I laughed with almost hysterical enthusiasm as we traipsed through the lush forest towards the beach that was to be our home for the night. It was obvious to everyone we met that we weren’t experienced backpackers and clearly had no idea what we were doing. Our 40-litre backpack was stuffed to the brim and overflowing with our 20-year-old sleeping bags and cans of Chef Boyardee.

Despite our inexperience, I instinctively knew that this night on Second Beach would become the highlight of our trip. It was unlike anything we’d ever done.

Making our way to Second Beach

Second Beach is located on the Pacific Ocean just west of Forks, Washington. You know Forks, the town made famous by Twilight? Second Beach is one of three beaches along the coast that can be camped on.

The hike from the parking lot to Second Beach was only one kilometer long yet it felt much longer. We stepped aside as families returned from their afternoon adventures, glad for any excuse to take a short break. The trail steadily descended to the ocean and was often riddled with massive roots and mossy trees. The stairs were an awkward size and we proceeded slowly.

Reaching Second Beach

After a seemingly never-ending trek, the trail flattened and we finally spotted the end of the trail. Before we could reach the beach though, we spotted the trail that led to the only outhouse on this section of the beach. We had to scope it out.

Cobwebs and scribbled vandalism adorned the wooden walls and we realized too late there was no toilet paper. Two paths led to the outhouse and it was entirely exposed to the beach. Disturbingly, it was doorless and we had to act as lookouts for each other. The upside, though, was that due to the exposure to ocean air and lack of doors, the outhouse was odorless.

Going back the way we’d come, we finally took our first step on Second Beach. The beach stretched before us and was hidden beneath bone-white driftwood. We carefully navigated the maze of driftwood logs that barred our way. It was a little tricky with an overstuffed backpack!

Setting up camp

After conquering the driftwood, we surveyed the beach for the best place to spend the night. A few fellow beach-campers had already set up shop, so in search of privacy, we wandered down the sandy shores. With the added weight on our shoulders, we almost fell into a few small streams along the way.

After walking down the beach for a few minutes we found 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 nestled our tent into a small alcove in the driftwood which sheltered it from the forceful wind.

As we set up gusts of wind threatened to tear the tent from our hands and we hunted for rocks to weigh it down because there was no solid ground to nail it into. I carefully tied our permit to the tent but I was afraid it would be ripped from my hands. Sand blew along the beach and found its way into everything we’d brought.

Building a driftwood fire on the sand

As Jacob constructed our fire pit we quickly learned that our fire wasn’t going to survive without a buffer from the strong wind. We strained (let’s be real, I strained) to haul small driftwood logs to our camp and create a wall to protect our setup. Jacob tried to start the fire but realized the wall wasn’t large enough and set out to find more logs.

The afternoon was wearing on though and we were worried that the sun would set before we were properly set up. I started scouring the driftwood in search of firewood and bounded over unsteady logs and crept into small crevices looking for it. I was surprised by the lack of suitable sticks though; it had clearly been picked over by hundreds of other campers which gave me slim pickings. By the time I’d collected enough firewood, Jacob was finished building our camp and we sat down in relief, smiling in at our little home for the night.

An unforgettable night

With our toes nestled in the sand, I leaned back into Jacob’s arms and we breathed in the fresh ocean air, enjoying our wonderful camp. As the afternoon wore on we watched a handful of backpackers pass by, in search, as we were, of the perfect resting place.

The sun soon became one with the horizon and bathed the sand in soft, golden rays. We were in our own personal haven! The driftwood easily caught fire and sent small sparks into the night air, warming our prepackaged food and browning our sugary marshmallows. Luckily, the wind settled as the sun set and we enjoyed 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 were entirely alone. No voices floated towards us and no one trespassed on our view of the dark ocean. We were blissfully unaware of the time as we lazed beneath the stars. Before heading to bed, we packed up our food and toiletries in a borrowed bear container and stashed it near the forest, far from our camp. We didn’t want any night time visits from raccoons!

Waking to a misty morning

I woke first and rolled out of bed, careful to avoid the dew-covered tent walls. A fine mist clung to the beach, rolling from the ocean, over our camp, and into the forest. I retrieved our food and searched for more firewood; when I returned Jacob was trying to light the fire but the combination of damp wood and near-dead lighter made it almost impossible.

We persevered and eventually managed to piece together a breakfast of toast and oatmeal. The morning was chilly and damp.

Golden rays through the mist

The mist recedes as we spooned peanut butter (yup, with spoons) onto our toast. As we sat looking at the ocean, we decided to explore the exposed rock pillar. We left our shoes behind and, armed with jackets, we wound our way through cold pools, small rocks, and clumps of seaweed and jelly. Starfish and other ocean animals clung to the rocks, waiting patiently for the tide to rise and cover them again.

We walked up to the base of the large rock pillar and inspected the barnacle-covered tide line. It met us at eye-level and we were astounded at how far the tide had retreated. We explored the various streams and crevices around the base and ran through the mist with the excitement of small children.

As the tide slowly came in, we found our way back to camp.

Adieu to Second Beach

The mist slowly burned off as we reached our camp and the sun snuck through the clouds which created beautiful rays that eventually revealed a stunning blue sky. We were sad to leave our romantic piece of paradise and I wish to this day that we could have stayed longer.

The tent was soaked through and we left it in the sun to dry, grateful for a reason to stay a little longer. We shook out our bedding and tried to pack up without covering everything in more sand, which turned out to be futile. No matter what we did, the tiny grains of sand snuck into everything.

With heavy hearts, we made our way back to our 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, one mile south of La Push, Washington. A parking lot along the road, as well as overflow parking in a field, mark the trailhead.

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.

Trail information

Distance ~2km return
Duration ~1hr return + walking the beach
Difficulty Moderately easy with a backpack
Pricing
  • Free to visit
  • $8/person per night (15 and under free)
  • Olympic Annual Wilderness Passes, $45/person
Notes
  • Rangers will check for permits
  • Store your food in bear containers away from camp
  • Take out what you take in
Related Activities Camping on Mystic Beach
Hiking at Klahhane Ridge
Afternoon hiking at Hurricane Ridge