Toleak Point and The Olympic South Coast Wilderness Trail - a Backpacking Epic

Sunset from our camp at Toleak Point while backpacking the South

We have our fair share of tall mountains, dense forests, and turquoise lakes here in Washington State. But hiding far away from the big city, there's another jewel: the Olympic National Park. And under the park's protection, farthest to the west, lies, arguably, the most ruggedly beautiful section of the Pacific Ocean coast.

A 17 mile stretch of this wild beach was our destination for the 4th of July weekend. Its formal name is the South Coast Wilderness Trail, and it runs from Third Beach all the way south to Oil City, with an important camp, and its main attraction, at Toleak Point.

Day 1

Seattle to Third Beach

We hopped on the 7:50am Kingston Ferry and drove to the Port Angeles Ranger Station to pick up our permits and ask about those tides, a question that was on our minds since even before we left home. We never had to take tide charts into account before, so we didn't know what exactly to expect. The ranger helped! He gave us a quick map tour of the entire trail and recommended that we change our plans to start at Third Beach and head south towards the Oil City road. This was in order to avoid a headland rounding near Oil City that could only be done at a very low tide, which for us was very early at 6 am. It would have made our trip less enjoyable. 

From Port Angeles we then drove to the end of Oil City Road, parked one of the cars at the trailhead, jammed everyone and everything into the other car, and drove back up to the Third Beach trail head.

Strawberry Bay

The hike started though a relatively dense forest for the first 20 or 30 minutes, but soon we got the first glimpse of the ocean, at Strawberry Bay. It was a spectacular sight!

 First view of the ocean at Strawberry Bay, Third Beach - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

First view of the ocean at Strawberry Bay, Third Beach - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Once we were done being overwhelmed by the ocean's scent, sound, and sight, we started heading south following the shoreline. We passed by the mud-slide that the rangers warned us about. It was big, but the tide was low enough for us to cross it without a detour.

 Land slide at Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Land slide at Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

A little further down the trail, a couple backpacking ahead of us made us aware of the carcass of a beached whale that died a few good months back. It was being devoured by worms. We were so touched by the sight, but also amazed by the mammal's size. I hadn't seen one so close before.

 Beached whale at Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Beached whale at Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

We didn't get to hike very far and, maybe 20 minutes or so into our beach section, came the first rope-assisted ascent inland. It was not very steep and probably only about 40 ft high.

 Rope-assisted ascent inland from Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Rope-assisted ascent inland from Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

 A second section of rope up from Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

A second section of rope up from Strawberry Bay - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Taylor Point and Giant's Graveyard

We continued our hike though the forest for another 30 minutes or so. The trail was taking us around Taylor Point which was probably hard or impossible to round on the shore. Soon thereafter, we got our first view of Giant's Graveyard to the south.

 Making our way around Taylor Point - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Making our way around Taylor Point - Backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

There's a wooden stairway leading down and out of the forest. Another 10 minutes hiking along the beach and Giant's Graveyard was getting a lot closer.

On this stretch, the low tide exposed lots of large rocks and, around them, we could see so much sea life, including these colorful starfish.

 
 Starfish exposed by the low tide on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park 

Starfish exposed by the low tide on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park 

 

About 20 minutes after descending from Taylor Point, we encountered a rock outcropping that looked like it could cause some trouble in a high tide.

 Rougher section near Giant's Graveyard on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Par 

Rougher section near Giant's Graveyard on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Par 

Scott's Bluff

Right around a bend, about 5 minutes later, we got to the second roped section, in a place that the map calls out as Scott's Bluff. Looking back we could see Taylor Point.

 Looking back towards Taylor Point from Scott's Bluff, South Coast Wilderness Trail, WA

Looking back towards Taylor Point from Scott's Bluff, South Coast Wilderness Trail, WA

With that, we left this section behind, and headed back inland and into the woods, climbing Scott's Bluff.

 
 Rope leading up Scott's Bluff, South Coast Wilderness Trail, WA

Rope leading up Scott's Bluff, South Coast Wilderness Trail, WA

 

Scott Creek Camp

This part of inland trail was short, only about 15 minutes, but it provided variety which I welcomed. At the end of the quarter hour through the trees, right when the trail was reaching the beach again, we passed by the first camp. It was nicely decorated with colorful buoys:

 Scott Creek Camp decorated with colorful buoys on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Scott Creek Camp decorated with colorful buoys on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

 Colorful buoys at Scott Creek Camp on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Colorful buoys at Scott Creek Camp on the South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Strawberry Point

Ten or fifteen minutes since we passed Scott's Camp, around another bend in the winding beach line, we saw the majestic Strawberry Point (which has no connection to Strawberry Bay, the starting point of our trip). 

 Strawberry Point, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Strawberry Point, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

 Waves washing ashore on the way to Strawberry Point

Waves washing ashore on the way to Strawberry Point

The big rock head in the lined formation above does look like a strawberry and, maybe because of that, we decided to go check it out from up close. I'm glad we approached it this close because we've got to see and capture this wonderful view of Toleak Point, right from the base of the Strawberry.

 View of Toleak Point from Strawberry, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

View of Toleak Point from Strawberry, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

 Beach backpacking is really cool, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Beach backpacking is really cool, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

 Algae on the South Coast Wilderness Trail

Algae on the South Coast Wilderness Trail

Toleak Point

We were getting closer to our destination for day one. As we were approaching Toleak Point, we passed by many camps on the very edge of the beach, right outside the tree line. We chose to hike a little longer before setting up ours, though.

 Looking towards Toleak Point on the South Coast Wilderness Trail

Looking towards Toleak Point on the South Coast Wilderness Trail

 Toleak Point, seen from the north: the group moving closer to our destination for the day

Toleak Point, seen from the north: the group moving closer to our destination for the day

As we reached the very tip of Toleak, we were surprised to see an ocean of people camping right around the corner. That was the Toleak Point camp actual. All these folks were probably hiding from the wind (which was worse on this side).

As with the other camp, this one was marked with friendly buoys. Somebody was very creative here!

 Friendly buoys at Toleak Point Camp, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Friendly buoys at Toleak Point Camp, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic National Park

Camping at Toleak Point

We chose to turn around and retrace our steps for a few hundred yards. We were rewarded with a nice spot right behind this pointy rock. Timea and I chose to level a spot at the edge of the beach, but well out of the reach of the tide. It was the best!

 Our Camp at Toleak Point, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic Peninsula

Our Camp at Toleak Point, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic Peninsula

With camp ready, it was time to have dinner, build a fire, and watch the sunset.

 Building a fire and watching the sunset on the beach at Toleak Point, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic Peninsula

Building a fire and watching the sunset on the beach at Toleak Point, South Coast Wilderness Trail, Olympic Peninsula

Beautiful Sunset at Toleak Point

 Sunset from our camp at Toleak Point while backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, W 

Sunset from our camp at Toleak Point while backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, W 

I carried a tripod hoping to shoot some photos of the night sky, which must be amazing around here with the lack of light pollution, but ended up only using it to take this shot of the waves in motion.

With the sun setting, the tide was on its way up.

 Sunset from our camp at Toleak Point while backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, W 

Sunset from our camp at Toleak Point while backpacking the South Coast Wilderness Trail, W 

We ended the day enjoying the fine one liter carton of wine we brought and having fun around the camp fire.

 
 Late night around the camp fire at Toleak Point 

Late night around the camp fire at Toleak Point 

 

Summary of Day 1

It has been a full day, driving 5 hours from Seattle, picking up permits, dropping one car south at the Oil City trailhead and driving all the way around to the Third Beach trailhead to start our trip, we had an amazing beach hike with its small but welcomed inland detours, a fantastic sunset, and this warm camp fire... 

We still had two days ahead of us, and beyond Toleak point is very, very pretty, too.