Among the beach-hiking cognoscenti, the 23 wild miles (37 kilometers) between Cape Alava and Rialto Beach hold a certain attraction: sea stacks, tide pools, lazing seals, and none of the elevation change you'll find up in the mountains. But that hardly means the trek is, ahem, a walk in the park. Scrambling over headlands is hard, slippery work, while walking around them might mean waiting on a tide change. You'll need three full days at least. From the Ozette Ranger Station, start for the coast on a three-mile (five-kilometer) boardwalk that cuts through a boggy forest of western hemlock and western red cedars. At Cape Alava, scope for migrating gray whales (in the spring and fall), then turn south. The going is easy at first—about a mile (1.6 kilometers) in, keep an eye out for Wedding Rocks, which are covered in petroglyphs—but gets trickier after Yellow Banks, with a four-mile (six-kilometer) run of slick boulders and ankle-deep gravel. Hiking poles are a big help here. The route is dotted with eight designated camping areas; check with rangers beforehand to see which ones allow driftwood fires, and plan accordingly. South of Yellow Banks you'll come across memorials to Norwegian and Chilean sailors who perished offshore, then Hole-in-the-Wall, a massive arch that can be passed through only at low tide. As you close in on Rialto Beach, with its day-trippers and parking lot, you'll realize that you've seen the coast as it should be, wild and exposed.
Backcountry permits and bear canisters are required for this hike ($5, plus $2 per person per night; reserve by phone, +1 360 565 3100, or go to the Port Angeles visitors center). All Points Charters & Tours offers trailhead shuttle service ($150, up to six people; 360-460-7131; goallpoints.com).
About 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers) in on the Hoh River Trail, within Olympic's temperate rain forest, is the supposed "Quietest place in the country." Hike in, stand among the trees—some 60 feet (18 meters) around—and decide for yourself.
The redbrick, wood-shingled Lake Quinault Lodge was designed by Robert Reamer, the same architect who created Yellowstone's Old Faithful Lodge. And while it's not on the coast, it's worth the detour. Every one of its rooms overlooks glittering Lake Quinault or the brooding Olympic forest (doubles from $80; visitlakequinault.com).
Originally published as part of "America's Ultimate Parks 2009," National Geographic Adventure magazine
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