I laugh, with an almost hysterical enthusiasm, as we traipse through the lush forest; we’re making our way to the beach that’s to be our home for the night. It’s clear to everyone we meet that we’re not experienced backpackers and that we have no idea what we’re doing. Our full-sized backpack is stuffed to the brim, overflowing with our 20-year-old sleeping bags and cans of Chef Boyardee. Despite (or because of?) our inexperience, I know, somehow instinctively, that this night on Second Beach will become the highlight of our trip.
It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done.
The hike from the parking lot to the beach is only one kilometer long but feels much longer because of the extra weight on our backs. We step aside as families return from their afternoon adventures, glad for any excuse to take a short break. The trail steadily descends to the ocean, riddled with massive roots and mossy trees. The stairs are an awkward size and we proceed slowly.
Reaching Second Beach
After a seemingly never-ending trek, the trail flattens and we finally spot the massive, bone-white driftwood that marks the end of our hike. We watch for the indistinctive fork that leads to the only washroom on this section of the beach. We spot the path and decide to scope it out.
Cobwebs and scribbled vandalism adorn the wooden walls and too late we realize there’s no toilet paper. With two paths leading to it and entirely exposed to the beach, the outhouse is surprisingly doorless and requires us to act as lookouts for each other. Thankfully, due to the exposure to ocean air and lack of doors, the outhouse is odorless.
Tracking back, we finally take our first steps on Second Beach. We alight on a tiny piece of stick-ridden sand and carefully navigate the maze of driftwood logs that bar our way.
Setting up camp
After conquering the driftwood, we survey the beach for the best place to spend the night. A few fellow beach-campers have already set up shop, so, in search of privacy, we wander down the sandy shores. With the added weight on our shoulders, we almost fall into a small stream.
A few minutes down the beach, we find the perfect area for our camp: an open expanse of soft sand, far from others, with a great view of the rock pillar in the ocean. We nestle our tent into a small alcove in the driftwood, sheltering it from the forceful wind. As we set up, gusts of wind threaten to tear the tent from hands. With no solid ground to hammer the pegs into, we hunt for rocks to weigh it down. As I carefully tie our permit to the tent, I’m afraid it will be ripped from my hands. Sand blows around us and finds its way into everything we own.
Building our fire
As Jacob constructs our fire pit, we quickly learn that our fire isn’t going to survive without a buffer from the strong wind. We strain (let’s be real – I strained) to haul small driftwood logs to our camp and create a wall to protect our setup. Jacob tries to start the fire but realizes the wall isn’t large enough and sets out to find more logs.
The afternoon is wearing on and we worry that the sun will set before we’re properly set up, so I scour the maze of driftwood in search of small sticks for firewood, bounding over unsteady logs and creeping into small crevices. I’m surprised by the lack of suitable firewood; it’s been picked over by hundreds of other beach campers, which gives me slim pickings. The pieces I do find I put in my jacket as a makeshift bag and bring to camp, covering myself in dirt. By the time I’ve collected enough firewood, Jacob’s finished building our camp and we sit down in relief, laughing in happiness at what we’ve created for the night.
An unforgettable night
With our toes nestled in the sand, I lean back into my boyfriend’s arms and breathe in the fresh ocean air, enjoying our wonderful camp. As the afternoon wears on we watch a handful of backpackers pass by, in search, as we were, of the perfect resting place.
The sun becomes one with the horizon and bathes the sand in soft, golden rays, creating our own personal heaven. The driftwood easily catches fire and sends small sparks into the night air, warming our prepackaged food and browning our sugary marshmallows. Luckily, the wind settles as the sun sets and we enjoy our canned ravioli; magically, even the grossest of food tastes better when eaten on the beach at sunset.
Except for the fires crackling up and down the beach, we’re entirely alone. No voices float towards us and no one trespasses on our view of the dark ocean. We’re unaware of the time as we laze beneath the stars.
Before heading to bed, we pack up our food and toiletries in a borrowed bear container and stash it near the forest, far from our camp.
Waking to a misty morning
I wake first and roll out of bed, careful to avoid the dew-covered tent walls. A fine mist clings to the beach, rolling from the ocean, over our camp, and into the forest. I retrieve our food and search for more firewood; when I return Jacob is trying to light the fire, but the combination of damp wood and near-dead lighter make it almost impossible. We persevere and eventually manage to piece together a breakfast of toast and oatmeal.
Sunlight peaks through the mist
The mist recedes as we spoon peanut butter onto our toast and we decide to explore the exposed rock pillar. Leaving our shoes behind and armed with jackets, we wind our way through cold pools and small rocks, navigating clumps of seaweed and jelly. Starfish and other ocean animals cling to the rocks, waiting patiently for the tide to rise and cover them again.
Starfish on exposed rock at low tide. We walk up to the base of the large rock pillar and inspect the barnacle-covered tide line. It meets us at eye-level, astounding us at the how far the tide has retreated. We explore the various streams and crevices around the base, running through the mist with the excitement of small children.
As the tide slowly comes in, we find our way back to camp.
Saying goodbye to Second Beach
The mist slowly burns off as we reach our camp and the sun sneaks through the clouds, creating beautiful rays that eventually reveal a stunning blue sky. We’re sad to leave our romantic piece of paradise and wish we could stay forever.
The tent is soaked through and we leave it in the sun to dry, grateful for a reason to stay a little longer. We shake out our bedding and try to pack up without covering everything in more sand, which turns out to be a futile effort. No matter what we do, the tiny grains of sand sneak into everything.
We heavy hearts, we make our way back to the car. Nothing has ever compared to the wonderful experience of camping next to the ocean and I know we’ll do it again.
Information & Trailhead Location
Second Beach is located in the Pacific Northwest, 1 mile south of La Push, Washington. A parking lot along the road, as well as overflow parking in a field, mark the trail head.
It’s popular with families as a beautiful day outing and can get quite busy. If you’re planning on staying the night (which I highly recommend!), you’ll need to pick up a permit from one of the Ranger Stations located throughout the Olympic National Park (we got ours from the station in Quinault). There, you’ll also need to grab a bear container to put all of your smelly food and toiletries into. Contrary to its name, smaller animals – such as raccoons – are more likely to rifle through your belongings at Second Beach than bears.
Rangers often patrol the beach checking for permits and will ask to see your permit if it’s not visible; tying it tightly to the outside of your tent will suffice. Make sure to place your bear container far from your camp when heading to bed.
To view more photos of Second Beach, visit our SmugMug gallery.
Duration: ~1 hr return + walking the beach
Distance: 2 km return
Difficulty: Moderately easy with a backpack
Trail Notes: A steady decline to the beach
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