Labor Day weekend, I went backpacking for my first time ever. The boyfriendo has been backpacking since he was a child, and he spoke fondly of camping at Cape Alava as a backpacking trek. Armed with a new 65-liter pack and hopefully enough food, we set off!
For this post, I’ll keep it to be more about the hike than backpacking in general. The Ozette Triangle hike takes you through the woods to the most western part of the continental United States, Cape Alava (which is slightly south of the most northwestern part of the continental US, Cape Flattery) and then down the beach to Sand Point before returning you to your car. If you’re close enough to Olympic National Park, you can do the 9-ish mile hike in one day, or break it up by backpacking on the beach at the designated areas in either Cape Alava or Sand Point.
Backpacking does require a permit and stopping at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles first though, as well as an approved bear canister for food. Even if you’re not backpacking, be sure to grab a tide chart for that day. While not as serious as other beaches further south on the coast, there are some places along the coastline that could leave you stranded when the tide comes in.
It was no shock that on Labor Day weekend, the lot for the Ozette Ranger Station was more than full. We had to park on the shoulder along with many other vehicles. A $25 entry fee (good for seven days, easiest to purchase at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles) or America the Beautiful Pass is required here–I was super disheartened to see tons of cars here with no parking displayed (and my disappointment at people essentially stealing would only grow–but more later).
While my official list says that there is an NPS cancellation to be obtained at the Ozette Ranger Station, when we were there it was unstaffed and locked up. I got an Olympic National Park cancellation at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles luckily, but I was a little bummed to not get the official one for where we camped. No matter, we hit the (flushing) toilets and departed. A quick crossing on a bridge and into the woods we went. You quickly have an option between going to Cape Alava first, or the south leg, arriving at Sand Point. Due to our camping reservations at Cape Alava, we went north first, so I’ll write from that perspective, but the choice is yours. Both legs are around three miles.
Labor Day weekend was super warm and smoke from fires all around us was thick in the air, making the cool shade of the woods and ferns a welcome treat. The path is a mixture of dirt and wooden boardwalk–keep in mind if it has been raining that boardwalks will be incredibly slick. I was told it’d be mostly flat (a treat for my aching hip), but to be honest the trail was fairly up-and-down, including stairs (WTA says 100 feet gained–it felt like more than that). With a heavy overnight pack on I’m sure every molehill became a mountain, so day-hikers might still find it perfectly flat. After about a mile, the trail vacillates from woods to almost a prairie feeling, being surrounded by tall grass. One last bit through the woods and we emerged onto the beach to be welcomed by…clouds. How was this entire hike of sweat and sunshine suddenly covered in fog and clouds? Washington beaches have a mind of their own, but the loss of what would have been a stunning sunset was a bit of a blow.
You have a few options here. Easiest and shortest is to go back the way you came, about six miles round trip. Next option is the nine-mile loop. Day-hikers can make a left-turn and head south along the beach, but backpackers or day-hikers wanting to explore a bit more go right for the campground. There are pit toilets nearby this junction, but also some fun little tide pools and islands to explore as well. I brought my trusty Teva sandals for walking in the water (a treat to cool my aching feet). I don’t expect too many day-hikers to explore further here, but once we set up camp we loved being able to circle a nearby (unnamed?) rock island and listen to what sounded like hundred of sea lions bark just out of sight.
Note: If you choose to go the Sand Point-Alava route, pay close attention when you exit the path for the beach–there’s a round sign here (pictured) that will be identical 3 miles away at Cape Alava when it’s time to return from the beach to the trailhead. Many people miss this re-entry point and walk an extra mile or more up the beach (I witnessed people doing that on this trip and multiple reviewers on WTA made that mistake as well). This is not an issue from the Alava-Sand Point route.
The three miles of beach between Alava and Sand Point took far longer than anticipated. Besides navigating through slippery kelp-covered rocks and boulders, we had downed trees to climb over, under, and around–with heavy overnight backpacks on. Of course, there were fun rocks to explore too!
At around the halfway point along the trek on the beach are the Wedding Rocks. These rocks have petroglyphs (estimated to be 300-500 years old) from the Makah tribe etched onto them. We did not locate these, they’re not well marked–you have to know what you’re looking for. Remember to take only pictures and leave only footsteps here!
Just when I started to get concerned with how long the beach walk was taking and the impending rising tide, we arrived at Sand Point. A large outcropping covered in grass, some people were climbing it, but we were far too tired and ready for a shower. Onward we went, into the woods. The trek through the woods was similar to the one we had done previously, but I swear the end came about far quicker than the day before–or maybe that was excitement talking.
By the time we returned to the car, I was exhausted like no hike before. I successfully backpacked nine miles, and successfully walked three miles on a slippery beach with a heavy pack throwing off my balance and didn’t slip on my rear once. Despite the lack of a sunset, throngs of illegal campers, and one group violating a burn ban (remember, the entire state was a tinderbox at that point), I still loved my time doing the Ozette Triangle and finished feeling accomplished (and sticky with sweat and salt).
Distance 9.4 miles if doing the full triangle
Elevation: 100 feet, according to WTA
Parking: $25 pass covers 7 consecutive days of entry into Olympic National Park, or America the Beautiful Pass
Bathrooms: Flush toilets at trailhead, pit toilets near Cape Alava and Sand Point
Food storage: Bear cans required–no hanging!
Fires: Allowed, pending burn bans. You can only use driftwood, no cutting down living trees or branches.
There’s so many other hikes in Olympic National Park still on my list though–including ones with no rocky coast to deal with! What should I do in the park next?