Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ozette Lake Loop in Olympic National Park

Ozette Lake Loop was one of the most spectacular hikes that I've ever done in my life.

It is a 9.4-mile loop made by stitching together a pair of three-mile boardwalks (called Cape Alava and Sand Point trails) and three miles of mesmerizingly beautiful beach between them. The beach part is what makes this trail so spectacular.

We started the hike by taking the Capa Alava trail, which led us through a pretty rain forest (though not as dense and untamed as the Hoh or Quinault Rain Forests). Most of the way was via a wooden boardwalk, which made walking there much easier than if we would have to struggle through the mud. On rainy days (which would be most of the days in Olympic NP), the wooden boardwalk becomes slippery and dangerous. To circumvent that problem, the park has begun replacing some of the rotting cedar planks with non-slippery plastic ones.

At around 2 miles (two-thirds of the way to the beach) the trail passes through a prairie, making the walk a bit more interesting. One mile later the trail descends slightly until it reaches the wild, beautiful beaches of Cape Alava.

Cape Alava is the western-most point in the contiguous United States and it offers absolutely fantastic views. For your hiking efforts, you will get rewarded with the views of offshore islands, sea stacks, millions of rocks, driftwood, and, if you get lucky, marine life. You might see seals, whales, seagulls, oyster catchers, and bald eagles. If the tide is low, you might also see starfish, crabs, algae, and fish playing in one of thousands of tidal pools.

About halfway along the coast there is a group of boulders called "Wedding Rocks." If you look carefully, you might spot Makah petroglyphs etched into them. (We missed them, as we were too busy following a family of bald eagles hunting their dinner.)

After 6.3 miles of hiking (3 miles from Cape Alava), you'll arrive at Sand Point. From there, you'll have to hike another 3 miles before you can get back to your car. The return hike, also on a boardwalk, will be as pretty as the hike leading to the beach, but you might not see it, as your memories will be filled with the images of the gorgeous beach you saw just a few minutes earlier. I guarantee that you will cherish these memories for a long, long time.

This was truly one of the most beautiful hikes that Anil and I have done in our lives and I just cannot recommend it strongly enough. Even now, a few months later, when I close my eyes I can transport myself back to that beach and I can recall the same feeling of peace and connection with nature that I felt when I was there.

A word of caution: Before you embark on this hike, check the current weather and tide chart (they will be posted at the trailhead). When high tide drowns the beach, the three miles between Cape Alava and Sand Point might be impassible. You can then use a primitive coastal trail, which follows the beach just a few feet above the high tide line, but then you will miss out on the beauty of the beach.

Cape Alava boardwalk:

Passing through prairie:

Beautiful beach:

A bald eagle:

Sand Point Boardwalk: