A Sunset Like No Other at Shi Shi Beach

Sunset at Point of The Arches Shi Shi Beach, Olympic Peninsula,

Ever wondered where is the very best sunset in Washington State, possibly the entire west coast? Look no further and plan a weekend backpacking trip to Shi Shi beach.

Even if you've never backpacked before, more so if you've got all the right gear, this is one place you must absolutely visit, because sunsets here are spectacular.

Here's what Shi Shi and Point of the Arches is all about, in a nutshell:

Camp on a remote stretch of Pacific Ocean beach

After a long drive to reach Neah Bay, the first couple of miles of your hike traverse a coastal forest, shady and cool. As you approach the beach, you begin to hear the sound of waves crashing to shore. Even though I've heard it many times, every time I experience it again, I stand in awe at the power of the ocean. When the trees clear and I get the first glance at the beach and the ocean, I always get goosebumps. Now, I can't promise you will get the same feeling, but for sure you won't be disappointed on this first short leg of your trip.

Once you get onto the beach, a short ~1.5-mile hike will get you to the heart of Shi Shi where you can set camp pretty much anywhere. I suggest not getting very close, but staying within one mile of the prominent rocks that are the north side of Point of the Arches (see the second image from camp below).

As you can see in the first image above, with enough persistence and ingenuity, you can even hang a hammock here. It took three of us about an hour and some undisclosed amount of bourbon to finish the job.

Experience the most spectacular sunset

An hour or so before the sunset, get your camera and tripod ready and start walking towards Point of the Arches for the grand show. If you have a telephoto lens, bring it along side your wide angle. It will not stay in your backpack for long. 

If you are lucky to have a little bit of cloud cover, the sky begins to turn all sort of tones as the sun sets. At about the same time, campers start heading out for an evening walk or to filter water, making for some wonderful compositions.

In the following gallery, I've toned the highlights towards yellow, to better represent what I remember of those moments. The warmth of the sun was still being felt even against the coolness of the vapor from waves crashing to shore.

A few minutes later, the sun dipped lower in the sky and the horizon turned to a beautiful orange. So were its reflections.

Walking south towards Point of the Arches, we always kept an eye on the sky. Every minute it would change colors as the sun lowered at the horizon.

These were some of the prettiest photos from that evening, with the following two being among my favorites ever.

Take a dip in the ocean

As pretty as the Shi Shi sunset is, this place is not only about it. If the weather is nice and hot (likely mid to late summer), the shallow water near the shore may get warm enough to not freeze you to death if you dare to go in. So go in all the way.

Have a lot of fun on the beach and in camp

We had this crazy idea to try to capture some freeze motion of our creative "acrobatics". Some pretty interesting shots came out of that. Haha, look at that karate kid move.

Timea, myself, and our talented friend Manu took turns snapping each other's balancing abilities in the above photos.

Surf

I wish I knew how to surf, but I don't. It looked like a lot of fun. By all means, if you have a surfboard and don't mind carrying it along, Shi Shi is a great spot for surfing.

Hike around and beyond Point of the Arches

Right around the corner from Shi Shi is Point of the Arches. You can make this a short hike and explore the rocks, just around the corner to the south, or go all the way to Cape Alava and back. We chose to not go very far because the tides were not at all favorable that day. Regardless of how much you choose to hike, if you have an hour or two, hike to Point of the Arches and beyond for a rugged shore experience.

Help keep this paradise clean

Unfortunately, Shi Shi is not spotless. There is plenty of trash here and there. You don't notice it at first, but as you spend more time in camp, you see it and it starts bothering you. It bothered us, too, so Timea suggested we pick it up. I wish we had more garbage bags so we could take more.

 Timea carrying a bag full of trash picked up around camp.

Timea carrying a bag full of trash picked up around camp.

Logistics 

  • Seattle to Neah Bay is a 4-hour drive. The trailhead is at Shi Shi Beach Trailhead, Fish Hatchery Rd, Neah Bay, WA 98357 - Google Maps.
  • Need to stop for a permit from Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles or Forks.
  • Need a second Makah Recreation Pass which you can get from Neah Bay's general store.
  • You may need to park on private property near the trailhead and pay a fee to the landowner. You will see signs as you get closer. I recommend driving to the trailhead, unloading, then driving the car back a few hundred yards, maybe 1/2 mile, to park.
  • The hike is 3.5 miles one way, on flat terrain, although walking on the beach is a little harder.
  • Stay for 2 nights if you can, and enjoy the middle-day.
  • Don't forget sun protection, water filtration, and the ten essentials. For a complete list of backpacking gear that we usually take with us on similar trips, see our Backpacking Gear List.
  • Head to Washington Trails Associations website for recent trip reports. It's good to know the trail condition beforehand.

Conclusion

I hope I convinced you to hike to Shi Shi Beach. It's one of my favorites. If you haven't backpacked before, this is a great first timer. If you, on the other hand, are a seasoned backpacker, think of Shi Shi as a terrific outdoor spa both for the body and the mind.

Enjoy the day off at the beach and the great views!