Total Ascent: 300ft
Highest Point: 200ft
Total Distance: 9.0 miles
Location: N 48° 14.8133, W 124° 42.018
Required Permit: Makah Recreation Pass (details below)
Difficulty: Moderate (due to rough trail conditions)
A few weeks ago we took a weekend to head out to the Olympic Peninsula to tackle a few hikes along the Pacific Coast. One of those hikes was Shi Shi Beach and the Point of Arches, a tour of the most pristine beaches in the state out to an archipelago of sea stacks extending out into the Pacific. With headlands to scale, waves to dodge, and rocky tidepools to peer into, this hike has more than enough to fill a day of hiking and exploring.
Shi Shi (pronounced “shy shy”), is a Makah work meaning “surf beach” or “smelt beach” in reference to the fish that are common along this section of coast. Around 1894, prospectors discovered gold in the sand along the Olympic Coast, and the most productive area was Shi Shi Beach. While major mining operations were never undertaken on the beach, claims were made and registered. When the beach was added to the Olympic National Park in 1976 after long negotiations with various interests and landowners, the one piece the Park Service did not get was the mineral rights. In 1980 the Point of Arches was named a National Natural Landmark, and the area as designated a wilderness in 1988. Despite these protections, the owners of the mineral rights were asserting their claims to the gold, silver, and platinum buried in the beach as late as 2005 but have not been successful.
From the parking lot the Shi Shi Beach trail enters a forest of hemlock and spruce. The first portion of the hike follows a slightly convoluted route around sections of private property before connecting up with an old roadbed. The roadbed is often waterlogged and muddy, though side paths help navigate the worst portions. As you progress, occasional gaps in the trees offer glimpses of the coastline hundreds of feet below. After about 2 miles the trail enters the Olympic National Park and abruptly turns down toward the beach, steeply switchbacking down cliffs with the help of ropes.
Once on the beach, head south toward the Point of Arches in the distance. Depending on the tide, the crashing waves may push you toward the fields of driftwood piled at the base of the bluff, or you may find yourself walking next to shelves of barnacle-covered rock. Campsites can be found tucked into the trees as you progress, though the best sites are found along Petroleum Creek, about a mile and a half down the beach. Reach the Point of Arches a mile beyond the creek. If you can, aim to get to the Point of Arches at low tide, as it is inaccessible at high tide. Its easy to spend hours exploring the nooks and crannies of the rocks to find sea stars, anemones, and crabs.
Wild and remote, Shi Shi Beach conjures images of shipwrecks and castaways. It is a popular destination for backpackers and it is easy to see why. The seascape changes dramatically with the tides, providing much more than can be seen in a single day. The only challenging portion of this hike is the steep and poorly maintained set of switchbacks down to the beach. The trail is not well defined here, and its easy to lose your footing. This short section will prove difficult for young and inexperienced hikers, though the ropes do help. Beyond this challenge, most hikers should have no problem reaching this stunning beach. Keep in mind that the area is managed by the Makah Tribe and all visitors are required to purchase a parking permit from the tribe - Washburn’s in Neah Bay is a good place to get one.
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Total Ascent: 1700ft
Highest Point: 6089ft
Total Distance: 6 miles
Location: N 47° 1.4100 W 121° 48.9483
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
At the end of last summer we headed out toward the Carbon River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park to do a little exploring around that area. One of the hikes we chose was Bearhead Mountain, a former fire lookout site with enormous views of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding landscape.
Bearhead Mountain is labeled on maps as far back as 1913, though it is not clear who first christened the peak. Presumably that person found a resemblance between the mountain and the head of a bear. In 1931 the Forest Service built a fire lookout cabin at the summit, along with a number of other nearby cabins like Suntop. Lookouts manned the cabin until 1957 when it was removed. Today little evidence of the cabin remains, though you can still find the nub of a rusted pipe among the rocks - that’s all that is left of a mounting shaft for an Osborne Firefinder, the instrument the lookouts used to pinpoint fires.
Summit Lake Trail #1177 by climbing up through a young forest yet to recover from a recent timber harvest. Before long, find yourself entering more mature stands of fir and hemlock as the trail swings into a long switchback up the mountainside. The trail here is fairly wide and well maintained, though there are plenty of roots to trip you up if you’re not paying attention. After about a mile of trail reach a junction with the Carbon River Trail #1179 and Twin Lake. While you're here, look for the short unmarked trail that leads out to lonely Twin Lake, which lacks both a twin and the sprawling vistas of Bearhead Mountain.
At the junction, veer right onto the Carbon River Trail and begin the long traverse across the base of Bearhead. Thick stands of old growth begin to thin as you progress, eventually providing glimpses of Mt. Rainier rising above a sea of peaks. As you continue, the trail is punctuated with the occasional talus field and stretches of meadow that burst with wildflowers in season. After about a mile, reach the junction with the Bearhead Mountain Trail #1179.1. From here, the trail turns steeply upward, switchbacking up the flanks of the mountain to the summit. As you climb, the expanding vistas hint at the views waiting at your destination. When you eventually reach the rocky summit, find peaks stretching out in nearly every direction. Mt. Rainier looms to the south. Old Baldy Mountain and Pritchard Mountain are the nearest peaks to the west, rising above Coplay Lake. Find Summit Lake and Summit Lake Peak, and on good days pick out Glacier Peak and Mt. Thompson to the east. Do a little exploring along the ridge to find a good spot to settle in and enjoy the views.
This trail does see some traffic in the summer months, but most hikers opt for Summit Lake over this climb. A little more challenging than Summit Lake, the ascent may give some hikers pause, but the trail is in decent shape and the hike should be attainable for those willing to put in a little extra effort. With bigger views than Summit Lake Peak and a handful of wildflower-filled meadows, Bearhead Mountain is a great alternative to Summit Lake on a summer day. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a longer day, why choose? Round out your day by heading back down to Twin Lake and making the trek up to Summit Lake.
To get there, take I-5 South to I-405. From I-405 take SR 167 south toward Auburn. In 20 miles take the SR 410 Exit toward Sumner/Yakima. Follow SR 410 for 12 miles to SR 165. Take a right and continue on SR 165 for about 10 miles through Wilkeson and Carbonado to the Carbon River Road/Mowich Lake Road junction. Veer left onto the Carbon River Road and follow for 7.5 miles to FR 7810, just before the Carbon River Ranger Station. Turn left onto the FR 7810 and continue 6.5 unpaved miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. –Nathan
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Total Ascent: 400ft
Highest Point: 600ft
Total Distance: 6.5 miles
Location: N 46° 54.666, W 123° 5.28
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Not long ago we returned to Capitol State Forest to check out another of the working forest’s many trailheads. This time we headed to the Mima Falls Trailhead for a short trek out to the waterfall. While the falls are pleasant enough, the hike to reach them is not, as portions of this hike cut across large swaths of recently cleared forest and a nearby shooting range means you’ll never quite escape the sound of gunfire.
Mima Falls takes its name from the nearby Mima Mounds. “Mima” is a Native term meaning “a little further along.” Over the years, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has worked with volunteers to build up the trail system in Capitol State Forest, expanding on the network of logging roads. It is likely that at least some portions of this trail are built on sections of former logging roads that once led to logging camps that supplied the sawmills in the lumber boom town of nearby Bordeaux. Established by the Bordeaux Brothers back in 1896, this area of the Black Hills were logged for over 40 years until the old growth timber ran out and Bordeaux became a ghost town in 1941. While Capitol State Forest has been a recreation destination for decades, the Mima Falls Trailhead and Campground was not built until 1973. In 2013 the DNR completed an overhaul of the Capitol State Forest Trail system that renamed most of the trails. Older guides will reference these outdated trail names.
The trail begins from the Mima Falls Trailhead, along the Mima Falls Trail East Trail. The route immediately passes through the Mima Falls Campground and enters a large area that was very recently logged. After a half mile, reach a junction with the Campground Trail. Veer left and continue through the fields of stumps and newly planted seedlings to the shelter of the forest. In another 1.5 miles, the trail splits into Mima Falls Trail West and the Mima Falls Tie Trail. Veer left over Mima Creek and reach the falls within a few tenths of a mile. The only views of this short cascade are from a rough side trail that parallels the waterfall. If you’re looking to extend your hike, a series of interconnected trails make it easy to put together a number of loops. The Department of Natural Resources offers a decent map to help you navigate the trails.
If you’re only heading out to Mima Falls, this isn’t a hike we can recommend highly. While it’s certainly approachable for any hiker, the sounds of the neighboring Evergreen Sportsman Club can be a bit overwhelming. The range was operating long before the Mima Falls Trailhead was built, making this a less than ideal location for a trailhead. In addition, the recent logging activity has taken a lot of the beauty out of this hike. While this trailhead serves bikers well, it’s not the best for a hike. We recommend heading to the Falls Creek Trailhead or the Rock Candy Trailhead instead.
To get there, take I-5 South to Exit 95 the Littlerock/Maytown exit. Follow Maytown Road through Littlerock as it turns into 128th Street for 3.7 miles to a T-intersection. Head left onto Mima Road for 1.3 miles to Bordeaux Road. Take a right and in .7 miles turn right onto Marksman Road. Mima Falls Trailhead is at the end of the road on the left. -Nathan
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Total Ascent: 600ft
Highest Point: 4000ft
Total Distance: 3.8 miles
Location: N 46°57.041, W 121° 22.878
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Last summer we decided to do a little camping along Highway 410 out beyond Chinook Pass. We had high hopes of exploring a number of trails in the area, but ended up only having time to spend a day exploring the Union Creek Trail and its picturesque waterfalls.
Back as early as 1880, prospectors were staking dozens of claims along Union Creek. In 1897 Robert and Thomas Fife were working a set of six claims they had dubbed the Blue Bell Claims, in what was then known as the Summit Mining District. Blue Bell Pass is named after these claims and nearby Fifes Peak is named in honor of the brothers. In 1897 there was no real trail to the claims, instead the brothers followed blazes carved into trees to reach their mining site. Over the years, as ore was dug from the ground and transported back to civilization, a rough trail was slowly carved into into the mountainside. Portions of today’s trail are likely built on the bones of that route.
The Union Creek Trail #965 beings in a mature pine forest on a wide and well maintained trail. The trail almost immediately enters the Norse Peak Wilderness as it gently rises and begins to switchback up the mountain. After about a half-mile, a short side trail leads out to Union Creek and a view of Union Creek Falls, tumbling 60 feet from the cliffs above into a sheltered gorge, then sloshing down through a tangle of boulders and fallen logs. If you want to get closer to falls, push up the trail a bit more to find a steep social trail leading down to the base of the falls. After you’ve had your fill, continue to switchback up the mountain for another mile through sections of trail that still bear markings from a 1965 forest fire.
After a mile of hiking reach a small bridge crossing the North Fork Union Creek as it drops over a precipice to join Union Creek below. Before crossing the bridge and continuing up the trail, follow one of the rough paths hugging the creek back to North Union Falls which are not visible from the main trail. This secluded area offers an excellent place for a rest or makes for a decent turnaround point if you’re short on time. If you’re hungry for more, return to the main trail and press onward and upward for 3 more miles passing through forest punctuated by meadows before dropping back to Union Creek. From here, it’s a steep 2 mile climb up to Crown Point and the Pacific Crest Trail just below Blue Bell Pass.
To get there, take I-5 south to Highway 18 Exit 142A. Follow Highway 18 into Auburn and take the SR 164 exit. Head left on SR 164 through Enumclaw to SR 410. Head left onto SR 410 for 55 miles over Chinook Pass to the Union Creek Trailhead on the left side of the highway. -Nathan
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