Shi Shi Beach is a remote, unbelievably epic beach on the very farthest reaches of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. It’s known for its rugged beauty, unreal sea stacks, and glorious sunsets.
It’s my favorite beach because you have to hike to get there, a charming, 2-mile path through every color of green imaginable. You then descend sharply onto the beach, which stretches along the sandy shore for another 2 more miles.
It’s less crowded in the summer than your typical Washington beach because of this required hike. In the winter, it’s pretty muddy, so possibly not the best beach backpacking destination in the rainy months.
This is doable for a day hike, but many choose to backpack and stay the night, just to have more time here and to see the sun setting on the sea stacks. I’ve always chosen to stay the night, but camping on any beach is a thing for me.
I would do it as a day hike too, if time was limited and I had no other option.
Conditions and Facilities at Shi Shi Beach
Mostly flat 4.4 trail one way
Scattered campsites along the beach
Semi-private pit toilets
Water sources from Petroleum and Willoughby Creeks, must filter
Is Shi Shi the best beach for Washington Coast camping?
Yes and no! Washington has many beautiful beaches, and the “best” beach depends on your personal preferences and what you’re looking for in a beach. It also depends on when you go. Here is what I love about this beach.
Shi Shi Beach (pronounced Shy Shy) is only accessible by hiking a 2-mile trail through dense forest, layers of mud and rocky terrain. The remote location helps to preserve the beach’s natural beauty and makes it a great destination for solitude and adventure.
This is not true of most other beaches in WA.
Shi Shi Beach is known for its stunning natural beauty, with rugged sea stacks, the Point of Arches, sea caves, tide pools, and driftwood logs scattered along the shoreline.
The beach is also backed by a lush forest, which provides a picturesque backdrop for beach-goers. I think every beach in Washington has something to offer in terms of natural beauty. Every beach is unique.
You can camp and hike on the beach even at high tide. This is also true of some other locations in the state, though many campsites are just inside the wooded area.
Shi Shi Beach is also known for its abundant wildlife, including sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, and a variety of seabirds. It’s been my experience that you see more wildlife here than at other beaches, possibly because there are fewer people on a regular basis.
The tide pools are swarming with awesome invertebrates and are an absolute delight.
- Sea Stars – including the purple sea star and the ochre sea star. These colorful and iconic creatures are often found clinging to rocks in the intertidal zone.
- Anemones – such as the giant green anemone and the aggregating anemone. These soft-bodied creatures can be found attached to rocks in the intertidal zone and are known for their beautiful colors and delicate tentacles.
- Crabs – including the graceful kelp crab and the purple shore crab. These small, but fascinating creatures are often found scuttling along the rocky shoreline.
- Barnacles – small, crustacean-like creatures can be found attached to rocks in the intertidal zone and are a common sight on many beaches.
- Mussels – The California mussel is a common species of mussel found at Shi Shi, often forming large clusters on rocks in the intertidal zone. These bivalves are an important food source for many shorebirds and other marine animals.
What To Expect When Hiking to Shi Shi Beach
The hike to Shi Shi Beach typically takes around 2 to 3 hours one way. The first part of the trail includes well-maintained boardwalks over marshy grounds.
The latter part can be quite muddy, so waterproof boots are recommended. The beach itself offers a stunning landscape with rock formations and tidepools, especially at low tide.
For those planning to camp, Shi Shi Beach offers breathtaking sunsets and a chance to wake up near the magnificent Point of Arches sea stacks.
Is it the best beach?
Again, it depends on you and when you go. The remote location, natural beauty, unique rock formations, beach camping and abundant wildlife make Shi Shi Beach a truly special and unforgettable destination.
The mud challenge during the winter is a huge deterrent for many people, myself included. I think it is the best beach for camping during the summer, when all of the other beaches are swarming with people.
To get to the Shi Shi Beach trail from Seattle, you’ll need to drive to the town of Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula. The drive from Seattle to Neah Bay takes about 4.5 to 5 hours if you take a ferry across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula.
Once you arrive in Neah Bay, you’ll need to obtain a parking pass and permit for the hike to Shi Shi Beach.
The trailhead is located at the Makah Reservation, which is on the outskirts of Neah Bay and can be reached by following their signs or using your GPS map if you downloaded it prior to losing signal.
Where to park
If you’re day hiking, you can park at the trailhead itself. If you’re camping overnight, you will need to park at the private parking lot about a half mile before the trailhead. The signs are very clear it’s private parking for the beach. Bring cash, as nothing else is accepted.
While the trail is part of the Olympic National Forest, it’s also partly owned by the people of the Makah Tribe, who have lived in the area for thousands of years and have a rich cultural heritage that is closely tied to the sea.
From the trailhead, the hike is approximately 2 miles through the forest to reach the beach.
The hike can be steep and muddy in places, so be prepared with appropriate footwear, gear and basic conditioning. Be sure to check current trail conditions beforehand. You’ve a very steep decline right before the beach and I recommend hiking poles for your own safety, especially if it’s wet.
Once on the beach, you’re greeted by a wide expanse of sand and sea stacks – rock formations that tower defiantly out of the water. While you can explore slightly to the north as you exit the woods, the beach trail leads south to the Point of Arches.
The Shi Shi beach hike itself is all sand, extending 2 miles to the Point of Arches. At the end of this breathtakingly beautiful beach you’ll reach the famous Point of Arches, a stretch of impressive sea stacks and oversized tidepools filled with a myriad of interesting intertidal creatures.
If you’ve already gone this far, you need to go that extra two miles. You will definitely need time to explore the many tidepools in the area. And if possible, plan to reach the Point of Arches an hour before low tide, so that you have plenty of time to explore the tidepools.
There are 3 campsites at Shi Shi Beach, located along the northern end of the beach. These campsites are managed by the Olympic National Park and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The campsites are primitive, meaning they do not have running water or electrical hookups, and campers are required to pack out all of their trash and waste.
Forest Trailhead Campsite
- Just as you reach the beach, 2 miles from Point of Arches
- Busy and noisier with people, as the trail runs through this area
- Basic toilet without privacy
- No water source
- More trash lying about than the other camp sites
Petroleum Creek Campsite
- Halfway down the beach, about 1 mile from Point of Arches
- Semi-private toilet to the right of the creek
- Available water but it absolutely must be filtered and boiled
- Great view of the Arches
Willoughby Creek Campsite
- Nearly at the end of the beach trail, right before the Point of Arches
- Enclosed toilet
- Available water to filter and boil
- Quieter campsite in general
I confess I didn’t realize the first campsite was a campsite when I first came through. It seemed like it was more of a storage area for park workers, a party area for young adults or a dumping ground for extra weight just before the major incline on the way back to the trailhead.
I will stay at the third campsite every time, if given the choice. It’s quiet, has the best toilet and is closest to the Arches. I don’t think it’s possible to ever spend enough time at the arches or the tidepools, even at high tide.
Day hiking vs camping
When it comes to experiencing Shi Shi Beach, there are two main options: day hiking and camping. While both can be wonderful experiences, the best option for you depends on your personal preferences and goals for the trip. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Day hiking at Shi Shi Beach allows you to enjoy the stunning scenery and natural beauty of the beach without the commitment and preparation required for overnight camping.
This can be a great option if you’re short on time or if you prefer the comfort and amenities of a nearby hotel or lodging.
Pros of Day Hiking
- You don’t need to carry as much weight
- You don’t need to prepare or plan as much in advance
- You can park at the trailhead
- You can sleep comfortably inside somewhere else
Cons of Day Hiking
- You miss the sunrise, sunset or both
- You miss falling asleep to the sound of waves
- Driving and hiking all that distance in a single day can be exhausting
Shi Shi Beach camping, on the other hand, allows you to fully immerse yourself in the wilderness and experience the beauty and solitude of the beach after the day-trippers have left.
Camping requires more planning and preparation, but it offers a unique and rewarding experience. You can explore the beach at your leisure, stargaze at night, wonder at the Milky Way and fall asleep to the sound of the waves.
Camping can be a great option if you want a more immersive, peaceful and adventurous experience.
Pros of camping
- A unique sunrise and sunset at the beach
- Plenty of time to explore the tide pools
- Plenty of time to relax and enjoy yourself
- Star gazing
- You can appreciate the beach with fewer people
- You split the hike into two
Cons of camping
- You need to carry more weight
- You need to plan in advance for eating, sleeping and basic needs
- You have to park slightly further (1/2 mile) away
- Extra cost associated with parking overnight, $20 in 2022
Whether day hiking or camping at Shi Shi Beach is better for you will depend on your personal preferences and goals. Both options offer the opportunity to experience the beauty and natural wonder of the Olympic Peninsula in their own unique way.
The camping overnight is my personal preference, because it’s just so incredibly beautiful that I never want to leave.
What to Pack for Beach Camping
When packing for beach camping, it’s important to consider the unique challenges and opportunities that come with camping in a coastal environment. Here are the 10 Essentials as well as some specific to beach camping:
- Tent: A sturdy and waterproof tent is essential for beach camping, as coastal environments can be windy and rainy.
- Sleeping bags and sleeping pads: Sleeping bags rated for the appropriate temperature range and sleeping pads for added comfort.
- Clothing: Bring warm layers, even in the summer months, as coastal temperatures can drop significantly at night. Pack clothes that can be layered, including a warm jacket, rain gear, and hats and gloves if necessary. Also, pack clothes that are suitable for the beach environment, such as shorts, t-shirts, and swimsuits.
- Footwear: Bring sturdy hiking boots or shoes that can handle sand, rocks, and uneven terrain. Also, pack flip flops or sandals for the beach.
- Cooking gear if you’re camping: A camping stove, fuel, and cookware, including pots, pans, utensils, and a cooler for food and drinks.
- Personal hygiene items: Bring toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Also, pack any necessary personal hygiene items, including toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap.
- Entertainment: Pack books, games, or other entertainment options to enjoy during downtime at the campsite.
What to pack for hiking and camping
You will need these items regardless of how long you plan to stay for, the standard essentials for any hike.
- Food and water: Plan to bring enough food and water for the duration of your trip. Be sure to bring plenty of high-energy snacks, as beach camping can be physically demanding.
- Sun protection: Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself from the sun.
- Lighting: Bring a headlamp or flashlight, as well as extra batteries.
- First aid kit: Always bring the basics with you when hiking, because accidents happen.
- Knife: A knife comes in handy at the oddest of times and you won’t regret having one when you need it most, especially when camping.
- Source of fire: Even though campfires are not allowed at the beach, it is in your best interest to bring matches, in a waterproof container, in case something should happen while away.
- Navigation: bring a map, preferably paper, to guide you on the trail. While it’s pretty straightforward, having a map and knowing where you are at all times is safer than the alternative.
Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out everything you bring in to help protect the beach environment.
Food storage must be stored in a bear canister, and campfires are not allowed.
While there are two water sources draining onto the beach, neither are appealing. Make sure to bring a water filter and boil your water if you plan to use the water from the creeks. Personally, I think it is well worth the weight to carry enough water for an overnight trip.
Shi Shi Beach Tide Chart
It’s a good idea to know the tide schedule for the beach, as the best tide pooling is done at super low tides. You can easily hike and camp along the beach even at high tide, but be sure to put up your tent above the highest tide line, close to the trees.
Permits and Passes
You will need a Makah Recreation Pass, which you can purchase at the convenience store in Neah Bay.
You’ll also need a Wilderness Pass, which you can pick up at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. You should also rent a bear canister while there, as that is required for camping at the beach.
Shi Shi Beach Weather
The weather on the coast is often less predictable than in the mainland, so check the forecast before you go and come prepared for all possible conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time to go to Shi Shi beach?
The best time to hike to Shi Shi Beach is during the summer and when the tides are low.
Is Shi Shi Beach worth it?
Yes, the hike to Shi Shi Beach is relatively short and the views are definitely worth the effort.
How long is Shi Shi Beach trail?
The forest trail is approximately 2 miles and the beach trail itself is also about 2 miles, making the entire round trip 8 miles.
Where to stay the night if not camping at Shi Shi beach?
You can camp in your car at Hoebuck Beach Resort, about 4 miles away from the trailhead.
Final Thoughts: Shi Shi
I think Shi Shi Beach is the best beach for summer camping in Washington. There are fewer people because it takes more effort to reach, resulting in a quieter, more peaceful experience here than most other beaches in Washington.
Whether you prefer day hiking or overnight backpacking, there is plenty to explore and discover. The charming tide pools, fascinating intertidal invertebrates, extensive sandy beach, dramatic sea stacks and unexpected wildlife opportunities should simply not be missed.