Kalaloch Lodge (coming soon)
Beach 2 (coming soon)
Beach 1 (coming soon)
South Beach Campground (coming soon)
Big Cedar Tree
The Kalaloch area beaches primarily feature broad, sandy oceanfront. Each of the access points have their own accessibility problems, but once you get onto the beach it is the easiest walking of all the Olympic National Park beaches. The few logs on the beach tend to be closer to the hillside, and usually none of them require maneuvering around, but that also means there are few places to sit. The Kalaloch beaches feature large outcroppings along the shoreline that provide excellent tidepooling, and many rock features along the beach and the hillside. Knowing the tides is important if you want to see the tidepools or hike the coastline. Many of the individual beaches remain walkable at high tide, but know your surroundings and keep an eye on the tide.
All of the beaches are accessed directly from Highway 101, a two-lane, highly trafficked highway that curves along the coastline with speed limits between 45mph and 55mph. Cell phone service is spotty at best, and recording or finding specific elevation information is difficult, so the elevation information here is generally an estimate. Trail photos are at the end of their respective guide (click to enlarge for descriptions).
Kalaloch is the traditional lands of the Quinault and Queets, and the Quileute and Hoh people. No passes are required to access the beaches, and dogs are allowed on leash.
Ruby Beach is well known for tide pools, striking sea stacks, and a dramatic coastline. It is also one of the busiest beaches and most difficult to access, requiring a short, steep hike and scrambling over stacks of drift logs. Cedar Creek flows into the Pacific here, adding to the changeable access.
Spoon Rating: Four spoons, for the drift log scramble required to access the beach. There is a two-spoon hike to an overlook with a bench.
Trail Description: The trail is approximately 0.25 miles long and descends 80 feet to the beach. Overall, I would call half of the trail steep and half a more gradual change. The trailhead is at the parking area, with an information board and a bench to take in partial views of the sea stacks. From here the descent begins slight at first, traveling on loose gravel over compacted earth, with several humps and dips. It then descends steeply for a length of ~200 feet, with much looser gravel – be careful here, as I lost my footing a few times. Here is the overlook, a level place along the cliff with a bench and a guardrail to take in views of ocean.
The trail then curves sharply to the right, continuing the descent. There are two dips in the trail, then it curves again to the right and there is a drainage gap to cross over. Curving to the left, you begin a steeper descent for ~400 feet, before it curves again and then levels out.
Here are the two beach access points. The first is on the right, a narrow footpath with a tight corridor that brings you to rocks and a dense log jam – it is closer to the creek and requires a longer scramble. Continuing straight on the trail you travel over compact earth with several rocks in the trail, pass an ecological information board, and come to the second access point. The access is more open but still requires crossing lots of logs. There are better views of the sea stacks and coastline from here.
Cell Reception: Very poor.
Getting There: Ruby Beach is 8 miles north of Kalaloch Lodge on Highway 101. The entrance is located at a sharp curve and is well marked. The approach is on rough paved road, with nice views and a couple of picnic tables. The dirt parking area is small. There are pit toilets.
Kalaloch Beach 4 offers the closest access to the best tide pools and features a photogenic foot bridge – however it requires climbing down a large rock to access the beach. The trail is very steep with lots of steps and only one bench. There is one level trail to an overlook. The hike travels through the coastal forest, following a creek.
Spoon Rating: Five spoons for the steep descent and rock scramble. Two spoons for the trail to the overlook.
Trail Description: The trailhead is located to the left of the toilets. It begins with a fork. Straight ahead is a short, level compact gravel path through the woods to a small overlook. The trail is accessible to a motorized chair with all terrain tires, but there isn’t a ton of room here, so you may have trouble navigating if there is another group. I imagine the NPS views this as a more accessible path, given the number of handicap parking spots (five) but it would be a bit challenging with a walker or a standard wheelchair.
The fork to the left takes you to the beach. The trail is approximately 0.5 mile long and descends steeply. It begins on loose gravel with a steep drop off on the right where the hillside fell away. It then curves to the right and starts descending, following the creek. The tread is generally compacted and worn. You will take over 100 steps set into the hillside and cross five drainage gaps. It then levels out briefly and the trail section narrows and becomes a bit of a hump, with the creek still steeply below on the left. You then take another dozen steps set into the hillside before the trail levels out a bit and curves around an outcropping. Here it comes out to the footbridge over the creek. The bridge spans the outcropping that you are on, the creek, and several large folded rocks. To get down to the beach, cross the bridge and scramble down the rock on the other side. Watching other hikers, it seems possible to walk down by picking your way carefully – the rock provides many footholds and steps, but it is steep and can be slick depending on weather. I’ve never tried it. The best tide pools are to the right, where a small island and several outcrops at the shoreline.
Cell Reception: Spotty to non-existent.
Getting There: Beach 4 is located about 1 mile south of Ruby Beach and is well marked. The paved parking area is one of the largest of the Kalaloch beaches, with five handicap accessible parking spots on the left and a couple of picnic tables. There are three or four pit toilets.
Kalaloch Beach 3 is my personal favorite. There is decent tidepooling and really cool rock features, with several places where you can feel like you have an entire cove to yourself. The trail is easier than Beach 4, though still steep in places, and you can access the same tide pool areas with a longer walk on the beach (about 2 miles). Another creek crosses the beach at the end of trail, and may require crossing or a detour around.
Spoon Rating: Three spoons. While the trail is steep in a couple of places and requires stairs, it is the easiest of the northern beaches and offers a beautiful hike with some neat features.
Trail Description: The trail starts from the southern end of a pull out on the west side of Highway 101. It is approximately 0.25 miles long and descends about 80 feet on gravel tread and stairs. It begins with a slight decline to an information board, then gradually becomes steeper through two switchbacks for a distance of ~500 feet. The incline then becomes gentler over loose gravel for another 10 paces before coming to a short steep curve with deep, loose gravel. This section was recently “improved” – it is very easy to slip here, there is a wooden rail that is now too low to be of use as a handrail but is supposed to keep you from the edge of the ravine that is directly in front of you. Use caution and go slowly.
From here there are stairs in the trail. First you come to five steps set into the trail and a split drainage gap to step over. It levels out briefly then comes to 12 more steps, as you overlook the beach and lush growth along the creek. The trail curves and comes to a steep set of stairs. The 10 steps are uneven and the tread is worn out in places causing the stair to jut above the level of the soil. There are two natural branch handrails to hold on to, but they can be slick and splintery. At the bottom of the stairs you come to deep sand and walk around the hillside to the creek. To the left of the creek are some cool rock formations and coves with abundant plant life, and some possible tide pools. You can’t walk too far this direction, as there is a rocky point that requires navigating. To the right of the creek stretches miles of beach. It is approximately 2 miles to the tide pools at Beach 4. Check out some of the hillside and rock formations on your walk.
Cell Reception: Spotty.
Getting There: Kalaloch Beach 3 is about 1 mile south of Beach 4. The pullout is located at a long, gentle curve in the road and marked with a brown park service sign. There is room for about eight cars.
This is a lesser known beach and isn’t marked by any signs. The trailhead starts at a pullout on Highway 101, just north of Kalaloch Lodge. It provides the shortest hike to the beach. The Park Service recently installed a new set of stairs to improve access, but it is important to note that a small creek flows out right where you access the beach, so the area can be very slick and covered in smooth stones; I’ve had the most trouble in the winter, and I’m not sure if the stairs will remain there. This is my favorite quick access point.
Spoon Rating: Two spoons. This is a very short hike with the primary obstacle being the stairs and a possibly slippery access point.
Trail Description: Starting from the trailhead on the west side of 101, you will travel about 25 feet on a level, narrow gravel foot path. The path then gets slightly non-level where it was widened, with one side a bit higher than the other. There are two steps set into the trail, then you come to a set of stairs – 6 wooden steps with a handrail on the left side. This brings you down to the beach, where you will likely have to cross over a wet area and some smooth stones. The path is less than 50 feet in total.
Cell Reception: Some at the trailhead, but gets spottier on the beach.
Getting There: The trailhead is located about a mile north of Kalaloch Lodge on Highway 101, right where the speed limit changes 45/55 mph – look for the speed zone/speed limit sign. There are small pullouts on both sides of the road, to fit 3 or 4 cars on each.
Kalaloch campground has day parking spots and provides the closest access to the world famous “Tree of Life” – a tree which thrives despite having no soil beneath the roots. The tree is striking, with roots spanning a cave and plenty of green growth.
Spoon Rating: Two spoons. This trail is approximately 50 feet long, paved to the stairs, and has mostly gradual elevation change.
Trail Description: The trailhead is at the rear corner of the parking lot. The trail starts roughly paved and not entirely level with a slight incline. There is a nice overlook at the top with a railing and views of the beach. The trail then curves into a slightly steep descent, approximately 20 feet long. Cross one drainage gap and then come to a steep, uneven set of stairs. The stairs have five steps filled with rock and compacted sand and a handrail on both sides – the condition of the stairs is changeable depending on use and how much sand gets shifted. At the bottom of the stairs you may need to go around a couple of logs. Head to the right to see the Tree of Life, ~100 feet down the beach.
Cell Reception: Better here than elsewhere on the beach.
Getting There: Kalaloch campground is located on Highway 101, just north of the lodge. It is well marked. There is a large paved parking on the right when you enter, with two handicap accessible spots. There are no toilets.
Big Cedar Tree
I include the Big Cedar in this guide, because it is in the same area as the beaches and is more than worth a visit. The trail provides one of the most accessible places to see old growth coastal forest, with towering western redcedars that are hundreds of years old. The tree that most people stop to see – the Big Cedar – is estimated to be 1,000 years old. Part of the tree fell in 2014, and is already nursing the new growth of multiple hemlocks and other iconic PNW plants.
Spoon Rating: One spoon. This trail has recently been well-improved. It is level gravel, accessible to a manual wheelchair with assistance or a motorized chair.
Trail Description: The Big Cedar is just a few hundred feet from the parking area. Follow the gravel path around the tree, taking in all of the old and new growth as evidence of the cycle of life in the forest. The tree is now protected by a guardrail because too many people were climbing on or vandalizing the tree, but there is still plenty of room to enjoy the tree. Once around the tree, continue on the new gravel path for about 0.1 mile. The trail is in a ‘p’ loop, taking you through the forest and passing by several old growth cedars. There is a lot to see on this short trail, so take your time.
Cell Reception: None.
Getting There: The turn-off is on the east side of Highway 101, about four miles north of Kalaloch Lodge, between Beach 4 and Ruby Beach. It is marked by a brown NPS sign that says ‘Big Cedar Tree’. The dirt road is short but pockmarked with holes, so drive slowly. It ends in a circular dirt parking area. You are surrounded by forest. The trailhead is at the left rear of the parking area.
Last updated July 2019