[Featured image description: a photo of large pieces of driftwood scattered on a rocky beach, with waves in the background and an island in the distance. It is sunset, and there is a rosy hue to the photo.]
The northern Olympic coast is miles of protected wilderness, and much of it is difficult to access without long hikes. Rialto Beach, a part of Olympic National Park, is one of the more accessible, and popular, coastal areas. While many of the beaches feature huge driftwood logs and towering sea stacks, Rialto is unique in the number and size of the logs. The beach also offers a view of James Island, known as A-Ka-Lat to the Quileute. Keep an eye out for the pair(s) of Bald Eagles, particularly around sunset.
Spoon Rating: Two Spoons. This hike is fairly easy to access with beautiful views. A little advance planning is recommended, to know the tides. There is minimal wheelchair accessibility in the summer.
Trail Description: Rialto Beach is not a trail exactly. The coast here offers a two mile walk to Hole-in-the-Wall, a rock arch with numerous tide pools and scenic views along the way. It is a part of the much longer Olympic Wilderness Coast trail.
To access the beach, you can follow a paved trail from the parking area past the accessible vault toilets to a sandy area, or go directly to either side of dumpsters to walk up a slightly sloping cobblestone bank. In the summertime the Park Service may install a wheelchair accessible ramp to an overlook (as of June 20, 2019 this ramp has been installed. Go to the end for photos). There are also places where you can walk on sand or compact stones to reach an area to sit on a log and watch the sea, without going out onto the beach. There are picnic tables but these do not provide very good views.
Since driftwood and rocks shift often, you may have to walk around a little bit to find a good place for a view or to access the beach. Huge logs are scattered around and form walls in many places closer to the tree line, which can be a barrier to accessing the beach. If you stay up in the forested area and walk much further than the picnic area, the logs and trees become closer together and difficult to cross without climbing, jumping, or stepping over them; there is not a clearly defined trail.
The beach at Rialto is primarily deep, loose cobblestone, with some places of small-stone sand. The sand beach area is wider at low tide. The footing can be unsteady and you can expect to occasionally sink or shift as you walk. It is mostly level, though there may be some places where you will need to cross an embankment of stones.
From the parking area, it is a one mile walk to Ellen Creek. In the rainy months, Ellen Creek swells to rushing size; in the summer it is a trickling flow. To cross the creek you either have to walk across it, which is easiest at low tide but you will still get your feet wet, or go higher up the beach and cross on a log. Sometimes the creek is such a trickle that it runs below the sand and there is no crossing. From Ellen Creek it is one mile to Hole-in-the-Wall. At low tide you can walk around the arch and explore tide pools. It is rocky and can be slick. There is an overland trail here as well which provides an overlook, but I have not been on that section yet.
At high tide it can be very difficult to walk along the beach. There are many places where the tide and the logs can trap you, and the only way around is to climb over or along the logs. The waves here are very sneaky and will frequently wash higher on the beach than you might expect. But there are many places where you can still watch the waves from a safe distance – which I highly recommend. The shape of the coastline at Rialto produces some powerful and dramatic waves. You can check the tides here.
Leashed pets are allowed to Ellen Creek. As in all otherwise off-limit areas, service animals are allowed on the entire beach.
Cell Phone Reception: Yes at parking area, gets spotty the further down the beach you go (tested on Verizon).
Getting There: Rialto Beach is on traditional Quileute Nation land. From Highway 101 just north of Forks, turn west (the only turn) onto Highway 110 / La Push Road. There is a sign for Mora/La Push, and a sign for the Ki’tla Center. This highway is a smooth, paved, two lane highway at 50mph with a few gentle curves. You will drive through recently timbered forest, and then denser forest until you reach a 35 mph speed zone and small corner store and RV resort. Turn right here onto Highway 110 spur / Mora Rd. This is also a paved two lane road. As you approach the Olympic National Park boundary, the speed drops to 35 and then 25 mph. Here the road becomes a little narrower; it is still paved two lane, but there are no shoulders and it becomes a bit curvier as it follows the curve of the Quillayute River. There are a few pull outs. As the ocean comes into view, you will reach the Rialto Beach parking area. Turn right into the paved parking lot; this lot has a van accessible spot and accessible bathrooms. The left parking lot is gravel and frequently has obstacles in the way, but it does offer an easy view above the beach.
Pass: None. This is a fee-free area of Olympic National Park and the Quileute Indian Reservation.
Nearby Alternatives: For ocean views accessible by car, try La Push (guide to follow soon).
Update June 24, 2019 The wheelchair ramp has been installed. From the edge of the parking lot by the bathrooms, the ramp leads to a partial overlook of the ocean. It is much longer this year, with one bump out and enough room at the end to enjoy the view and turn around. It also make access to the beach easier; you don’t have to navigate logs to get down to the beach. Image description: three photos of a rubber material wheelchair ramp with driftwood logs as barriers. (Click on the photos to enlarge)