Shi Shi Beach

In the upper-left corner of the contiguous United States, beaches are carved out by the relentless tide. One such beach, Shi Shi, is located in the Olympic Wilderness. However, it takes a few more permits than the typical trip to uninhabited land.


Most of that upper-left corner is part of the Makah Reservation. To enter certain parts of reservation, like the trailhead out to Shi Shi, you need to pick up a recreation pass. These are for sale in several places around Neah Bay, like the main grocery store, and run $10. Then, you can drive out to the trailhead — if you are only staying for the day.

If you are planning to camp on Shi Shi, you’ll need to park at one of the few houses on the way to the trailhead. These also run about $10 per day — though the day starts at midnight, so one night equals two days. Make sure to have the correct amount of cash and your own envelope to stuff into the dropbox. Then you can start walking to the trailhead.

The trail itself is known for its mud and soggy nature. There are plenty of side trails to avoid the mud, but it’s better just to wear galoshes and trek straight through. Through shady woods, you’ll come upon a wider road, and it’s another half-hour to the end of the reservation land and the beginning of the wilderness. There’ll be a box to fill out a slip for the Park Service, but the rain will have disintegrated most slips. This will also be the last time that you’re told bear cans are required. Make your way down to the beach carefully, and use the strung up ropes as you need.

Make sure to know when the tides are in or out, as the tide pools are a main feature. Starfish as purple as plums, or orange as… oranges. Crabs. Barnacles. Washed-up styrofoam.

Freshwater comes from a few streams that run perpendicular to the beach, although the water itself is brown from all the organic matter it carries. Even after boiling or treating it, you may have to close your eyes. Wood that’s dry enough for fire can be scarce. And it can get quite windy, so make sure your tent is secure. While readjusting tent lines in the middle of the night gives you a view of the stars, no one really wants to leave a sleeping bag.

On the way back to civilization, in Clallam Bay, stop at Sunsets West Co-op. The British (co)owners will make you a strong cup of coffee with a bun-less chiliburger (or, as one menu item says, “any breakfast you want, just ask”). And then you can listen to the banter between the motorcyclist visiting someone at the nearby prison and the local retiree, who inevitably talk about just how warm it’s getting and where have all the bees gone.