Sometimes you want to go on a badass backpacking trip where you summit peaks, make crazy miles each day and start every morning by washing down a tablet (or 4) of Vitamin I (that’s ibuprofen!) with with your coffee. And sometimes you want to go on a mellow backpacking trip where you hike a bit, stop a bit, check out tide pools, hike a bit more, then set up your tent with a view of the sunset – which you watch from your hammock with a glass (or camping mug) of wine in your hand. Backpacking the Ozette Loop is definitely the second kind of trip. I’ve done this trip twice now, and I’d definitely do it again. It’s ridiculously easy – so much so that it’s a great trip for beginners and kids – and it’s ridiculously beautiful. Read on for all the details on how to make it happen.
Table of Contents
- 1 Ozette Loop Trail Overview
- 2 Ozette Loop Trail Fees, Permits and Reservations
- 3 Food Storage on the Ozette Loop Trail
- 4 Transportation to the Ozette Loop Trail
- 5 Car Camping Near the Ozette Loop Trail
- 6 Ozette Loop Trail Itineraries
- 7 Tidal Obstacles on the Ozette Loop Trail
- 8 Ozette Loop Trail Campsites
- 9 Water Sources and Water Treatment on the Ozette Loop Trail
- 10 Further Reading and Maps for the Ozette Loop Trail
Ozette Loop Trail Overview
The Ozette Loop trail is shaped like an equilateral triangle with the parking lot at it’s apex (in fact it is also known as the Ozette Triangle Trail). Two sides of the triangle are trails through the woods out to the coast, and the third side where the campsites are is along the coast. The loop is only 9.2 miles (15km) long so it can definitely be hiked in one day but given how long it takes to get there (and how beautiful the area is) camping and spending a few days on the trail is highly recommended. The coastal section is also part of the much longer North Coast Route in Olympic National Park so there are lots of options for extending your trip.
Ozette Loop Trail Fees, Permits and Reservations
You must obtain a backcountry permit to camp at any of the campsites on the Ozette Loop Trail or any other backcountry location in Olympic National Park. As well, the campsites on the Ozette Loop require reservations between May 1 and September 30. You have to send in your reservation request by fax (or snail mail) as they don’t accept bookings by phone or email. This is a very popular area and it does get fully booked up. Your best bet is to come before Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) or after Labour Day (the first Monday in September) or plan a trip that avoids weekends. You can submit reservation requests starting on March 15th every year for reservations in the same calendar year (and you can’t put in a reservation less than 72 hours before your trip) so get your request in as early as possible. Permits cost $5 per person per night and there is no reservation fee.
If your reservation request is successful you will receive a confirmation email. Bring that confirmation email with you to the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles to pick up your permit. You can pick up your permit the morning that you start your trip or the day before. You have to pick up your permit for the Ozette Loop in person. Keep in mind that the WIC may close as early as 4 or 5pm at some times of year if you are planning to pick up your permit the day before – check current opening hours on their website.
You’ll also need to buy a Park Entrance pass for your car: it’s $25 per vehicle and is good for 7 days. You can buy your pass at the WIC at same time as you pick up your permit. Leave it on the dash any time you park your car inside the National Park.
Food Storage on the Ozette Loop Trail
Apparently the racoons on the Olympic Coast are particularly intelligent and have figured out how to eat hiker’s food if it is hung in a tree (which usually works to keep bears out if it). So the National Park’s Coastal Food Storage Policy now requires that all backcountry campers on the entire coast store their food in bear canisters. You can rent canisters from the WIC for $3 each per trip when you pick up your permit and they even have a handy drop slot if you need to return your canister after they have closed for the night.
Travelling with a bear canister requires a bit of advance planning: all of your scented items (toiletries, etc.), garbage and food need to be stored in the canister at night or if you aren’t right next to it (for example if you are off on a day hike). Plan lightweight and compact meals and bring minimal toiletries. If you pack efficiently you can usually share one canister between two people for a two night trip, but planning for one canister per person (or perhaps two canisters between three people) is a bit more prudent. Most people choose to put the canister inside their pack as they are difficult (though not impossible) to strap to the outside. In camp store your canisters away from your tent and kitchen area in a place where they can’t be rolled away (or into the water!) Further reading about using a bear canister can be found on REI’s site.
Transportation to the Ozette Loop Trail
There is no public transportation to the trailhead so you’ll have to drive yourself. However, there may be hiker shuttle companies operating in the area – call the Wilderness Information Center to ask. Travel time to the trailhead is time consuming: about 6.5 hours from Vancouver or about 4.5 hours from Seattle both of which involve a trip on a Washington State ferry.
Car Camping Near the Ozette Loop Trail
Given the driving distance to the trailhead, and the necessity of picking up permits in person beforehand, you may want to car camp the night before you start the trail.
If you are able to pick up your permit the day before you start the trail, you can stay at one of the campgrounds on the drive in between Port Angeles and the trailhead at Lake Ozette. The best drive option is to drive right to the trailhead and camp at Lake Ozette campground in the National Park. It’s $20 per night and is first come first served. There are only 15 sites so go early at popular times of year. A little further away is the Olympic National Forest Klahowya Campground along the Sol Duc River on highway 101 about an hour and 10 minutes from the trailhead. It has 50 sites, costs $17 a night, and is also first come first served. A final option in this area is the Olympic National Park’s Fairholme campground on Lake Crescent about an hour and 20 minutes from the trailhead. It has 88 sites, costs $20 a night and is also first come first served.
If you are arriving too late to get your permit the day before, you will want to camp near the WIC so you can get there early in the morning when they open. The closest camping is at Olympic National Park’s Heart O’ the Hills Campground just a 10 minute drive up the Hurricane Ridge Road from the WIC. It’s $20 a night, has 102 sites and is first come, first served. Another option is Sequim Bay State Park a 30 min drive from the WIC. It has 45 tent sites that cost $25 to $35 and it is fully reservable. You could also try staying at Clallam County’s Dungeness Recreation Area even though it is a bit of a detour off highway 101 towards the coast. It’s a 30 min drive from the WIC and has 66 sites (half reservable and half first come first served). It’s $23 a night plus a $10 reservation fee.
Ozette Loop Trail Itineraries
Unlike some loop hikes, there is no recommended direction of travel on the Ozette Loop. However, I like to start with the southern section and then hike north as the sun as it at your back rather than in your eyes. For a really relaxed trip, spending two nights on the trail is ideal: Each time I’ve hiked the trail we’ve started with the 3 miles/5km of boardwalk and forest trail to Sand Point, then camped there the first night. On the second day we hike the coastal 3 miles/5km from Sand Point to Cape Alava and camp there. On the final day we hike 3 miles/5km on the northern inland trail from Cape Alava back to the trailhead at Lake Ozette.
Other itineraries are possible as well: You could spend just one night on the trail and break the trip up into one 3 mile day and one 6 mile day. You can also camp about halfway through the loop at Wedding Rocks to make two 7.5 mile days (more info on camping below). In general, the two inland trails are very fast walking with level gravel trail and wooden boardwalk (although the boardwalks are very slippery when wet). The coastal section is a bit slower walking as there is no actual trail – you will be walking on the beach which can be hard packed sand or soft gravel. As well, there are a couple of tidal obstacles on the beach section that you’ll need to time your hike around (or take the rough overland trail).
Tidal Obstacles on the Ozette Loop Trail
Unlike the rest of the Olympic coast routes, you aren’t entirely dependent on the tides on the Ozette Loop since there are rough bypass trails around all of the tidal obstacles. All places where the main trail or a tidal obstacle bypass trail hits the beach are marked by large black and red target symbols nailed to trees. You’ll want to print out and carry the La Push tide table with you along with a wristwatch.
There is a tidal obstacle 0.9 miles/1.5km north of Sand Point that requires a tide of 5.5 feet or lower to pass. It has a rough bypass trail around it, but I have never taken it. The second tidal obstacle is at Wedding Rocks 1 mile/1.6km south of the inland trail junction at Cape Alava or 2.1 miles/3.4km north of Sand Point.
The Wedding Rocks obstacle requires a 5 feet or lower tide to pass. There is a rough overland trail that climbs the bluff above the point then descends to a cove on the other side. There is quite the network of trails up the bluff and you don’t need to go all the way to the top to get around – in general, stick to the branches that stay close to the ocean. As well, unless the tide is really high, you won’t need to use all of the bypass trail as you can use it to just get around the one large rock at the point, then drop the other side and boulder hop along the rocks.
Ozette Loop Trail Campsites
The main camping areas on the Ozette Loop are the two locations where the inland trail hits the beach: Sand Point and Cape Alava.
The Sand Point campsite has a pit toilet and numerous campsites in the forest. The with a few exceptions the campsites at Sand Point are mostly viewless as they are set back in the trees. You can also camp on the beach above the high tide line but in some places there may not be much beach left when the tide comes in. The main water source at this campsite is Wish Creek, located about 400 meters down the beach to the south of the point. You may have to walk up into the forest along the creek bed to find a place where it is flowing deep enough. Right at the point there are two grassy collapsed sea stack hills that you can climb for a great view. Campfires are not permitted at Sand Point.
Cape Alava has quite a few very nice campsites that are off the sand but have a view of the water or you can camp on the beach above the high tide line. This campsite has two pit toilets – one is easily visible from the main trail through the campsites while the other one is hidden a bit behind some trees directly behind a campsite at the northern end of the campground (I didn’t even know it was there until my third visit to the area!) The water source at Cape Alava is located right near where the inland trail hits the beach and there is a log bridge over the creek so it’s hard to miss. However, the creek often has very low flow so you will have to climb down into the creek bed and follow it inland for a bit. Alternately you can walk out to Cape Alava, then about 400m down the beach to the north to find a better water source hidden back in the trees next to a couple (illegal) campsites. Campfires are permitted at Cape Alava but you can only use driftwood (not wood from the forest) and there isn’t that much of it.
The land just to the north of the campground (including Cape Alava proper and Tskawahyah Island) are part of the Ozette Indian reservation so you can’t camp there and you should not climb on the island as it is sacred to the Native Americans (although you can walk the beach around it at low tide). The area was the site of an archeological dig in the 1980s as historically it was an important village but the only thing that remains now is a falling down shack that was once a ranger station and a little hut with a memorial plaque and some pieces of whale bone.
Other Camping Options
If you want to beat the crowds at Sand Point and Cape Alava you have a few other options for camping. On my last trip we made a reservation for the campsite at South Sand Point, about a mile south of the main Sand Point camping area and had it all to ourselves. This campsite has 4 or 5 level tent sites in the trees on a bluff above the beach, a throne style pit toilet and a creek for water. Despite what is marked on some maps, the campsite is located right where the South Sand Point Trail to Lake Ozette meets the beach. Campfires are not permitted at South Sand Point.
You can also make reservations to camp at Wedding Rocks, a rock outcropping with some Native American petroglyphs. The camping here is not actually right at the rocks but at a few locations just to the south or north up the bank in the trees. The sites aren’t marked and there are no pit toilets or water source so you’ll have to dig cat holes for your waste and haul water in from one of the sources near Cape Alava or Sand Point. Campfires are not permitted at Wedding Rocks.
Water Sources and Water Treatment on the Ozette Loop Trail
There are few water sources on the trail: just the ones already mentioned at South Sand Point, Sand Point and Cape Alava. The water drains coastal swamps and can be quite tea coloured: some people prefer to add drink powder to their water to disguise the colour. Later in the season the streams can be quite dry so inquire with the WIC before your trip. As well, streams in the area have been known to harbour the parasites cryptosporidium and giardia. Iodine is not an effective treatment for parasites so filter or boil your water before drinking.
Further Reading and Maps for the Ozette Loop Trail
You can find more information about the Ozette Loop on the Olympic National Park website as well as a good overview map of the park with campsites and trails marked. For actual travel on the trail you should purchase the North Olympic Coast topographic map by Custom Correct maps as it has trails, distances, and tidal obstacles marked. You can buy it online from Custom Correct or from REI. You can also buy it at the WIC when you pick up your permits.
Before you hike the trail check the trail conditions page on Olympic National Park website. You can also read trip reports on the Washington Trails Association website. I also found Craig Romano’s Backpacking Washington guidebook to be helpful.
Read Next: More Coastal Backpacking Trips
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