Monday, February 1, 2016

Seastacks line Olympic N.P. beachwalk

Abbey Island with Cedar Creek in foreground. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Topo map of Ruby Beach Trail.

Ruby Beach Trail starts in forest, runs alongside Pacific Ocean 

Day hikers can explore a Pacific Ocean shoreline featuring gushing seastacks, piles of driftwood logs, and colorful, wave-polished stones on the Ruby Beach Trail at Olympic National Park.

The 1.4-mile round trip trail sits on the Olympic Peninsula’s west side. While most of the national park is inland centered on Mt. Olympus, a small stretch of it runs alongside the coastline on Kalaloch Beach.

Perhaps the best time to enjoy the trail is before sunset on a clear day, if only for the golden coloration of the rocks and ocean. Regardless of when you go, though, first check the tide schedule; some of the beach is passable only at low tide. Winter storms also can result in dangerously high surf.

To reach the trailhead, from the Kalaloch Information Station, travel north on U.S. Hwy 101. Turn left/west on the road to Ruby Beach. The trailhead and bathrooms are on the lot's north side.

The trail curves west through a spruce forest. Note the nodules growing on the Sitka Spruce trunks, which some people say give the woods a fairy tale feel.

As the trail nears the beach, breaks through the forest offer impressive views of seastacks. Made of erosion-resistant rock, the seastacks once were part of the mainland, but waves and wind since have washed away the softer stone, leaving them standing as lone sentinels.

On the beach
The trail next curves south until reaching the beach. You’ll instantly notice that the beach has a slight pink tint to it; that's due to the tiny grains of garnet mixed in with the sand.

Plenty of wildlife frequent the shore, so watch for paw prints in the sandy sections. Eagles often can be spotted flying above the shoreline.

Once the wooded trail ends, the hike turns into a beachwalk. Head south alongside the forest, where a number of wave-polished stones of all colors can be found. Sometimes people stack them into cairns, but don’t rely upon them for navigation.

As the beach narrows, turn north and walk along the water. If you take off your shoes, don’t let the waves run over your feet or you’ll be in for a shock, as the water is quite cold here, no matter the time of year.

Abbey Island
Upon nearing the hike’s northern end, you’ll be able to spot sneaker waves. These form when several waves traveling from different directions and at different heights overlap.

You’ll also come across a small seastack. A hole in offers a framed view of the ocean waves.

Upon reaching the point where Cedar Creek flows into the Pacific, you’ll be see a driftwood logpile and large seastacks, with one of them, Abbey Island, sizeable enough for trees to grow atop. The combo of seastacks and the stream outlet results in a natural trap for the logs. Some of the driftwood here has floated in from the distant Columbia River.

At the outlet, turn south on beach, following its edge along Cedar Creek. A freshwater stream, flat stones can be found in abundance here. Feel free to perfect your stone skipping skills.

Where the beach reaches the forest again, you can cut back through the woods on a narrow dirt path and pick up the stem trail. Once on it, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Final note: Leashed dogs are allowed on trail.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.