Many think of beach hiking as a summer activity. But if you’re seeking that rare NW winter sun, solitude from Holiday craziness and to recharge your batteries, beach walks are a great solution. Read on to learn about my favorite NW winter beach hikes.
Covered here are Bowman Bay at Deception Pass State Park and Freshwater Beach west of Port Angeles.
These winter beach hikes here are all in rain shadow micro-climates which means they tend to have more sun.
Deception Pass State Park – Bowman Bay
A short 1.5 hour drive from Seattle (no ferry required), Deception Pass or ‘DP’ as we call it is in a rain shadow and is usually sunnier than Seattle.
My favorite section of the park is Bowman Bay which is accessed from the North side of the bridge. Bowman has lots of parking, a restroom, play area, BBQ pits, picnic tables, a boat ramp and tap water in summer. Bring your Discovery Pass or use the automatic payment station to purchase a single day parking pass. Directions / Park Site
From Bowman you have two directions to hike from. If facing the water, you can walk to the right through the campground (closed in winter) to access a shoreline trail leading you to Rosario Head.
On the saddle before the head, you’ll see the majestic sculpture of Kwuh-kwal-uhl-wut, the Maiden of Deception Pass with info on the importance of the Pass to native tribes.
Rosario Head has steep cliffs on three sides with epic view of Lopez Island, the Olympic Peninsula and Smith Island. The rocky shoreline has great tide pooling at low tides. Low tides are more common in Spring-Summer months. The head can also be accessed in summer by road.
From Bowman, you can also walk left from the lot down the shore of Bowman Bay past the pier and Washington Water Trails campsite. The trail will take you up a mini madrone lined headland with great views of Bowman Bay.
When the trail drops back to sea-level, you have a choice of two directions – Lottie Point Trail which will take you close to bridge with views of Canoe Pass and the often swirling currents below. A short scramble will lead you to a pocket beach just below the bridge area.
Or you can cross the sandy isthmus connecting the mainland with Reservation Head and hike the Lighthouse Point Loop trail. The trail starts in a coastal feeling forest which follows along scenic Lottie Bay, eventually opening up to the wind swept grass lined pocket beaches of Reservation Head.
When I lead SUP tidal rapids classes at the Pass, we routinely take breaks along pocket beaches on Reservation Head – my favorite being the one closest to the bridge views with mini sea stacks and rock slots to explore.
The Lighthouse Point trail will round the SW corner of Reservation Head providing views of the Olympic Peninsula. On clear days you can see the mill plumes at Port Townsend. During big west winds, this is a great place for storm watching.
The madrone and fir lined trail continues along vertical cliffs overlooking the shoreline with a few opportunities to scramble down to empty semi-coastal beaches littered with driftwood, bull kelp and interesting rocks.
Eventually, the trail leads you back to the isthmus connecting Reservation Head with the Lottie Point Trail, then Bowman Bay.
Things to Consider:
- On occasion, the Navy from nearby Whidbey Navy Air Station will be flying overhead.
- Bring binoculars for wildlife and ship spotting
- Watching tides is not as crucial along these upper bluff hikes unless you want to explore beaches below. Use the NOAA Tides app.
- There is off season camping near West Beach and several Airbnb’s nearby.
Maps and More Hiking Info
Freshwater Bay Beach – Port Angeles
Freshwater Bay Beach is a three hour drive with ferry from Seattle. Located twenty minutes west of Port Angeles, it’s accessible most of the year aside from a few snow days in winter and can be a day trip.
From the boat ramp, you have two options. At low tides, go left past the sandy beach towards the rocky shore lining the west side of Freshwater Bay. Walk and climb over the rocks leading to Observatory Point and the sea stack. You’ll see tide pools, madrone and fir lined cliffs above and a white cobble beach.
This section is very beautiful and will also allow you on lower tides to look west down the cliff lined shore leading to Salt Creek Recreational Area, 4 miles away. You may see snorkelers foraging for urchins below the sea stack.
Kayakers and paddle boarders may be headed west to explore the pocket beaches and cliffs only accessible via the water. I also lead a SUP coastal tour along this section, one of my favorite NW paddles. Take a summer kayak tour here with local Adventures Through Kayaking.
From the parking lot, if you head right or east, you’ll walk along sandy and rocky beaches below forest lined bluffs. This main section of Freshwater Bay beach will lead you to the Elwha River mouth in about 4 miles.
The beach has a very coastal feel with heavy surf at times, swept up bull kelp, driftwood and trees from cliffs above in the process of falling to the beach. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is known for interesting rock formations, fossils and like any NW beach, debris from recreational and commercial fishing.
Make sure to time the tides well along this section as there’s minimum above beach trails or escape routes. The Peninsula Daily News (paper version, check the back of the Sports section) in Port Angeles has the best tide chart but I also keep the NOAA Tides app on my phone. With most beach hikes, it’s a good rule to depart on an outgoing (ebb) tide.
On low tides in spring and summer the beach can be completely dry at least a hundred yards below the boat ramp.
From Port Angeles take Highway 101 west, then exit right onto Highway 112. Follow the 112 for about ten minutes keeping an eye out for Freshwater Bay Road. The road ends at the boat ramp with view of Bachelor Rock, a sea stack. There’s plenty of free parking and an outhouse.
- Hiking boots for climbing over rocks and tide pools. Sandals fine in summer.
- In winter months the longer beach hike often doesn’t get daytime sun below the bluff. Bring extra layers for warmth.
- Help keep the beach clean from marine debris, bring a small bag to pick up foam, plastic and other non-natural beach finds.
- There’s no facilities from the boat ramp to the Elwha River mouth. There is an outhouse at the end of Place Road inside the mouth.
- More Reading – Day Hikes Olympic Peninsula / Craig Romano
Port Angeles Area Lodging
‘PA’ as locals call it has plenty of lodging in town as well as VRBO and Airbnb options.
Check out my NW Beach Hiking Packing Guide to be more prepared for winter beach hiking.
About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle.