Lucienda and Baitbucket had been trapped deep inside the Quinault Rainforest, somewhere near Graves Creek for almost two weeks. It was summer in Washington, which meant overcast days, cool nights, and no sign of rain. Finally, the money had come through and they could afford food, gas and beer and not in that order. Lucy got a can of soft food and Bucket bought a twenty dollar bag of smoked king salmon from an Indian woman. In one afternoon, they hit Forks, La Push and took 112 all the way to Cape Flattery. It was good to be on the move again. Sunset found them at Ozette Loop campground, where they would pan fry chicken and mix it with yellow rice for burritos on the banks of Lake Ozette.
Welcome to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and some of the most beautiful hiking anywhere in North America. Ozette loop, near Lake Ozette is a spectacular hike with several available camping options. From Port Angeles, head east 5 miles on US 101 to Highway 112. Go right (west) for 49 miles to Hoko/Ozette Lake Rd and then head left for 21 miles to the trailhead at Ozette Lake. It’s your First time at Ozette Loop – Olympic National Park, Washington.
The Cape Alava Loop (Ozette Triangle) is two hikes in one: it covers both the forest and the beach. Take the Cape Alava Trail out to the beach and back for a 6.2 mile hike, or continue south along the beach to connect up with the Sand Point Trail for a 9.4 mile loop.
Start your hike at Lake Ozette. At eight miles long and three miles wide, Lake Ozette is the largest unaltered natural lake in Washington. Cross the Ozette River on a beautiful arched bridge. At a quarter mile, come to a trail junction and stay right—the trail to the left will be your return trail if you choose to make a complete loop.
This hike is a certainly one of the most superb tours of coastal Olympic National Park. This hike is a loop hike, but it is called a triangle for its three prominent legs: the North Sand Point Trail and the Cape Alava Trail both originate at Ozette Campground, each reaching the coast at points that are approximately 3 miles apart; walking the coastline between the points connects the two trails to make the triangle-shaped loop.
Many choose to hike out on the Cape Alava Trail and return on the North Sand Point Trail, which puts the predominantly northerly wind at your back as you walk south down the coast. If you are making this trip as an overnight, however, note that campfires are prohibited between Wedding Rocks and Yellow Banks; this may make the campsites at and just south of Cape Alava more attractive options, which may in turn shape your itinerary and traveling direction. Wilderness camping permits are required for such a trip. However you walk it, be prepared for miles of lush coastal rainforest and gorgeous views.
The Cape Alava trail plunges into the old-growth western red cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. The dense understory of salal, fern, devil’s club, and the occasional bog skunk cabbage border the path. This area receives plenty of rain throughout the year, and the habitat is well adapted to thrive in these conditions. The sensitive, boggy soil is protected along the route by the constructed walkways made from cedar to resist rot and decay. While mostly level and certainly a cleaner and drier option than tromping through the mud, these walkways are quite slippery in wet conditions.
Walking out to Cape Alava, keep in mind that the history of human habitation in this area is rich. Recent discoveries of evidence of human culture date to 2,000 years ago. Later in the loop, you’ll see petroglyphs on the coast as you near Wedding Rocks. The Cape Alava route has a long history as a corridor between Ozette Lake and the coast, and given protection and preservation this area has received, it isn’t too difficult to imagine what the forest and coast was like back then. A more recent habitation, an early homestead near Ahlstrom’s Prairie, is quickly being reclaimed by the surrounding plants, and it is a testament to the elements one would live with in this temperate rainforest.
Permits/Reservations: Permits are limited year round for the Ozette area, and must be obtained from the Wilderness Information Center. Reservations are recommended for camping in the Ozette area between May 1 and September 30.
Group Size: Groups are limited to 12 people. Associated groups of more than 12 people must camp and travel at least 1 mile apart and may not combine at any time into a group of more than 12. Associated groups must also camp in separate camp areas, like Cape Alava and Sand Point.
Food Storage: On the coast, all food, garbage, beverages other than water, and scented items must be stored—overnight and when unattended—in park-approved Bear Canisters along the entire Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast. Buckets or other hard-sided containers are no longer permitted.
Toilet Facilities: Pit toilets are available at Sand Point and Cape Alava. In other areas bury waste 6-8″ deep and 200 feet (70 steps) from campsites and water sources.
Water Sources: Creeks at Sand Point and Cape Alava. Most coastal water sources have a tea-stained appearance. The light tan color originates from tannin leached from leaves. Cryptosporidium and giardia exist in coastal streams and rivers; therefore, always filter or boil water. Iodine is ineffective
Ecosystem type: Coastal Forest and Ocean Beach
Trail tread types: Well maintained – boardwalk
General elevation trend: Flat with steep overland trails
River crossings: None
Unique features: Boardwalks, wilderness coast, bald eagle viewing, marine mammals
Level of difficulty: Easy
Distance: 9.2 miles
Elevation change: Sea level to 100 feet
Best Season: April through October
After 3.4 miles the trail ends at Cape Alava, where you’ll see a few backcountry campsites and, if the weather is clear, the vast Pacific Ocean horizon. Cape Alava is the westernmost spot in the contiguous states, and if you are exploring the area during low tide and can walk out to Tskawahya Island, it will feel like it. From this point you can easily see the Bodelteh Islands to the west and Ozette Island to the southwest.
Turn south to continue on the loop, and head down the rocky shoreline toward Wedding Rocks. If you want a chance to see the petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, it is well worth planning to make sure you travel this section of coast at low tide. These petroglyphs are scattered around on large boulders near the cliff, so it is helpful to check in with the Ozette Ranger Station for some diagrams before your hike. Whales, dogs, ships, humans, and other figures are represented in these 300- to 500-year-old carvings.
Continue south along the coast toward Sand Point, making detours inland as needed if the tide is a factor. Sand Point curves sharply westward from the rocky beach, and you’ll pass the North Sand Point Trail that leads back to Ozette Campground in order to walk out onto the point. Looking south, it is obvious how Sand Point got its name: the beach to the south stretches for approximately 1.5 miles before encountering a small headland near the South Sand Point campsites (where you can also find a trail back to Ozette Lake, though not to the Ozette Campground). Once you’ve enjoyed the views, head back to the trail junction and return to your starting point via the beautiful North Sand Point Trail.
Follow nailtravels for more stories about Baitbucket, Hambone and Thunderbird as they travel to the Quinault Rainforest in Olympic National Forest. Be sure to visit “Camping on the Cheap” Chili Tortilla Recipe and Saddle Mountain State Recreation Area.