Monday, March 18, 2013


I think one of the most wonderful parts of living in the Pacific Northwest is the unbeatable proximity to some of the most gorgeous places in the world. I feel so lucky to be able to live on the Olympic Peninsula, and especially grateful that I can spend a beautiful day with friends making an easy drive to the coast, and get to see such amazing stuff on the way.

I made this hike itinerary in the hopes that it could help a visitor to the area narrow down some options and have a Ready-Made Plan. This is a potential day trip from Port Angeles; an easy day, where you could start at noon and be home for dinner. I just took this trip a few days ago, and I feel that these spots constitute a really nice balance between driving, hiking, and viewing. There are, of course, hundreds of beautiful places to see in this area, but that can also make it overwhelming when choosing things to do. Here’s a trip plan that I love, with rain forests, waterfalls and beaches. (Unfortunately, neither Marymere Falls nor the Second Beach at La Push are wheelchair accessible. However, if your party includes a wheelchair, going to Madison Creek Falls, continuing west, and substituting the nearby Rialto Beach for the La Push beaches would also constitute an excellent day trip).

As with all hikes on the Olympic Peninsula, it is important to be prepared for bad weather. Having waterproof hiking boots and a waterproof jacket is a must, and, as for all hikes this short and on clearly marked trails, make sure you bring food and water.


To take this drive, get onto Hwy 101-W in Port Angeles, going towards Forks. There are not a lot of services between PA and Forks, so definitely get food, gas and water before you start out. After about 10.9 miles, take a left turn onto Olympic Hot Springs Rd, at the brown park service sign for the Elwha Valley. It will be just before a bridge over the Elwha River. Continue down this road for a bit, until you get to a small parking lot with a sign for Madison Creek Falls. While I would encourage everyone planning on visiting the park twice or more in a given year to buy an annual Olympic National Park pass, it isn’t necessary to pay park admission anywhere on this itinerary, including at this location, provided you only go to Madison Creek Falls. If you want to investigate the old Elwha Dam site, you’ll need to go through the ranger pay station further up this road. As you drive, check out the Elwha River. This is one of the few occasions you can actively watch a previously dammed river slowly going back to its natural state.

Difficulty: Very Easy

Distance: 200 ft.

Madison Creek Falls is a pretty little waterfall that requires a very short walk on a well-established trail. The forest is very pretty, and the waterfall is quite picturesque. There are picnic tables at the trailhead, as well as a fairly well-maintained pit toilet.

After enjoying Madison Creek Falls, head back out the way you came and get back on Hwy 101-W. After a few miles, you will be treated to amazing views of Lake Crescent through your passenger side window. There are several turnouts, and I encourage you to stop and enjoy the views of the lake. Just past Lake Crescent, you will see brown park service signs for Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent Lodge. It is a very clearly marked right hand turn. After you turn right off of Hwy 101, you’ll need to take another well marked right turn to get to the Marymere Falls parking lot, where there are good picnic areas, clean flush toilets and a ranger station.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: .8 miles

This is a very well maintained trail with a manageable incline. Unless you are very elderly or very out of shape, you should be able to manage the one short, steep bit. The second bridge leading up to the falls can be a little slippery, so use caution.

Marymere Falls is extremely beautiful, and the hike to reach it is a lovely opportunity to see the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula without having to drive all the way in to the Hoh. Definitely remember to bring your camera.

When you get done with your hike, just go back out the way you came and get back on Hwy 101-W. (La Push is often very blustery and rainy, so check the weather and tide tables before you go. The Forks Visitor Center has a very handy live webcam of La Push; check that out here.) Drive for about 35 miles, and then, just before you get into Forks, take a right onto Hwy 110-W (La Push Road). It will be a little more than 11 miles to La Push. You will cross onto the Quiluete Reservation, go down a short hill, past blue signs advertising smoked salmon, and finally past a brown sign directing you to Second Beach. There is a parking lot on the left side of the road from which the trailhead begins.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2 miles to the beach

This is a steep trail that is invariably muddy. Second Beach is way more beautiful and pristine than First Beach; however, if you are not up for being winded and potentially muddy, skip Second Beach and continue to First Beach. There is a very primitive outhouse where the trail meets the beach; I’d advise using the restroom beforehand, but it is there if you are in a bind. There is a posted advisory, but I will mention it as well: debris from the Japanese tsunami occasionally turns up on the beach. It provides a number to call if you find personal belongings.

From Second Beach, you can continue down La Push Rd, (the Lonesome Creek Store, on the left, is a nice little convenience store if you need anything) which will become Ocean Front Rd, and then Front Rd. Turn right onto Alder St, and then left onto River St.  The beach is not well marked, but if you find the parking lot that drops straight down to the water, you are there. There are usually a few Port-a-Potties there, if you need them.  I like First Beach, but my advice is to spend a little more time at Second Beach instead. It is more beautiful, less crowded, and a nicer walk.

Difficulty: Very Easy
Distance: A few feet from the parking lot

If Second Beach isn’t your cup of tea, you can get out of your car and walk a few short feet down to the water. Look out to the horizon and realize that there is no land between you and Asia. I find it both terrifying and kind of beautiful.

I hope this helps someone plan a trip- or even a dream trip!
Have fun!

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