Sunday, October 7, 2018

Toleak Point

Olympic Coast near Stawberry Point
14 miles round trip, 1000 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no pass required

Seven miles from the nearest road, Toleak Point provides an exemplary wilderness beach experience along Olympic National Park's rare stretch of wild Pacific coast. Toleak Point is usually approached as a backpacking destination due to the multiple low tide crossings necessary to reach it but a number of stops along the way (Third Beach, Taylor Point, the beach below Taylor Point) are viable day hiking destinations. Here, the waves of the Pacific Ocean break on sandy beaches, craggy sea stacks, and tidepools brimming with marine life. Lining this coast are rocky headlands and silent rain forests: this is one place where the beach doesn't mean a carnival. Despite the relatively tame elevation gain stats for this hike, expect a fairly difficult hike: when the trail isn't following beaches, it skirts impassable headlands, making steep climbs requiring the use of rope ladders, which can be challenging with 30-pound backpacks.

I hiked to Toleak Point over three days at the end of June, taking some time off during the week to accompany a good friend who had just finished his intern year as a medical resident. We camped for two nights at Scott Creek, breaking up the hike into very manageable short segments. It's important to understand that there are two points on this hike that are impassable at high tide: hikers should consult tide charts and plan out their schedules accordingly.

From Seattle, we drove out first to Port Angeles, where we stopped at the Wilderness Information Center on Race Street to pick up backpacking permits and borrow a bear canister. We then continued west on US 101, dealing with a bit of construction traffic around Lake Crescent before turning right onto Highway 110 just north of Forks to drive out towards La Push. We parked at the Third Beach trailhead, about two miles short of La Push.

The Third Beach Trail left the parking lot and plunged into the forest. The forest was largely uneventful and flat, exhibiting the typical moss-covered character of the rain-soaked Northwest. After a mile and a quarter, the trail began to descend into a gully carved by a small creek and followed this gully out to Third Beach. The seastacks of the Olympic South Coast and the sandy beach were visible before we got onto the beach itself; a high pile of logs at the high tide mark of the beach presented a substantial obstacle course to cross to reach the beach itself. We scrambled over the logs and made good use of our poles for balance to drop down to Third Beach.

Third Beach
Once on the beach, we followed the coast east and south, passing the many day hikers who had made their way out to enjoy time on Third Beach. We walked along the beach for a half mile until arriving at its far end, where the beach terminated at an impassable headland. A small waterfall tumbled off the cliff here, making for a particularly picturesque scene.

Third Beach Falls
Here, the trail became much more serious. To exit Third Beach and reach the headland, we had to scramble directly up the steep, eroding slopes of the bluffs. A few fixed ropes provided extra assistance for us as we scrambled up the headland. Once up on the bluff, the trail remained extremely rough: we were met with rope ladders and fields of mud. A steady rain set in, making the journey even rougher than it would've been with just the trail challenges. Progress was slow although elevation gain and loss was minimal.

While crossing the headland, the trail dropped at one point to cross the stream which fed Third Beach Falls. Here, a short unmarked spur trail broke off to the right and led to the top of the waterfall. We made a brief stop here, walking out to a view of the falls tumbling into the Pacific. The top of the falls also offered an excellent view back over all of Third Beach; we spotted a bald eagle flying below from this vantage point.

Third Beach Falls
Third Beach
The trail stayed high on the bluff above Taylor Point for over a mile before dropping back down to the beach just south of Taylor Point. The descent was much tamer than the ascent up the headland and involved fewer rope-assisted scrambles. The trail dropped down into a cove with a rocky beach with a few picturesque seastacks nearby, including a seastack topped with a single conifer.

Coastline south of Taylor Point
Once on the beach, we followed the rocky shoreline around a stone cliff. This stretch of the shore is inundated at high tide, so it was important for us to make it past this point in time; this was the only low tide crossing that we had to make between Third Beach and our campsite at Scott Creek, but it's one of two low tide crossings that one must make if journeying all the way out to Toleak Point. We wandered into the caves carved by the sea into the cliffs here before continuing across the beach.

We spotted another bald eagle here (one of about ten bald eagle sightings on our three day trip) as we were walking along the beach.

Bald eagle in flight
At the far end of the beach, the sea pounded the rocks of Scotts Bluff, forcing us upwards and inland to go around another headland. Here, we made another 100 foot ascent up a steep, eroded bluff with ropes for assistance and spectacular views out to the seastacks that dotted this stretch of the South Coast.

This detour was short and we were quickly returned to the seashore by a gentler descent. Arriving back on the beach, we quickly arrived at Scotts Creek, a small stream that spilled out of the rainforest onto the sandy beach. We found a quiet site where the forest met the sand and set up our camp for the night, about four and a half miles from the trailhead.

Campsite near Scott Creek
We got water from the creek (just yards away), watched the sunset, ate pasta and tofu by our beach campfire and settled in for a night at Scotts Creek. On a Monday night, there were perhaps only two other groups for two hundred yards in either direction.

Sunset at Scott Creek
The next morning, we headed out for a day hike from our campsite to Toleak Point. At low tide in the morning, we explored the tidepools just south of Scott Creek. Here, we spotted a handful of starfish and sea anemones- the most tidepool life we spotted on the hike. While I enjoyed this stretch of the coast overall, I did find the tidepool life here to be somewhat limited compared to what I've seen around Kalaloch or further north around Shi Shi- although it's very possible that I just explored insufficiently!

Sea anemones

This stretch of beach- a maze of rocks- also required a low tide crossing. This was the last tide-dependent crossing point for the hike out to Toleak Point. Past the tide crossing point, we followed the beach for a mile out to Strawberry Point, admiring the procession of seastacks marching along the coast to the rhythm of the surf.

We spotted numerous bald eagles, crabs, sea snails, and the carcasses of a stingray and a seal.

From Strawberry Point, we had a final walk of a mile along a beautiful crescent bay to Toleak Point. We passed some of the most remarkable seastacks here, including the uniquely shaped Witch's Hat, which had become the perching spot for a bald eagle when we walked by.

Witch's Hat near Toleak Point
As we arrived at Toleak Point, the coast opened up to both the north and east. Lines of seastacks hugged the shoreline in both directions, with forested wilderness rising from the ocean for as far as the eye could see in either direction. Pacific surf crashed against the rocks here; we took a nap in a driftwood shelter that earlier hikers had built and enjoyed a lazy afternoon on the beach before returning to our camp.

Toleak Point
Looking south along the South Coast from Toleak Point
In midweek, we found the hike to Toleak Point to be a relatively quiet experience. I'd expect more crowds on weekends, but either way this is a gorgeous and relaxing way to see a stretch of the wilderness South Coast on the Olympic Peninsula.

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