The Most Western Point in the Contiguous U.S.

The next morning we awoke in our tent to the sound of chirping birds at daybreak. We got up and had some breakfast while preparing our packs for the day’s hike. Our plan was to make the long drive to Ozette in northwest Washington. Once we finished eating we hit the road.

It was a lengthy drive north to Clallam Bay, then we turned southwest down the near-empty Lake Ozette Road to our final destination. The ninety mile drive took two hours, but we finally arrived at the Ozette Ranger Station on the northern tip of Ozette Lake. And just beside the Ranger Station was the Cape Alava Trailhead.

We immediately walked to the trailhead and started our hike. The trail quickly led us onto a wide bridge that spanned the slow-moving waters of the Ozette River. Next we headed into a lush forest overflowing with greenery. Just two tenths of a mile down the path we came to fork. We could go left to Sand Point or right to Cape Alava.

We chose to hike to Cape Alava for a couple of reasons. For one, the trail would lead us to a wilderness beach miles from the road that is actually the most western point in the contiguous U.S. The coastal beach is known for whale watching, sea lions, and dramatic natural scenery. Also, the trail sounded relatively easy at a distance of 6.6 miles roundtrip with very little elevation gain.

Shortly after we passed the fork we stepped onto an elevated boardwalk. It was built of cedar planks and was about a foot above the ground. The boardwalk, which was about three or four feet wide, was mostly in good condition and worked well at keeping us off the wet marshland below. The only problem is that when it rains the boards can become very slippery.

By this point we were fully enveloped in a wonderland of green. This was an immensely fertile forest, bursting of life. There was green everywhere. The forest was very dense and there was a thick canopy overhead of giant bright green leaves. I felt like I was walking through the amazon jungle. I was surprised by how alive the forest felt considering how dark it was due to most of the sunlight being blocked by tall leafy trees. Many birds flew between the trees and were extremely vocal while doing so.

The dark forest was overflowing with Sitka spruce, hemlock, and western cedar. Skunk cabbage and tall bushy ferns lined the trail. The trees were so close together and the underbrush so thick and impenetrable that any attempt at off-trail hiking would have been futile. This was unlike any place I had ever been.

Despite there being no rain, most of the ferns were soaked with dew when we began our hike. They hung over the boardwalk so far that my ankles and sneakers were drenched a mile into the hike.

A little over two miles in, we passed the old homestead of Lars Ahlstrom. His barn had burned down long ago, but the coastal prairie beside it was named after him. The area has since succumbed to the verdant overgrowth of the surrounding forest.

We stopped there when I realized I was having a technical problem with my backpack. I wasn’t getting any water from the bladder in my pack when I tried to drink through its attached tube. There was no way I had already finished three liters of water. I opened up my pack and had to unload half my gear in order to see that the drinking tube had somehow gotten detached from the water reservoir in my pack. Thankfully it didn’t spring a leak and I was able to simply reattach them, reload my backpack, and carry on.

We continued along the trail through the leafy dreamland. Eventually the boardwalk came to an end and we proceeded onto a gravelly pathway. Blue sky began to poke its way through spaces in the trees in front of us. We were almost out of the forest. Soon the trees started to spread apart; creating larger windows to the surrounding landscape, including the Pacific Ocean.

We finally emerged from the forest atop a bluff. A sandy beach and the far-reaching ocean were below us. We descended down a short, but steep dirt path. Then the trail ran through some waist-high grass as it paralleled the beach. Every so often we passed a backcountry campsite between us and the beach. There were some tents set up, a couple of hanging food bags, and a hammock at one. We probably saw about ten sites in all with a fair amount of space in between them. We also passed a couple of outhouses before the footpath finally curved its way around the last site towards the beach. It took us just over an hour to reach our destination.

This beach was considerably different from Kalaloch Beach next to our campground. I referred to the place as “Nature’s Toilet.” It smelled awful, like dead fish and filth. I saw a large dead bird and at least one dead fish on the beach. The stench of death and decay was overwhelming at first. But eventually it was overtaken by the extreme beauty of the wild coastline.

The beach was littered with large smooth rocks. Huge boulders, weighing a few hundred pounds apiece, rose up from the ocean’s surface a little farther out. A couple hundred feet from the coast were several sea stacks. These were small spruce-covered islands. They were tall and green, with steep sides surrounded by more boulders.

It was low tide, meaning more of the beach was exposed than there would be later. As a result, small tide pools peppered the coastline. These are small rocky depressions where seawater remains after the tide rolls out to sea. I found little sea creatures inside many of the tide pools. I think it was the tide pools and their inhabitants that made the beach smell so bad. Tiny bugs hovered like clouds over the pools. Thankfully they didn’t bite, but they were annoying near my eyes, ears, and mouth. At high tide the ocean would rise up and cover the tide pools and much of the beach where we stood.

Large, long, pine-laden forests bordered the beach in both directions. We were standing on a truly isolated and beautiful wilderness beach. We wandered the beach for a while. There was a lot of driftwood strewn about, but not nearly as much as on Kalaloch Beach.

Before returning to the trail we decided to do some extra exploring due to the low tide. The closest sea stack, Tskawahyah Island, was accessible by a string of large rocks leading into the water. We had to be incredibly careful to avoid taking a dip in the ocean. Some of the rocks were slippery and others were rough and barnacle-clad. It took a lot of effort to balance between the different types of rock. The water around the rocks was clear and still, making it easy to see the makeup of the stones underwater. We made it all the way out to the island, but it was too steep to climb, so we circled around it and returned to the beach.

Right when we started back toward the trail we heard the distinctive cries of sea lions in the distance. We stopped and scanned the beach, but couldn’t see any so we headed back.

We had an uneventful trek back through the lush forest to the trailhead at Ozette Lake. We then made the long two hour drive back to Kalaloch Campground. By the time we got back it was almost time for us to head back down to the beach for some relaxation before the sunset. We had to choose between grilling our dinner and having a late arrival to the beach or cooking a late dinner after the sunset. The choice was easy; we would snack on some pretzels and eat late. We couldn’t afford to eat first and risk missing the sun drop into the pacific.

We walked down from our campsite to Kalaloch Beach just before eight. It took us two trips to bring everything we wanted to the beach. That’s a lot of time spent climbing over a downed forest of driftwood. We again brought our chairs, guitar, books, snacks, and cameras. However, this time we also brought backpacks full of wood and some beers to enjoy by our beach fire.

It wasn’t as cold or windy as the previous night. I walked the shore and watched another colorful sunset with a couple hundred seagulls. Then I returned to my seat by the fire. We had a couple of beers and I read my book by firelight while Joe played guitar. This was relaxation at its absolute finest. I love sitting in front of a glowing bonfire with a beer, quietly staring into its hypnotic flames. Add in the sunset and the soothing sound of the ocean unraveling onto the beach and I was in heaven. We stayed until our fire died down and we were surrounded by blackness. We had a slow walk back to our campsite following the guiding light from our headlamps. That made for an interesting climb over the driftwood.

Once back at camp we had a late, but delicious dinner of steak and corn on the cob. We had to eat in the dark, but it was well worth the wait. We soon turned in for the night after an incredible day in Olympic National Park. We had one day left in the park and one more night on the beach.

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