Mile after mile of pristine coastal wilderness. This is just one of the treasures the northern coast of Washington has to offer, but this might be its best jewel. And I’ve never heard of, much less paddled, anything that comes close to having this majestic backdrop in the lower 48. This shot attempts to capture a bit of that majesty from a section where Mosquito Creek spills out into the Pacific.

Mosquito Creek

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Mosquito Creek

Much of this coastline lies within the bounties of the Olympic National Park and the coastal portion of the park is a rugged, sandy beach along with a strip of adjacent forest. It is 60 miles long but just a few miles wide, with native communities at the mouths of two rivers. The Hoh River has the Hoh people and at the town of La Push at the mouth of the Quileute River live the Quileute.

In the hierarchy of public lands, national parks by law have been above the rest: America’s most special places, where natural beauty and all its attendant pleasures – quiet waters, the scents of fir and balsam, the hoot of an owl, and the dark of a night sky unsullied by city lights – are sacrosanct. – Michael Shnayerson

The beach has unbroken stretches of wilderness ranging from 10 to 20 miles. While some beaches are primarily sand, others are covered with heavy rock and very large boulders. Bushy overgrowth, slippery footing, tides and misty rain forest weather all hinder foot travel. (Times to hike should typically be doubled.) The coastal strip is more readily accessible than the interior of the Olympics; due to the difficult terrain, very few backpackers venture beyond casual day-hiking distances.

The most popular piece of the coastal strip is the 9-mile Ozette Loop. The Park Service runs a registration and reservation program to control usage levels of this area. From the trailhead at Ozette Lake, a 3-mile leg of the trail is a boardwalk-enhanced path through near primal coastal cedar swamp. Arriving at the ocean, it is a 3-mile walk supplemented by headland trails for high tides. This area has traditionally been favored by the Makah from Neah Bay. The third 3-mile leg is enabled by a boardwalk which has enhanced the loop’s popularity.

If you’re interested in see more about this park be sure to catch the National Geographic special, America’s National Parks: Olympic,  airing December 6th on the NatGeo Channel.

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