How to camp at Shi Shi Beach On The Olympic Peninsula
I might be aging myself here, but I was all about The Goonies when I was little. Particularly that last scene. You know, the one where after narrowly escaping from a series of booby traps, the kids find themselves on a beautiful Pacific Northwest beach lined with sea stacks, and a heavy dose of magic. Well, that beach isn’t Shi Shi Beach (pronounced shy shy), but it might as well be! Shi Shi is nothing short of spectacular, and it’s sure to spark your childhood wonder.
Shi Shi Beach is tucked away on the uppermost corner of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. After a relatively short hike through dense forest, the trail spits you out on a seemingly endless stretch of beach that runs for miles down the coast. From there you have two and a half miles of prime Washington State beachfront real estate to set up camp. Stay for a night, or a week, but definitely put camping at Shi Shi is on your Pacific Northwest bucket list.
You can access Shi Shi Beach any time of year, but fall is a particularly lovely time to be there. It’s not too cold, there are fewer people, and it’s generally pretty dry too! If you’re looking for some new gear to help get you outside, I've linked the fall lifestyle items I wore on my most recent trip out to the Olympic Peninsula under each photo. Use code JESS15 to get 15% off your entire first purchase at Backcountry.com! For more camping and hiking specific gear, check out my Hiking & Backpacking Gear Guide!
Shi Shi Beach Camping Permits and Fees
Permitting for Shi Shi Beach is a little more involved than most other backcountry camping spots in Washington. This is because the beach is part of the Olympic National Park, while a large portion of the trail is owned by the Makah Tribe. As a result, you will need both a Makah Recreation Pass and a Wilderness Permit for the National Park to camp at Shi Shi Beach.
Permits are required for all overnight stays in Olympic National Park. You can pick up your wilderness permit in person at the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles or at the Lake Quinault Ranger Station. While permits are not currently limited for camping at Shi Shi Beach, group size is limited to 12 people per site. Parties larger than 12 must split up and camp at least 1 mile apart. Camping fees are $8 per person per night, plus a flat $6 permit fee. Before you pick up your permit, it’s a good idea to call the WIC (360-565-3100) to check on hours and trail conditions before heading out to the Olympic Peninsula.
Once you have your wilderness permit for the National Park, it’s time to head out to the coast and pick up a Makah Reservation Permit in Neah Bay. The Makah permit is required for every car using the trailheads located on Makah tribal land. It can be purchased for $10 at several locations including, the museum & cultural center, Makah Mini Mart, and Washburn's General Store. The permit is valid for one calendar year, so if you’re planning to hike Cape Flattery or any of the other beautiful trails in the area hold on to it.
Parking at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead is day-use only. So if you're camping at Shi Shi Beach, you'll need to park in one of the nearby private parking lots (basically just someone's yard). The closest lot is 0.6 miles before you reach the trailhead, and the price is $10 a day. You will see other parking lots claiming to be for Shi Shi Beach a couple miles out - ignore those.
The Hike to Shi Shi Beach
The hike to Shi Shi Beach begins with an easy 2 miles through a verdant rainforest. The trail is relatively flat until the very end when you drop steeply down to the beach. Other than that, the only obstacle you’re likely to run into is lots and lots of mud. There are quite a few social trails that have been forged through the forest in an attempt to avoid the mud obstacles. It’s 2.5 miles from the end of the trail along the beach to the Point of Arches, so the total length of your hike will depend on how far you decide to walk along the beach. It’s much easier to hike along the dense sand by the water’s edge rather than meandering through the much softer sand closer to the forest.
A Note About Safety: On the coast, high surf storms and extreme high tide events can be dangerous. Always check weather forecasts, current conditions, and consult with a park ranger at one of the WICs when planning your trips. It’s also important to hike with a tidal chart. Parts of the beach and many of the headlands are impassable or difficult to travel on during high tides.
Shi Shi Beach Camping
Camping at Shi Shi Beach is available along the 2.5 mile stretch from the end of the trail along the beach to the Point of Arches. To camp beyond this point requires a reservation. You are allowed to camp anywhere along the beach, and many people choose to sleep right on the sand. Obviously, if you decide to sleep on the beach, make sure you pitch your tent above the high tide mark! Alternatively, there are a ton of established sites overlooking the beach from up in the forest. These sites are generally marked by old buoys hanging in the trees. While technically you can camp anywhere, if you set up camp in the woods, please use one of the established sites, rather than clearing a new area… Which brings me to my next topic - reducing your impact on the coastal wilderness while camping at Shi Shi Beach!
Leave No Trace
I personally believe that without a connection to nature, people are much less likely to stand up for it and protect our world’s diminishing natural spaces. Part of our responsibility as stewards is always to practice “Leave No Trace” principles. Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that outline the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. I’m going to touch on a couple regulations specific to Shi Shi Beach below. For more general information about how we can all reduce our impact on these beautiful wilderness destinations, please visit The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
Food Storage At Shi Shi Beach
All food, garbage, and scented items must be stored in park-approved bear canisters along the entire Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast. When wild animals become accustomed to human food, they can get habituated to camping areas and may act aggressively toward campers and other park visitors. To protect park wildlife, never leave your food unattended, and always store it in an approved canister. Bear canisters are available for loan at the Port Angeles WIC. However, on busy summer weekends they can run out, so it’s better to rent or purchase your own beforehand if possible.
Campfires At Shi Shi Beach
Campfires are permitted on Shi Shi Beach. Yay! But as the saying goes: With great power, comes great responsibility. If you choose to build a fire at Shi Shi Beach, use existing fire rings, build them below the high tide line, and burn driftwood only. You can also pack in your own firewood. Bringing your own wood is a great option later in the camping season because the driftwood can become scarce. Collecting wood from the adjacent forest areas tramples vegetation and is an impediment to healthy growth. Basically, when it comes to campfires, DO use common sense, and DON’T use wood from the rainforest.
Toilets At Shi Shi Beach
Everyday hundreds of people visit Shi Shi Beach. While the vast majority of them don’t stay, many will need to pee pee or shi shi (excuse my pun) at some point. That’s a lot of potential grossness to stumble upon. Three “wilderness” toilets (basically holes in the ground) have been established to help mitigate this issue: one in the woods at the south end of the campsites; one behind the wooded campsites on the south side of Petroleum Creek; and one near Willoughby Creek. They are generally marked by orange buoys. If for some reason you absolutely can't make it to one of the pit toilets, dig a deep cathole (6-8 inches) in the forest at least 70 steps away from water sources, and campsites.
Water & Water Treatment At Shi Shi Beach
If possible I would suggest packing in your water. That being said, there is generally fresh water available at Petroleum Creek and Willoughby Creek. Any water sourced from the creeks will need to be filtered or boiled. Because coastal streams and rivers contain cryptosporidium and giardia, iodine tablets won’t cut it.
Olympic Peninsula Camping: Shi Shi Beach vs. Second Beach
If you’re planning a beach camping trip out on the Washington coast, chances are you will come across Second Beach. This extremely popular beach is located farther south than Shi Shi Beach near the heart of the Twilight Saga. While you’re unlikely to find any vampires or werewolves, like Shi Shi Beach, there is an undeniable touch of magic. Which begs the question: Shi Shi Beach or Second Beach? And of course, the answer to that question, like the answer to many others is, it depends.
Where Is Second Beach
Second Beach is located on the Washington Coast, just south of the small coastal town of La Push.
The Hike to Second Beach
The trail to Second Beach is short and sweet. After a little less than a mile, the well-defined forest path spits you out on the beach where you will have to navigate some large driftwood logs before reaching the sand. But that’s about it!
Like Shi Shi Beach, Second Beach it is part of the Olympic National Park. Therefore, to camp at the beach, you‘ll need to pick up a permit in person at either the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center or the Lake Quinault Ranger Station. Because there are no reservations, Second Beach can quickly fill up during the summer. Unlike Shi Shi Beach you won't need a Makah Reservation Permit. Other than that, rules regarding camping, food storage, group size, campfires, toilets, leave no trace, etc. are the same as those listed above for Shi Shi Beach.
Pro Tip: Stop in at the Three Rivers Resort to pick up firewood, the makings for s’mores, or even a surfboard before you head out to the beach! They also have immaculate coin-operated showers if you want to spruce up after your camping trip.
Shi Shi Beach or Second Beach?
Both Shi Shi Beach and Second Beach are beautiful destinations for a coastal camping trip. Which one you chose depends on the vibe you’re looking for. In general, Shi Shi Beach feels more secluded, and you are more likely to find a quiet wilderness experience there. Second Beach, on the other hand, is more of a scene. The beach is easier to get to, smaller, and more people camp out in the open on the sand. As a result, I’ve heard it described as a “party beach” - at least in comparison to Shi Shi Beach. I’ve personally never had that experience at Second Beach, but I’ve also never been there on a weekend.
So I guess I would say that if you are looking for solitude, head to Shi Shi Beach. Hike all the way down toward Point of Arches, set up camp, and enjoy. Second Beach is an excellent option if you’re new to backpacking or are looking for a quick, accessible beach camping experience. Sure, you might have to share the experience with other people, but that doesn't need to be a negative. Who knows, you might even make some new friends! Whichever beach you chose, leave it better than you found it, and respect your fellow campers' right to enjoy a quiet night under the stars. That way everyone can have a good time!
This blog post was written in partnership with Backcountry.com. Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made - at no additional cost to you. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. I appreciate your support! - XO Jess