In the tiny fishing village of Neah Bay, my car slows to match the pace of a toddler. It looks like the thing to do today on the Makah Indian Reservation is a slooooow group walk down main street. Tribal police cars escort the families past howling dogs and anti-alcohol signs.
My first instinct is to try to zoom around them on side streets, but instead I make an effort to ditch my city-dweller impatience and unwind over a meal. Pat’s Place is out of dough for their fry bread, but the Warmhouse overlooking the harbor has plenty of comfort food to serve up.
Eventually, we make it to a private Makah parking lot near the northwest-most-tip of the United States, where I strap on my pack for the first time this year. Its familiar embrace around my waist is a seductive promise of adventure, yet a couple memories make me nervous to set off.
The first is the recollection of my overly-ambitious conditioning trip last year, which left me feeling as though my muscles had been replaced with pure lactic acid. At least this year I’ll be heading along the coast of the Olympic peninsula instead of straight up into its mountains.
And the second is of the last time I had been warned about muddy trail conditions, on the Pihea Trail to Alakai Swamp on Kauai. The slick Martian-red mud covering the trail was like a mix of oil, soap, and algae. I whoomphed onto my butt again and again and turned into a big grump, since my lower back had already been tweaked by a body slam from a wave.
I may not be a physically capable person, but I needn’t have worried – this tiny trek to Shi Shi Beach is the perfect relaxing outing for the coordination challenged.
The trail is short and flat, apart from a short steep section from the bluff to the beach. And the mud squishing under my runners is good ole PNW fare, more like glue than oil. There are lots of logs and alternative paths through the trees for those who want to stay clean and dry, and once we make it to the beach it’s like a different hike altogether.
Campsites above the high tide line are readily available, and after popping the tent we kick off our shoes to walk the remaining two miles to Point of the Arches unencumbered. We pick our way around kelp, splash over streams running to the ocean, and box with buoys dangling from trees. A bald eagle circles just over our heads, trying to snatch dinner out of the low tide.
The sea stacks at the headland grow larger until I am finally able to reach out and touch them, poking into their tide pools and clambering around their caves on half-raw bare feet.
Jogging brings us back to camp just after the sun goes down, where I do yoga in the sand while Nash stokes a driftwood fire to life. There’s no need to play electronic white noise on our phone tonight – the ocean waves are all the lullaby we need.
- Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches Trail Guide
8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of only 200 ft.
- National Park Service Information
A permit is required for overnight camping, $5 per person per night, with reservations required from May-Sept. This can be picked up from the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles, along with the required bear canister ($3 recommended donation).
- Makah Tribe Website
A $10 permit valid for the calendar year is required to park anywhere on Makah Lands and can be purchased at any of the places listed on the website. To stay overnight on Shi Shi Beach, you will also have to pay at one of two clearly marked private parking lots on the way (the closer one is 0.6 miles from the trailhead and costs $20 per night, turning this into a surprisingly expensive trip).