Trying the Ozette Triangle

Coastal hiking is a ubiquitous Washington activity for the outdoorsy–and the Ozette Triangle is a gem of a hike or backpacking destination.

The ubiquitous NP sign, located outside the Wilderness Information Center.

The Ozette Triangle hike starts in Olympic National Park and 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 the trailhead, you can do the 9-ish mile hike in one day, or break it up by backpacking on the beach (permit required) at the designated areas in either Cape Alava or Sand Point.

I have done this trip twice now–Labor Day weekend 2017, I went backpacking for my first time ever here, and on a rainy October weekend in 2020, I took my friend Marissa from Postcards to Seattle on her first backpacking trip here!

Backpacking does require a permit and stopping at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles first though (not currently required due to COVID closures), as well as an approved bear canister for food (available to rent from the WIC even during COVID!). 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 is advised to not do the beach portion of this hike if the tide is 5′ or greater, with a few marked headlands where you can trim out dicey areas.

I loved this shelter in the parking lot for getting us prepared, rather than getting rained on before we even departed!

A $30 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 to park. The lot is large but will be overflowing on holiday weekends. Handily enough, there is a big, covered shelter here, great for getting your pack situated and shoes tired if it raining, like it was for us in 2020.

While my official list says that there is an NPS cancellation at the Ozette Ranger Station, it is unstaffed and locked up. I got an Olympic National Park cancellation at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles luckily! No matter, we hit the (flushing!) toilets and departed (only open in summer; were closed in October). 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.

Same sign, different mood.

The path is a mixture of dirt and wooden boardwalk. WTA indicates it will be mostly flat (100 feet gain), but to be honest the trail was fairly up-and-down, including stairs (AllTrails and Gaia show far more gain than WTA). Having done this hike twice now, it was vastly different experiences. Labor Day weekend 2017 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. October 2020 the rain falling made for some slick boardwalks and ginger steps! This recent trip also had signs of bear activity and trip reports mentioning bears at Sand Point–gulp! While we were camping 3 miles away, that’s not exactly an insurmountable distance for a bear.

Excitement helps the miles pass, regardless of weather. 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 you will be at the beach. Washington beaches have a mind of their own, so don’t be surprised if the weather changes dramatically from when you started!

Exploring the area near our campsite was very easy at low tide. By high tide, you’d be stranded!

Day-hikers can turn around and return how they came for 6 miles, or make a left-turn and head south along the beach to Sand Point for 9 miles. 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 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 the nearby unnamed-to-my-knowledge island and listen to what sounded like hundred of sea lions bark just out of sight.

 

The black-and-red sign is your sign for the way to the trailhead.

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. Another note, the land north of the Cape Alava camp is closed due to COVID. 

Enjoying a beer at sunset–ain’t life grand?

If you are camping, there are two pit toilets (one of which is brand spankin’ new as of fall 2020) and 16 permitted campsites at Cape Alava that are fairly obvious given the well-established fire rings. Fires are allowed, pending burn bans, but we didn’t bother on our October trip given the rain. In my two times, I have camped at the second spot from the south and the fifteenth spot. Sea lion barking is far louder at the northern sites, but southern you will have less privacy due to being right at the (rust-colored) water source. Depending on time of year, beggars can’t be choosers–and with stunning beach views, who is to complain about any of the spots? My first trip was critter-less, but there was one young buck who seemed fairly bold this time around, coming within a few feet of us and scaring the bejeebus out of me at night.

Home sweet home!
The window to happiness…is outdoors.

Regardless if you camp or do the hike in a day, the three miles of beach between Alava and Sand Point will likely take you far longer than anticipated. Besides navigating through slippery, stinky kelp-covered rocks and boulders, there are downed trees and beached trunks to climb over, under, and around–with heavy overnight backpacks on. Of course, there were fun rocks to explore too!

The most well-known and noticeable of the rocks.

After about 1 mile on the beach is an outcropping where you will find the infamous Wedding Rocks. There are several rocks here that have petroglyphs (estimated to be 300-500 years old) from the Makah tribe etched onto them. My first trip, we walked right past them without noticing, but we made sure to check them out last time. Remember to take only pictures and leave only footsteps here–touching and flash photography are not allowed! If the tide is higher and you need to use the headland to get around this section (which can be dicey, even at a moderately low tide), you can still see the most famous etching, seen right. Slightly after this we noticed some relief in the beach getting more sandy, finally.

Up ahead, I saw movement. My less than 20-20 eyesight knew it was something larger and tan, which did narrow it down–was it a deer? I got closer and saw it was too short to be a deer, it was a coyote! It was well after 9AM, so a little late for a nocturnal animal, but nonetheless, an amazing sight.

Can you find the coyote camouflaged here?
Luckily, in the Olympics you don’t need to worry about distinguishing between black bear and grizzly footprints.

 

Without rocks, we were able to make out tons of prints in the sand: deer, raccoon, seabird, the aforementioned coyote, and something instantly recognizable for something I had never really seen before–bear. Marissa had been saying she wanted to see one, but those prints made it all seem a little too real. I rationalized they were coming towards us, not away, and soldiered on. The tracks were intermittent, but still present even after we hopped a small creek, Sand Point in sight. I was just telling Marissa these looked more faint, thus might have been older, when she stopped dead in her tracks and said “BEAR!” We were already fairly far away, but we backed up to the creek to be safe, with me taking note of a couple behind us getting closer. I whipped out my camera and started snapping away.

Thank you, zoom lens!
Wait, two bears?!
Three bears! A mama and two cubs.
We couldn’t handle the cuteness when the cubs started playing.

Even if it was a lone bear, continuing on the trail would have been idiotic, but with the cubs present, we realized we might be there for awhile. The other couple finally got close enough for us to mask up and explain to them safety in numbers might be best, and they joined us (they were tall and had bear spray ready, just what you’d want in a situation like this!). The mama was very aware of our presence, but in no rush, continuing to forage in the kelp. She did eventually send her cubs into the woods, and quick as a flash, they scampered up a tree. I could have stayed there watching for hours, but Marissa grew a little antsy. Understandably, as we could see Sand Point with our eyes! After about 20 minutes, the family entered the woods, and the four of us hastily crossed towards Sand Point.

Sand Point. I was too tired to climb it, but tons of people were!

A large outcropping covered in grass surrounded by sandy (well, less rocky) beaches is Sand Point. Labor Day weekend some people were climbing it, but on both treks 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 a little more boardwalk and slightly flatter, 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 on that first trip, 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 (second trip was also without any falling). Despite the weather on both trips not being perfect, I still loved my time doing the Ozette Triangle and finished feeling accomplished (and sticky with sweat and salt). Plus, my first-ever bear sighting on trail!

In summary:

Distance 9.4 miles if doing the full triangle

Elevation: 100 feet, according to WTA–I think in actuality it is far greater.

Parking: $30 covers 7 consecutive days of entry into Olympic National Park, or America the Beautiful Pass. If planning on backpacking, you will need a Wilderness Permit ($6 non-refundable fee + $8/person/night) as well.

Bathrooms: Flush toilets at trailhead, multiple 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?

 

7 Replies to “Trying the Ozette Triangle”

  1. Last time I went there was nobody there! …but it was in April and it rained a lot, so you gotta pick which hassle you’d prefer.

    1. As bummed as I was by having swampy smokey air and no sunset, I was happy to stay dry, especially when walking on the boardwalk!

  2. Adding this to an adventure weekend list!

    1. It was a great hike, but especially in fall I’d prepare for rain!

  3. This looks awesome! I really want to do the Ozette Triangle loop. My favorite backpacking trip in the PNW ever was in Olympic National Park – Scott Creek: http://www.roadtripsandskymiles.com/the-south-coast-part-1/

    1. That looks amazing! I’m itching to do more backpacking, but I’m maybe not quite ready for doing it in the rain. Glad to hear it has a fresh water source–Ozette did at both camping places, but where we were it was merely a trickle of a stream.

  4. I especially enjoyed the bear family and petroglyph photos. It sure liked like a very memorable back pack trip!

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