Mama Boots had dreamed of hiking Shi Shi Beach for years–she called it a bucket list hike. We finally ventured out to see it for ourselves!
The trail to Shi Shi (pronouned Shy Shy, not She-She) Beach is a mix of Olympic National Park and Makah Reservation lands, meaning there are multiple sets of rules and permits required. The Makah Reservation had closed access to non-tribal members for nearly two years due to COVID, but are now welcoming back visitors. Be sure to grab your $20 Makah Recreation permit at one of the many signed places in Neah Bay (good for one calendar year, can also be used at Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the continental US). If planning to camp overnight on the beach, that is Olympic National Park land, so have your bear can and camping permit, and remember no dogs are allowed past the clearly signed park barrier.
It’s a good 4+ hours to get to the trailhead from the Seattle area, so Mama Boots and I opted to stay at a Hipcamp cabin near Port Angeles, to get a slightly earlier start in the morning. We stopped at the Makah Mini Mart for our permit, and got one of the last day-use spots at the trailhead (overnight vehicles have a separate parking lot about a half-mile further away, $10 a night). Off we went!
Like the Ozette Triangle, this beach hike begins in the woods, with boardwalks aplenty. Please be respectful of any signs on private properties and any little offshoot trails and stick to the main trail. I’ve said it before, I love a good boardwalk, especially an amazing bridge over a creek (sadly the sign with the name was damaged), but the boardwalk fun ended far too soon, and the mud began. This trail is famous for its muddy slog people claim in reviews to be knee-deep or even thigh-deep, so I packed both poles and gaiters. At first, the mud was more frosting-like, and stepping on it was at least mostly solid and stable. It’s actually better for the trail to walk through the mud, rather than trying to skirt around it–that actually causes erosion, so despite tons of evidence it’s been happening on this trail aplenty, I happily went right through the frosting mud instead of around. Easy peasy!
However, the mud soon turned into soup, and one step into what I thought was solid mud went all the way past my high boots. Why oh why hadn’t I stopped to put on my gaiters?! Beyond that one messy step, I still think many of the reviews saying to pack in clamming boots or waders were a tad excessive, but you do what it takes to feel comfortable on the trail. Luckily, it was warm enough to know I’d soon be dry enough, anyway. We passed by one excellent peek-a-boo of the water, and reached the well-signed park boundary. Remember, no dogs past here! The park boundary is where your descent begins, some steep switchbacks but with a nice railing in place. At the bottom, like Toleak, there was a big pile of plastic waste that had washed up. I bet someone could organize quite the clean-up crews along our beach hikes with the amount that washes up, and we saw the forested campsites had lots of buoys and floats as well.
It wasn’t super obvious where or when to cut to the beach, but we did as soon as we saw a decent cattrail. And what a view!
We had thought it was two miles in the woods and two on the beach to get to the Point of the Arches (really, it was more like 2.5 to the beach), so we excitedly hit the sand. There was still some morning mist about, and we saw plenty of morning campfires going. We found that perfect ‘damp enough to not sink’ sand to walk on, and headed southward. We marveled at the sites the entire way along, seeing some various sea detritus that had washed up. Mama Boots volunteers as a beach naturalist, so this was a great hike for us both to be on. One washed-up plant had her stumped, so I used my Seek app to determine it was Dead Man’s Fingers. Mama Boots was delighted by this discovery!
Bellies rumbling, we tried to detect a good lunch spot close enough to the water to wade, but with some nice logs for a backrest, still close to the Point of the Arches. We found something suitable enough, grabbed some food, and got to wading. The icy Pacific water felt great on our feet, as did the sand and surf. In a flat stretch, I noticed sand crabs scuttling about after every wave crashed. It was impossible to want to leave. Mama Boots’ delight was indescribable, and so was mine. Matter of fact, the mood of every hiker and camper we encountered would be best described as ‘jovial’ or ‘ecstatic,’ something I’m not used to seeing on even some stunning trails.
WHEN I come back (not if, when), I will certainly plan it around a lower tide day. Point of Arches had amazing tide pools even at a more moderate tide, and Mama Boots had her head on a swivel so much she stepped into the water at least once. Anemones, sea stars, little fish, and more all were present, but I can only imagine the wonders uncovered on a day with a negative tide!
With my dog at home, I knew we’d have to tear ourselves away eventually. One last look at this land we are so happy to have shared with us, and we headed back towards the woods. The sun was really beating down now, and we were thankful to have reapplied sunscreen with our lunch. Beach hiking can be deceptive in how the wind and waves can make it feel so much cooler than the sun really is beating down. We noticed more and more people coming in to camp, some laden down with quite a bit of gear (and one with a box of wine). While this is a super popular backpacking spot, I am sure privacy and quiet can still be found. The trail does continue all the way to Cape Alava and beyond, for those eager for mileage and more beach time.
Onward we pushed, with one last look at the beach. We knew metaphorically, it was all downhill from here–the uphill climb, and the mud were both waiting for us, then a journey home that would take 4+ hours. But, the good times continued as we headed up and onward. While the mud was way, way worse from the foot traffic, I only got stuck once (again, no gaiters, and had been too stubborn to get my poles out).
We made it back to the car, and began our long journey home. While it is a long slog getting there and back, it was worth every minute of car, ferry, and hiking time. All in all, this classic Washington Hike I’d say is moreso essential.
Distance: WTA says 8.0 round trip–two miles to the beach and two on the beach– but we clocked 2.5 to the beach and back. With exploring around the Point of the Arches, we put in 9.6 miles total!
Elevation: Around 200 feet is the difference from high point to low point.
Parking: Makah Reservation Pass for day hiking; add on $10 cash and Olympic National Park wilderness permit if camping on the beach
Bathrooms: Pit toilets at the trailhead and at least one outhouse near the beach.
Food Storage if Backpacking: Bear cans required, can be rented from WIC in Port Angeles.
Fires: Beach fires are allowed with driftwood, but always verify if a burn ban is in effect first. Do not chop up logs for fires.
Best Beer Bet: The reservation is dry, so please be respectful of their land and laws. If you need a post-hike brew, there’s Barhop Brewing in Port Angeles and Hood Canal Brewing near Kingston. We had to hurry home for my pup, so no beer for us.