Last updated May 6, 2020
Wild camping on the ocean is a really fun experience and lets you reconnect with nature in way regular campgrounds don’t quite manage. Thankfully, you don’t need to be an experienced backpacker — we certainly aren’t — to enjoy a night on Second Beach in Washington. You just need a sense of adventure!
If you’re ready for beautiful views and solitude, this is the place to camp. There’s really nothing quite like waking up to the ocean right outside your tent. Ready? Let’s go!
Camping at Second Beach
We love camping on the beach and highly, highly recommend it! It’s such a unique experience and is a really great way to feel like a badass. You might also like to try camping on Mystic Beach on Vancouver Island — it’s not that far away!
When I first heard of beach camping, I thought novice backpackers like Jacob and I wouldn’t be able to do it. At the time, we didn’t have any experience with backpacking and didn’t own any special gear (we borrowed our tent from my parents). Luckily, Second Beach is very forgiving of amateurs. Like I said earlier, you just need a sense of adventure! Which I’m sure you have, otherwise why are you here?
Hiking to the ocean
The Second Beach trail is 0.6 miles (1 km) long and has about 130 feet (40 m) of elevation change. It usually only takes about a half hour to hike. If you’re new to backpacking, it’s tiring but is definitely doable. Depending on when you visit, it might be quite busy. Remember your trail etiquette!
The trail head is at the outhouse near the parking lot. You’ll head downhill and cross a creek before starting a short uphill climb. After the small hill, the trail steadily descends towards the ocean. Watch your step because the trail is riddled with massive roots. About halfway through the trail, the descent becomes much steeper and you’ll come to wooden stairs. The stairs are filled with gravel and aren’t well maintained, but they’re still functional. The stairs are an awkward size and make for slow going.
There definitely aren’t many amenities when you’re camping here. You won’t have a nice continental breakfast or pool — unless you like swimming in the cold ocean!
Right before the trail reaches the ocean, you’ll find the one and only outhouse. The outhouse is down a small side trail and isn’t immediately noticeable from the main trail. Don’t expect anything fancy — it doesn’t have a door and is adorned with spiderwebs and vandalism. If you’re lucky, there will be toilet paper but I wouldn’t count on it. I highly recommend bringing your own toilet paper to be on the safe side.
Setting up camp
When you reach the end of the trail you’ll be greeted by a sandy beach and maze of driftwood. To the north there’s a beautiful arch and to the south tall sea stacks rise out of the ocean. After navigating the driftwood, you’ll need to find a place to spend the night. Depending on the time of day, a few fellow beach-campers may have already set up camp. The area near the trail is often quite full, but if you continue south you’ll find many great places to set up camp.
One of the most important parts of beach camping is to always set up above the high tide line. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be awakened by the ocean in your sleeping bag in the middle of the night. By setting up your tent among the driftwood, you’re not only ensuring you won’t get wet, but you’re also protecting yourself from the wind that comes in at night.
PS: We wrote an article about camping in the rain. Some of the tips might come in handy on the misty ocean!
If you bring food or scented products with you, you’ll need to store it away from your campsite at night so that animals don’t come to your campsite. There isn’t communal food storage on Second Beach, so you’ll need to use a bear canister. They’re available for free from Wilderness Information Centers, just remember to return them.
The canisters are pretty big and should be able to hold all of your smelly food and toiletries. Make sure to put your bear container far away from your camp when you head to bed. Contrary to its name, smaller animals such as raccoons are more likely to rifle through your belongings than bears. Regardless, we’ve written about bear safety and it never hurts to be well informed.
A campfire on the beach is magical. It’s so much fun to cuddle up beside the fire, listen to the ocean, and watch the stars.
If you have a campfire, build it below the high tide line so that the ocean will wash it away at night — just make sure there’s no unburned garbage or plastic in the ashes. Make sure that you don’t strip the beach of its natural resources when you’re looking for firewood and only use only dead wood. Keep your fire to a reasonable size, but if there’s a fire ban don’t have a fire.
In the morning, a fine mist often clings to the beach and your tent. It rolls from the ocean, over your camp, and into the forest. Lighting a fire is difficult, but if you’re persistent enough it’ll eventually start. You’ll probably be chilly, but just layer up. Your tent will be soaked through, but that just gives you more reason to hang out a little longer.
As the mist slowly burns, golden rays of sunlight sneak through the trees and reveal a stunning blue sky. When you finally do pack up, the soft sand will be in everything you own.
Enjoy Second Beach
After you’ve set up camp, take a moment and relax. Nestle your toes in the soft sand and breath in the fresh ocean air. Watch as sun becomes one with the horizon and bathes you in its soft, golden rays. It’s not every day you get to do this, so take advantage of it!
Take a stroll down the beach and check out the natural arch, rock outcroppings, and sea stacks. The tides are a huge factor on Second Beach because many areas aren’t accessible at high tide. Always keep an eye on the tides because you don’t want to become stranded. Starfish, barnacles, seaweed, and clumps of jelly line the beach the closer to the sea stacks you walk.
At night, except for the fires crackling up and down the beach, you’re entirely alone. The ocean drowns out voices and after the sun sets, very few people walk the beach. You’ll be blissfully unaware of the time as you laze beneath the stars.
What to pack
Camping on Second Beach is different than camping in a campground or even the back of your car. Since you have to carry everything in, you need to be very selective of what you bring.
At the bare minimum, bring the following:
There are also a lot of other things you can bring that’ll make your stay more enjoyable, such as:
If you’d like to buy your gear from sustainable brands, we’ve put together an article about some of our favourite outdoor brands that do just that. Some of them donate time, money, or resources, whereas others support outdoor-related legislation, increased education, or eco-friendly resources.
Second Beach is located in the Pacific Northwest, one mile south of La Push, Washington. It’s a popular day-use area and makes for a great night of camping. You don’t need to be an experienced backpacker to camp on the beach, but we do recommend packing light and only bringing what you really need.
Fun fact: you might recognize the nearby towns of Fork and La Push from Twilight.
The parking lot can hold about ten cars. It fills quickly in the summer, but luckily there’s plenty of overflow parking nearby in a large, empty field. Parking is entirely free.
Since you’ll be leaving your car unattended overnight, make your valuables are hidden so you aren’t an easy target for thieves!
Cost + permits
You’ll need to buy a camping permit beforehand because they aren’t available at Second Beach itself. You can purchase the permits from various Ranger Stations throughout the Olympic Peninsula and we purchased ours from the station in Quinault.
The camping permits are $8 per person per night plus a $6 permit fee. You can also purchase an Olympic Annual Wilderness Pass which is $45 per person. People 15 years old and younger are free.
Rangers often patrol the beach checking for permits. If they don’t see your permit tied to the outside of your tent, they’ll ask for it.
Second Beach is located on the western coast of the Olympic Peninsula, about 20 minutes from Forks, Washington. As the name suggests, it’s the second of three beaches near the town of La Push.
As you drive to La Push from Forks, there are signs for Second Beach along Highway 110 and the parking lot is visible from the highway. The trail head is located at the main parking lot.
Have you ever tried camping on the beach? How did you like it?