If you’re looking for a beach where you can buy Mai Tais from a cabana and play volleyball in a nice raked court, look elsewhere. These Pacific Northwest beaches are as rugged as they are beautiful, and the difficulty of getting to these spots only enhances their beauty.
Ahous Bay, British Columbia
A mile-long crescent of sand that can only be reached by sea kayak on Vancouver Island’s rainforest-clad West Coast.
The west coast of Vargas Island, British Columbia
Highlights: Having a long stretch of beach accessible only to you and a few other skilled kayakers. Paddle the rocky coastline of Vargas and Blunden Islands, visiting wild surf beaches along the way. Don’t be surprised to see wolves trotting down the beach in the morning and evening.
Cape Alava, Washington
Where the Cape Alava Trail ends after 3.5 miles of slippery boardwalk at the beach, you’ve reached the main entry point to some of the most spectacular coastlines in the world: 72 miles of wilderness beach, headland, and sea stacks of Olympic National Park.
The West Coast of Olympic National Park, west of Lake Ozette
Highlights: Offshore sea stacks, spectacular sunsets, and the wilderness beach that extends for days of backpacking to the north or south. Look for Makah petroglyphs etched into the rocks at Wedding Rocks, a few miles to the south. Hiking trips range from a 9.5‑mile loop between Ozette, Cape Alava, and Sand Point to a 20-mile down the coast to Hole in the Wall and Rialto Beach. Keep your food in bear canisters—not because of bears, but clever raccoons.
Coast Trail, Redwoods National Park
After hiking through the coastal redwoods, you’ll find yourself on the wide-open coastline with screaming gulls and barking sea lions.
Redwoods National Park south of Crescent City, CA
Highlights: Hiking through the most majestic forest on earth, only to open up on the coast, where you can hike for miles in either direction. Watching Elk on the beach at sunset, as the evening coastal fog moves inland.
Toleak Point, Washington
On the south coast of Olympic National Park, part of a 17-mile trip from Third Beach to Oil City
Highlights: This isn’t a walk on the beach—it’s a hike, complete with rounding rocky headlands at low tide, fording streams, and rope ladders up rock walls. The rewards are worth it: incredibly stunning rocky headlands like the Giant’s Graveyard, bald eagles, and river otters cavorting on the beach.
Cow Bay, British Columbia
Nod off in your tent listening to whales. Wake up to either hike or paddle.
The southwest corner of Flores Island, Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia
Highlights: Cow Bay’s not named for bovines, but for female Gray whales that feed in the shallows during summer. Wolves often cavort on the beach. A massive bay with small surf, a freshwater creek, and access to the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island, the only ways in are via the trail or by sea kayak. For skilled kayakers in calm conditions, you’re perfectly positioned to paddle up the exposed outer coast of Flores Island for a soak at Hot Springs Cove. For hikers, the Wild Side backpacking trail begins at First Nations village of Ahousat and ends at Cow Bay.
Point of Arches, Washington
The poster shot of Olympic National Park is no accident.
The North Coast of Olympic National Park
Highlights: Arguably the most stunning coastal spot in the lower 48, Point of Arches is a series of sea stacks, headlands, and coves separating Shi Shi Beach from the rest of the Olympics’ coastal trail. It’s as rugged as it is beautiful: you’ll be hauling your pack up and over headlands with ropes and wooden stairs suspended from cliff faces. But it will be worth it. There are few beaches this wild and beautiful. For an added bonus, watch the Olympic population of sea otters snack on the tidepool life.
Rugged Point, Vancouver Island
A difficult-to-reach section of Vancouver Island between Kuquout Sound and north Nootka Island, one of the least visited sections of Vancouver Island
Highlights: Miles and miles of wild beach covered only with wolf and bear tracks, with plenty of protected rock landings on the north and south ends. Reachable only by sea kayak or water taxi, Rugged Point is a great spot for kayak surfing, paddling with numerous Gray and Humpback whales, and exploring offshore rocks.