Second Beach: A Tale of Two Beginners

Second Beach: A Tale of Two Beginners

By: Shelby January 27, 2013 10:13 pm 38 comments

Our view from the tent... not a bad one

Last April, as my first Seattle spring was slowly creeping closer, I was dying to get outside and into nature. I had lived in Seattle for three months, and been to the mountains and up and down the interstate, but I was dying to go camping. I dreamed of putting on a backpack and escaping into the wild, wearing flannel and drinking coffee, and just generally communing with nature. I sighed as I scoured flickr for pictures of misty beaches and majestic evergreens and was endlessly fascinated with the big green splotch of wilderness that was Olympic National Park. After waiting for the weather to improve and warm up a bit, we finally decided on a weekend and a place: Second Beach. I still had never seen the Pacific Ocean (come on, the Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia don’t count). It wasn’t going to be a wild backpacking adventure with a 12 mile hike or anything, and it wasn’t exactly going to be the cushy car camping with kids screaming at 6 in the morning because a bear ate their bike or something. We decided it was just enough to really challenge us and get us away from it all.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

I did my research, read all the trail reports, we gathered our gear (ha!), and even drove out to the Olympic National Park headquarters in Port Angeles to pick up our backcountry permit and required bear-proof food canister the weekend before. I was so excited all week long. I had the route plugged into google maps open on my computer the whole week, and when Friday came, loaded up the car, drove to the office, and after a long (seemingly endless) day of work, we escaped to the ferry terminal downtown and our adventure began. I love taking the ferry because it feels like the perfect start to a journey. You can get out of the car, go out to the sun deck, speed away from the city, and eat a $7 bag of popcorn. It’s magical.

Throughout the day, we realized we had forgotten things (pillows! water! are we just going to sleep on the ground?!), so we made a list and knew there was a Wal-Mart in Port Angeles where we could get the last minute things. We were racing the sun, so we ran through Wal-Mart at breakneck speed to get everything we needed. 15 minutes later, we were back on Highway 101 with probably too much stuff, but oh well. We could sort that out later.

The road took us past Port Angeles and into the National Forest. The trees and mountains rose around us as we went deeper into the forest, but we didn’t stop at any of the myriad scenic viewpoints along the roadside. We even sped past the iconic welcome signs, trying to beat the sun to the horizon. However, when we came to Crescent Lake, we had to slow down and enjoy the almost magical glacial lake.

Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent

The two-lane road, clinging to the hillside, wound around the lake for miles. The song “Black Sands” by Bonobo was playing, and everything about that moment was perfect. We were sad to leave the lake behind, but knew we’d be back in a couple of days. We drove for hours through wilderness, through logging lands, small towns that were barely blips on the map, and finally we came to the winding La Push Road. The sun had set already, but we had the super moon and a clear night to light the sky. When we reached the parking lot at the trailhead, there were no other cars except for a cop running traffic. I was hesitant to get out and head out down a dark trail when there was nobody else (don’t serial killers hide in the woods? Bears? It was vampire country…), but I figured with the police car there, at least my precious car would be ok. Spenser lit up the lantern, we grabbed as much stuff as we could carry (sleeping bags, tent, small backpack loaded with gear, and our food) and headed into the woods.

The trail felt like it was ten miles long. Everything was so awkward to carry, it was so dark under the trees, and the lantern made all the shadows seem so huge. I was so happy to reach the stairs that descended down to the beach, and even happier when I could finally hear the waves. We somehow made it down and out into the wind again. The moon was shining so bright! I could see the big shadowy sea stacks rising up out of the water, and the only thing that stood between us and setting up our tent right out on the beach was a huge field of driftwood we had to scramble over. To this day, I have no idea how we managed to navigate over them with all of our gear and with just the lantern and the moon, but we did it! We read the tide chart the park ranger had given us the weekend before, and judged how far we thought the water would continue to rise until high tide, and set up the tent, blew up the air mattress (ugh), bundled up even more, and tried to sleep.

Our tent alone on the beach


I had the hardest time sleeping. I was so anxious. I kept hearing the waves creeping up to the tent, and at one point I could have sworn that we were actually being swept out to the ocean. The full moon was shining through the tent like a headlight, and I kept thinking it was somebody with a flashlight. I heard a raccoon at one point, and imagined that it had a knife or something and gosh it was a restless night. I still somehow woke up refreshed, and opened the tent up to one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen yet.

Vile creatures that are quite photogenic

Vile creatures that are quite photogenic

We explored along the beach, kicking at the sea foam, we ate soup and spaghetti that Spenser cooked up on the ancient Primus two-burner stove that we had borrowed from his parents (still in the original, hilariously vintage box), and lazed around throughout the day. Rain came and went, and eventually the weather cleared up and it was a beautiful, cold day. We were mostly alone on the vast beach, though occasionally people would come down from the trees and marvel at the sea stacks, take some pictures, and walk back up to their cars. As the tide went down, we climbed out on the exposed rock and examined the urchins and starfish in the tide pools, and watched a bald eagle catch a fish and carry it up to its nest. We decided it was the laziest but most thoroughly enjoyable camping trip that anybody had ever been on ever, and made so many plans for the future trips. We discussed what we knew right away we had done wrong. That air mattress was a mistake, the lack of silverware was a mistake, we forgot the graham crackers back on the dining table so we couldn’t have proper s’mores… it sounded like a disaster when we talked about it that way, but it was a crazy learning experience. When we were there on the beach, everything was actually pretty perfect.

Spenser's cooking breakfast

The next morning, it was time to pack up and go. This was where the real test was. Throughout the previous day, Spenser had made trips to the car for things that we hadn’t carried down the first night, but now we had to take it all back uphill. I volunteered to take the stove and some other unwieldy object (I can’t remember what… I just remember the pain…). I was wearing far too many layers, the box was just big enough to be incredibly uncomfortable to carry, my backpack kept getting all weird… it felt terrible. I was so exhausted. By the time I got back down onto the beach, Spenser had everything almost all packed up for the final trip up to the car. The sun was shining, and the tide was low, so the beach was huge. I saw an eagle up on the closest sea stack, and I walked out as close as I could get and stared up at it, exhausted and hot. Everything was quiet and I was alone. It was a beautiful moment. I was perfectly content with myself.

I couldn’t wait to come back.


  • Love this! I’m glad y’all have upgraded your gear for easier travel. I really love how happy you are when you’re on these outings. To find those perfect moments and to take the time to appreciate them is a wonderful thing! Love you!

    • Spenser

      Those REI Gift cards you gave us for Christmas definitely helped us get the rest of the gear we needed!

  • Matthew

    Well, if your goal of this entry was to make me jealous and want to move to the west coast, then congratulations. I’m packing up and will be there next week. Hope you and Spenser have room for me in your apartment till I settle in!

    • Spenser

      You’re welcome to come visit any time. I’m sure they have jobs and apartments up here for you as well.


    we are very happy to hear from you.
    keep us informed. gm and gp

  • You guys make me feel like I need to go outdoors. That’s impressive.

  • Chris York

    That kind of looks like Rialto Beach!! Camping by the Ocean is awesome. Nice to see both of you getting outdoors and enjoying nature.

  • Daniel

    I was debating about hitting up this spot when me and my girl go up to Portland for a couple of days. We wanted to do more camping then be in the city. You definitely sold me on it!!!
    Was it complicated to get all the fees/paperwork to camp there?
    I can’t wait to camp ON the beach…Any advice about getting there or secrets I need to know. Were flying into so we won’t have as much stuff. Firewood is my biggest concern… what do you think?

    • Shelby

      Hey Daniel! Sorry for this late response! It’s not complicated at all to get a trail permit. If it’s not a busy weekend, you can get one right at the trailhead before you hike in. If you won’t have a full backpacking set-up, then you can car camp at First Beach (just right up the road!). This isn’t something we’ve done yet, but I’ve heard great things. A couple extra things to note: hard-sided bear canisters are required to store your food and any scented items in, because the raccoons out there will get your stuff otherwise! And as for firewood, any driftwood you find can be used as firewood! Just don’t pull wood out of the forest. Camping on the beach is amazing! Just make sure you get a tide chart and set up tent above the high tide line! Enjoy your trip!! 🙂

  • Donella

    We are looking at 2nd Beach as a perfect 2-day camping getaway between stops on a longer trip to the PNW. Our gear will be minimal, and am hoping that the .7 mile trek in during the day won’t be a drama. We will, however, be leaving our car with some suitcases in it at the trailhead. What do you think? Stupid? Should we do the 1st Beach car-camping instead? I love the idea of being RIGHT ON THE SAND. Thanks!

    • Shelby

      GO FOR IT! I don’t think it’s stupid at all; just make sure everything is out of sight in the car. Being right on the sand is half the fun! 🙂

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