Ultimate Guide to Camping on Shi Shi Beach
Maybe you’ve seen Shi Shi Beach on your Instagram feed, or perhaps you live in Seattle and keep hearing people talk about this somewhat remote destination.
And if you've never heard of this lovely spot in the Olympic Peninsula, allow me to introduce you.
(I think photos are the best introduction, so here ya go...)
There’s no question about it: Shi Shi Beach is a photographer’s dream.
We, too, were intrigued by this beauty, and decided we'd make it a destination on our time in the OP. Turns out it's a bit more complicated than just rolling up to the beach with a tent, so we thought we'd share our tips to make your trip there as seamless as possible.
If you're thinking about camping on Shi Shi Beach, this guide is a must read and is packed with everything you'll need to know - from what permits you'll need, to how to get there, and the best place to set up camp!
First things first: How do you pronounce Shi Shi?
I tend to pronounce things wrong. A lot. I was corrected when I said "She-She" at the visitors center in Port Angeles, and I thought I'd spare everyone else the eye roll I endured by making sure you have the correct pronunciation: Shy-Shy. Now you'll sound like less of a newb than I did. You're welcome.
How to get to Shi Shi Beach:
From Port Angeles, drive Highway 101 West and then turn right onto WA Hwy 112 West. You'll take WA Hwy 112 through the towns of Joyce, Clallam Bay and Sekiu all the way up to Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation. Once on the reservation, Hwy 112 becomes Bayview Ave.
Drive to the end of the bay and turn left on Fort Street, right on 3rd Ave, and then a left on Cape Flattery Road. Follow this for about 2.5 miles and turn left on Hobuck Road. Follow the signs to Shi Shi beach trailhead.
Remember if your staying overnight, you'll have to park up the road about 0.6 miles from the trailhead at one of the designated parking areas (i.e. someone's yard).
Once you have parked, head down the road one foot to the trailhead and follow the (muddy) trail for about 1 hour and 15 minutes until you get to the downhill before the beach. Slowly make your way downhill, and use the ropes as needed because it can get pretty slippery if wet.
You can camp anywhere along the beach, but we recommend heading south toward the Point of Arches for the best camping site. The beach walk might take anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour.
What you’ll need (and what it will cost):
Obviously you'll need a tent and all the other fun stuff that goes along with camping (more on that later), but there are a few permits you'll need in order to visit this beach. Let's go over what you'll need:
National Park Permit: $16 for one night. Purchase this in Port Angeles at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center.
Bear safe canister: this is required for all campers on Shi Shi Beach. You can rent one, free of charge, from the visitors center in Port Angeles when you purchase your permit. You can return it to the same place (there is an after hours drop box), or you can return it to the visitors center in Quinault.
Makah Reservation Permit: $10, you can purchase this at the Washburn General Store in Neah Bay.
Overnight parking fee: $10 per day ($10 for the day you arrive, and $10 for the day you leave, and $10 for any days in between. For example: A Friday to Sunday trip would cost $30)
If you plan to camp overnight, you cannot park your car at the trailhead. Instead, you'll need to park on private property about 0.6 miles before you reach the trailhead. There are two properties we saw that advertised parking, but one is quite a bit further away, so we'd recommend passing by the first you see and parking at the second.
You will have to pay for each day your car is there. That means if you stay overnight, you'll be paying for 2 days (aka $20). Yeah, I know, it's a bit steep, but it's really the only place to park. If you are just doing a day trip to the beach, however, you can park for free in the lot by the trailhead.
Related: The eco-friendly packing list perfect for camping and helping the environment.
The hike to Shi Shi beach:
The hike is mostly through the Makah Indian Reservation land, and just before you reach the beach, you’ll cross into the National Park. In total, it’s about 2 miles to reach the ocean, and another 2 miles to the end of the beach. While an all-around easy hike, it can get incredibly muddy.
You’ll start walking on a well-maintained path with wooden bridges, but after a while, the bridges disappear, and you’re left with mud. Lots of it! In the super muddy parts, look to the left or right of the path and you’ll usually find an alternative, less muddy side trail.
Or if you have rubber boots, hike right down the middle of the trail for a more enjoyable and muddy experience. (I'm assuming the amount of mud changes depending on the time of year you're hiking, but when we hiked it in May, it was suuuuper muddy.)
Packing list for camping on Shi Shi Beach:
The camping necessities:
Sleeping pad (optional – we roughed it for the night and didn’t bring pads, but it would have made our night more comfortable)
Solar lantern (optional, but we LOVE this one!)
Small backpacking stove and propane
Mess kit (don’t forget utensils like we did! Ben had to fashion spoons out of stick and duct tape, and I think it’s safe to say we will never forget silverware again!)
Bear safe canister: It's actually required that you have one of these canisters when camping in the OP backcountry.
Don't worry, you don't have to buy one of these babies (they can get expensive!) - you can rent one free of charge, included with your permit, from the visitors center in Port Angeles. The park ranger told us that the canisters are not so much to protect from bears on the coast, but from raccoons. And we did see a guy camping near us chasing a couple raccoons down the beach come nightfall.
Water and/or sterilization method: When camping on Shi Shi, you can choose to either pack in all your water, or you must bring a way to sterilize water from the nearby streams (a filter or way to boil it).
We noticed three streams coming out of the forest and into the ocean. The main one, Petroleum Creek looked about as brown as the name implies. We filled up a bottle only to realize that our Steripen was out of batteries! (Insert curse words here!) Thankfully it was morning and we were on our way to hike back to our car. Honestly, the water didn’t look all that appealing, and after reading that it is contaminated with human and animal fecal waste and can’t even be treated with iodine or chlorine, I was happy we had enough water to make it through the night. Whatever you decide to do about water, just be sure to plan it out, so you’re not left without something to drink.
Sturdy boots or rubber boots: the hike in can get incredibly muddy. I was okay in hiking boots, but Ben’s sneakers got pretty leaky and damp.
Raincoat – this is the PNW, after all!
Toothbrush and toothpaste
And you can't forget FOOD!
For a hearty dinner, Mountain House meals are great! On shorter hikes, like this one, we sometimes like to bring lentils, a chicken stock packet (from Trader Joes) and pre-chopped veggies for an easy and nutritious meal that packs up pretty well.
For breakfast, we like Kind Bars, hard boiled eggs (with a small plastic bag of salt and pepper), and clementines.
The fun stuff
Surf board (if you surf, that is!) – we saw a handful of people carrying their boards to the beach. The waves looked great for surfing, though I imagine the water is always relatively cold.
Book or Kindle
Hammock (we saw some guys who had strung theirs up onto two large pieces of driftwood)
What can you do on Shi Shi Beach?
Once you've hiked in, the day is yours to do what you please! Here are some ideas of how to spend your time while camping on Shi Shi Beach:
surf (you'll have to pack in your own equipment)
explore the tide pools and caves near the sea stacks
hike to different viewpoints near the sea stacks
build a fire out of driftwood
take photos (bing your tripod for some epic sunset photos!)
meet your neighbors
relax in a hammock (try stringing it up on some driftwood)
Tips for camping on Shi Shi Beach
There were a few things we wished we had know before going to Shi Shi Beach, and some other tips that we just think are helpful for anyone else planning to camp on the beach.
1. Buy your food ahead of time
Avoid getting all your groceries on the reservation. Just like any peninsula, the prices are inflated. It’s nice to know there’s a place to pick up any last minute items you forgot (the Washburn General Store has a pretty decent selection), but we wouldn’t rely on it if you’re on a budget.
2. It might not be sunny
Even if it is sunny in Neah Bay, it doesn’t mean the sun will be shining on Shi Shi Beach. The marine layer tends to hang thick over the beaches of the Olympic Peninsula, especially in the late spring/early summer months.
Don’t be too bummed though, because sometimes at sunset the marine layer burns off and the colors are magnificent. (The day that we went had a pretty thick marine layer, but we were lucky enough to still see an incredibly beautiful sunset.)
3. Place your tent right
Pitch your tent above the tide line. How awful would it be to wake up in the middle of the night to the tide sweeping your tent away?! Avoid this disaster but pitching your tent right up next to the tree line. The tide doesn't come in nearly that far, but it's better to be safe than sorry!
4. Walk all the way to the end
Set up camp at the far south end of the beach. While we're on the topic of where to set up camp, our recommendation is to pitch your tent as far down as you can go. This will give you the most dramatic views and will mean you don't have to trek down the beach at dusk to capture the sea stacks silhouetted in the sunset. You can simply step outside your tent for a stunning view.
5. Use the driftwood
You can build fires, using only driftwood. I wouldn’t recommend relying on it to cook food though, as the Pacific Northwest is notoriously wet, and if it has rained a few days before your stay, it might be difficult to get a big fire going.
We love this tiny, lightweight backpacking stove for cooking meals!
6. Bring enough water
If you only listen to one tip, let it be this one!
We were told by the park ranger that there would be a small stream feeding into the ocean and we'd be able to fill up our bottles there. We packed our Steripen and were fully prepared to purify the water from the stream, as we've done many times.
But when we saw – or rather, smelled – the stream, we new we would not be filling up there. And if there were any other clean streams we couldn't find them (and trust us, we searched!). We asked all the other campers we saw and nobody seemed to know where to fill up.
We drank all our water before going to bed, as we hadn't packed enough, and in the morning we were faced with a long hike back with nothing to quench our thirst. Don't make the same mistake we did.
7. Know where to shower
If you need a shower after the hike, the public showers at the Washburn General Store are nice. They were free (the coin slot doesn’t work and the shower turns on without it), and hot! It was a treat after camping on the beach!
Shi Shi Beach vs. Second Beach
If you’re considering camping at Shi Shi, you’ve likely also heard of Second Beach, located just a bit down the coast outside of La Push. So what are the differences?
If you only have time for one, should you camp on Shi Shi Beach or Second Beach? We wondered this as well, so we hope our thoughts can help you make a decision that’s best for you.
Shi Shi Beach
Longer trek to the beach (roughly 4 miles to the end of the beach – which is where you’ll want to be!)
While the trail is easy, but it can be very muddy!
Bigger beach, so it feels less crowded
More expensive: to camp here, you must purchase a permit from the National Park (which you also need to camp on Second Beach) – it is $8 per person, per night and also includes a bear canister, which is required).
In addition to this fee, you’ll also have to pay $10 per vehicle to visit the Indian Reservation – needed whether you camp overnight or just visit for the day. And you’ll also need to pay to park your car in a private lot, which is $10 per day (so if you stay overnight, it is $20).
Smaller beach, so everyone is closer together
More of a party/community vibe than Shi Shi, where people kind of kept to themselves
More easily accessible – only a 0.7 mile (non-muddy!) easy-peasy hike
Less expensive: you don't need to pay for parking or for the permit to hike on the Quileute Reservation land.
Final thoughts: Should you camp at Shi Shi Beach or Second Beach?
Shi Shi is much more of an adventure – and you’ll have to be a little more prepared. If you want to really get “out there”, Shi Shi is our pick!
If you’re only doing a day hike and want to spend some time at the beach, we would definitely recommend Second Beach.