’ve got some summer objectives that will involve hauling heavy loads on bike and foot, so I wasn’t very weight-conscious when packing for this trip. I figured a heavy pack would be good training. I took my entire running vest, including food and 1 liter of water, and placed it in a 35-liter climbing pack. Then I threw in a bike lock, flat kit, trekking poles, and my running shoes. I also had bright flashing front and rear bike lights for visibility (not to see, but to be seen). Finally, I had two full water bottles on my bike frame, plus some easily accessible bike snacks. It wasn’t a light load, and I definitely felt it, especially when climbing hills . A good reminder that light is right, whether on foot or bike.

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My whip(s)

I rode my GT Grade with 35c tires.  I started early, partly in an attempt to beat traffic and partly because of the tides. This paid off on La Push Rd, where there was very little traffic in the early morning, and most of it was headed the opposite direction, towards La Push. By the time I hit Hwy 101, however, the roads were busy. Hwy 101 is certainly ride-able between La Push Rd and Oil City Rd, but be prepared for heavy truck traffic and narrow shoulders covered in gravel and road debris. I had heard that Oil City Rd was entirely gravel, so I was pleasantly surprised to make the right onto Oil City Rd and find myself flying down a smooth, paved descent. That ended within a few miles, and the rest of the road consisted primarily of gravel with some short muddy sections. In summary, my “EnduRoad” bike (as GT calls it) was a good choice for this route, but you could also do it on a road bike, especially if you use GatorSkins or a similarly tough tire to avoid punctures from the glass and other debris on the shoulder of Hwy 101.

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Dawn on La Push Rd

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One of the more scenic sections of Oil City Rd
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Clearly the river has changed course over the years (note the mailboxes on the left)

When I got to the trailhead at the end Oil City Rd, there were a couple cars parked there, but no one in sight. The trailhead is in a forested area, with plenty of places to stash a bike. I hid mine behind a giant stump, changed into running shoes, and put all my bike gear (helmet, flat kit, etc) into my big pack. I then locked up my bike and my big pack, put on my running vest, and headed out on two feet.

It was approximately 10:45 when I hit the trail, and low tide (0.24 ft) was at 12:46 at La Push. I easily made it past the first couple rocky outcroppings (passable at 2 ft and 3 ft tides, according to my Custom Correct map) and into Jefferson Cove, where I climbed a rope ladder and a steep muddy trail to access the first overland trail.

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Ocean, this way
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Approaching low tide near Oil City trailhead
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Pisaster! (I still remember something from undergrad)
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A pebble beach near Oil City
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Looking down the rope ladder you climb to access the first overland trail. It looks worse than it was.

The first overland trail was in OK shape. A few blowdowns, a lot of mudholes, but nothing impassable. I reached Mosquito Creek and wandered up and down the south bank of the creek for a couple minutes, looking for a good crossing spot. I didn’t want to cross too close to the ocean because if I stumbled I wanted a chance to right myself before getting swept out to sea. And I didn’t want to cross too far upstream because it widened considerably into almost a pond. Ultimately I just crossed where the trail comes out of the woods. The creek was icy cold and moving faster than it looked. At the deepest part, the water came up to my mid-thighs. I was glad for my trekking poles to help me stay upright.

I made it across Mosquito Creek, looked at my watch, and realized there was a chance I might not get to the next headland before the tide came in. Luckily the terrain from Mosquito Creek to the second overland trail is smooth, firmly packed sand and I was able to jog along and make up quite a bit of time. The second overland trail takes you to Goodman Creek, which I knew would be another ford. Goodman was just as cold as Mosquito Creek, but moving much more slowly and also a little shallower (although still above my knees). I had heard that Goodman could be sketchier than Mosquito, but I found the opposite to be true. Regardless, both were do-able.

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Goodman Creek ford

Shortly after Goodman Creek there is yet another ford at Falls Creek. I didn’t want to wade again, so I headed upstream towards the waterfall and found a solid flat log that made a perfect bridge. I brush-bashed my way back to the trail and was on my way, happy that the significant water crossings were now behind me.

The next section of coast went surprisingly fast. There were 3-4 miles of hard-packed sand, and although I had worried about making it past the next headland before high tide, thanks to the easy beach running I ended up with plenty of time. Even though the sun was shining and it was a lovely day, I was happy that I wouldn’t have to wait 12 hrs for the next low tide.

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Cliffs near Taylor Point
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Well-maintained section of overland trail just south of Third Beach

By the time I reached Scott’s Bluff I was starting to see a lot more people, and when I dropped down to Third Beach it was downright crowded. Everyone was smiling and in good spirits, playing in the sand or just watching the sun drop lower in the sky on a warm spring day. No longer in any hurry to make the tides, I took the last few miles slowly, wandering down the beach and along the relatively well-kept Third Beach trail, finally reaching the trailhead where I had left my van that morning. From there I drove back to the Oil City trailhead, picked up my bike and pack (undisturbed behind the tree, exactly as I left them), and then headed home. All in all, a super fun day on the coast!

6 Replies to “Olympic Wilderness Coast – Southern Loop”

    1. I know, I was a little worried, but I’ve done that at least a half dozen times over the past couple years, and so far so good. I think it helps that I spend some time hiding my bike. And also I don’t have a super nice bike. 🙂

  1. Hi, I might make this trip this weekend. At the Oil City trailhead, might there be any place to camp for 8 hours? I have a weird schedule and will arrive late. Then there’s an early tide the next morning. – Thanks.

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