If you’re looking for an unforgettable outdoor experience for your family, the Olympic Peninsula is an absolute treasure trove of natural wonders just waiting to be explored. Nestled in the pristine wilderness of Washington State, this enchanting region offers some of the best kid-friendly beach backpacking locations, where both children and adults can immerse themselves in the beauty of nature while creating lasting memories.

Today, Washington mama of two, Teri Walzenbach, will take you on a virtual journey to discover the hidden gems of the Olympic Peninsula’s coastline. From towering sea stacks to mesmerizing tide pools teeming with marine life, she unveils the top three beaches where you and your little adventurers can embark on an unforgettable backpacking expedition. Whether your family is seeking tranquility, wildlife encounters, or thrilling outdoor activities, the Olympic Peninsula has something to offer for every taste and preference.

Backpacking on the beach with kids

Beach camping with kids on the Olympic Peninsula

Have you ever wondered what it would be like beach camping with kids on the gorgeous shores of the Olympic Peninsula on the Washington Coast?

Backpacking on the beach with kids can be a magical experience. Imagine, the sand is so soft you don’t really need a mattress. The vast ocean in front of you with the sound of the waves crashing. A bonfire on the beach where your kids are roasting marshmallows. And a driftwood playground that has your kids climbing for hours.

Sound amazing? It is! Although, I understand that planning a backpacking trip to the beach be overwhelming. What beach do you choose? What permits do you need? How can I prepare for the tides? And, of course, packing. I was there once, too, but after years (and countless backpacking trips), I am here to help you break it down, and share three great beaches on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State that are a great place to start.

Let’s make backpacking on the beach with kids a reality! You got this. 

Know before you go: tide schedule

One of the most important things to know when camping/sleeping/playing on the beach is the tide schedule. Some beaches have campsites set up off the beach in the woods, but others don’t and you can set up your tent very close to the water. Understanding when the tide will rise and how high will help put you at ease and keep you safe (and dry).

I can tell you firsthand that when the tide is high in the middle of the night, it can be a little unsettling to sleep. The waves seem to get louder and louder and closer and closer. We’ve seen campers run off the beach with their wet tents, and it wasn’t pretty. But, don’t worry! With a little understanding of the tides, you can avoid any issues!

There are 5 simple steps to looking up tide information.

  1. Find a tide table for the location where you’ll be camping.
  2. Locate the date of your trip.
  3. Understand the chart datum (a plane of reference to where the tidal heights are measured).
  4. Find the high and the low tide info. 
  5. Note the time.

If you need some help understanding the ins and outs, take a look at this great article, “How to Read a Tide Table” by REI. 

And this doesn’t just help keep you dry in the high tide…you also wouldn’t want to miss out on exploring all the goodies you find on the beach at low tide. It is one of the best parts of the rocky PNW beaches. Endless hours of fascinating exploration of tiny (and not-so-tiny) creatures! This could quite possibly be the number one reason to backpack on the beach with kids!

Tide Pools on the Beach

What (if any) permits do you need to backpack/camp on Olympic beaches?

To backpack on the beaches of the Olympic Peninsula, you will need a permit. You can reserve your permit at Recreation.gov.  You can find the permit under the Olympic National Park Wilderness Permit.

For the beaches, look under the tabs listed as North Coast and South Coast and go from there. You will need to enter your dates and party size in order to access the various beaches. I recommend booking early in the season as they can book up.

Some of the beaches on the Olympic Coast are on the land of the Makah Tribe and require a separate Makah Tribe Recreational Permit, in addition to the permit you pick up on recreation.gov. There is more information on this permit, including where you can pick one up, on this Neah Bay website

permits needed to backpack on the beach

Can you have a fire on the beach?

A bonfire on the beach? Yes, please!

But the best part about this is that you don’t need to bring your own firewood. You can burn driftwood! And there is plenty of it! My kids love to comb the beach for kindling and help build the fire. It’s a great activity to do all together (here’s how to teach your kids how to build a fire and fire safety tips). I recommend bringing a small handsaw to help cut some of the larger pieces. Just collect some rocks, make a fire ring, and have at it. Don’t forget to pack waterproof matches. Bring fixings to make S’mores, and dessert is covered! If the kids get their clothes wet, the fire helps speed up the drying process. It’s a win-win-win. 

Backpacking on the beach with kids

Other essentials for backpacking on the beach with kids

Definitely bring a bear canister. Not just for the bears but for the raccoons as well.  It is a requirement in Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. I love to use a bear canister because it comes in handy on the beach.  It can also second as a seat or clean surface to work on, which is very much appreciated on the beach. Another option is hanging bags in trees. If you go this route, make sure to hang the bag properly. I have seen them hanging against a tree. This is basically a hanging snack for bears! 

Make sure to bring plenty of water and a water filter. Some beaches have freshwater creeks that flow down all the way to the beach and feed into the ocean. I recommend looking at a map to see if this is available. Also note how far the water access might be from where you plan to set up camp. Two out of three of the beaches on this list have fresh water access. 

And if you plan to camp up in the trees on the shore of the beach, a hammock can come in handy. We brought ours along on one trip and I couldn’t get my kids out of it. Fun entertainment for hours!

And please remember to always pack out whatever you pack in.

Backpacking on the beach with kids

Some tips for a successful backpacking trip with kids

Sand sand everywhere

Remember I said that camping on the beach with your kids is a magical experience? I still stand by it, but there is one downfall, depending on how you look at it…the sand. Be prepared for the sand to be everywhere. Stuck to everything. There’s no way around it, so I recommend just trying to embrace it. It’s too stressful to fight it. Just come to terms with the fact that you will be finding sand in all sorts of places for weeks. Especially in your washer and dryer. 

Keep it close when getting started

If you are just getting into backpacking, keep the approach (how far you hike to your location) on the shorter side. For us, in the beginning, this was really important. My kids have hiked a lot, but carrying a bigger pack was something new for them. And this way, there is no stressing to get to your destination if you’re running a little behind schedule or want to take your time on the trail! Also, if you forget something in the car, you can always run back and grab it if you’re close. We had this happen once, and it saved our trip!

Make a list, check it twice

I highly recommend making a list and keeping it updated over time as you can. I have a backpacking essentials checklist that I always use when packing for a trip. It’s a great way to make sure you have everything you need. Each time I come back from a trip, I think about all the lessons learned and modify the checklist if needed. It’s amazing what each new trip teaches you! 

Backpacking on the beach with kids

Top 3 Olympic Peninsula beaches to backpack to with kids

Ok, ready for the fun part?! Let’s explore the best backpacking beaches on the Olympic Peninsula! As we explore these kid-friendly beach backpacking locations, I’ll provide some valuable tips and insights to help you plan and prepare for your expedition. As a mom, I understand the importance of safety, comfort, and educational opportunities, so I’ll guide you on how to make the most of your time in this natural playground while ensuring a seamless experience for the whole family.

So, get ready to strap on your backpacks, lace up your hiking boots, and embrace the sense of wonder that comes with exploring the Olympic Peninsula’s stunning coastal landscapes. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a family new to the joys of outdoor adventures, this guide will equip you with everything you need to know to embark on an unforgettable journey with your loved ones. Let’s dive into the wonders of the Olympic Peninsula and create memories that will be cherished for a lifetime.

Backpacking on the beach with kids

1. Rialto Beach

It’s hard to beat Rialto Beach! Rialto Beach, a jewel nestled on the rugged coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, offers an awe-inspiring blend of natural beauty, fascinating history, and remarkable landscapes. Located within Olympic National Park, this iconic beach is a haven for families seeking a kid-friendly backpacking experience like no other. With its dramatic sea stacks, vast stretches of sandy shoreline, and an abundance of tide pools to explore, Rialto Beach presents an enchanting playground for young adventurers. Plus, a large amount of driftwood can make for some epic beach bonfires. 

One of the defining features of Rialto Beach is its breathtaking sea stacks. These towering rock formations rise majestically from the ocean, creating a surreal backdrop against the crashing waves. Moreover, the beach is known for its remarkable tide pools, teeming with vibrant sea anemones, colorful starfish, and countless other marine creatures. Exploring these tide pools at low tide allows young explorers to witness the fascinating interplay between land and sea, sparking their curiosity about the wonders of the natural world.

Beyond its natural allure, Rialto Beach is steeped in rich history. The area was once inhabited by the Quileute tribe, who have lived on the Olympic Peninsula for thousands of years. The Quileute people have a deep spiritual and cultural connection to this land, and their stories and traditions are woven into the fabric of the beach’s history. As families hike along the shoreline, they can engage with the Quileute’s cultural heritage, learning about their traditional practices, legends, and the significance of Rialto Beach in their ancestral narratives. It’s an opportunity for children to gain a deeper appreciation for indigenous cultures and the importance of preserving and respecting the natural environment.

Backpacking logistics at Rialto Beach

The hike to the beach is an easy 3.3 miles round trip. The distance depends on where you set up your tent, of course. This beach has plenty of campsites up in the grasses/ woods above the beach if you are looking to get some shade or don’t want to camp directly on the beach. To start, I would recommend camping anywhere before the Hole in the Wall, as passing through the Hole in the Wall is not an option during the high tide. This beach is a pebble beach with some incredible tide pools down by the Hole in the Wall.

Again, you need a permit which you can get on Recreation.gov. There is also access to fresh water at Rialto Beach before the Hole in the Wall. And lastly, parking can be limited, but generally, if you have a bit of patience, a spot will clear out.

The beauty of this beach comes with one small price – the crowds. I guess that is to be expected because it is such a magical place. However, it is an extremely popular destination for good reason! Please don’t worry, crowds thin out and disappear late in the afternoon, and you have the beach all to yourself first thing in the morning. 

Above all, if you try out this Beach, I promise you won’t be disappointed!


Backpacking on the beach with kids

2. Shi Shi Beach 

Shi Shi Beach, nestled on the northernmost edge of the Olympic Peninsula, is a coastal gem renowned for its pristine beauty and untouched wilderness. This captivating destination offers a remarkable blend of rugged cliffs, tide pools brimming with marine life, and expanses of soft sandy shores. Situated within the Makah Indian Reservation and accessible through a scenic hike, Shi Shi Beach provides families with an unforgettable kid-friendly backpacking experience that showcases the true splendor of the Pacific Northwest.

One of the defining characteristics of Shi Shi Beach is its untamed and wild atmosphere. As families venture along the trail that winds through lush forests and reveals breathtaking coastal panoramas, they’ll find themselves immersed in a pristine natural setting. The beach’s rocky outcroppings, towering sea stacks, and driftwood-strewn shoreline create an otherworldly ambiance that sparks the imagination. 

This place is simply awesome for backpacking on the beach with kids. The adventure one can find on this beach is never-ending! Exploring the Point of Arches is INCREDIBLE! Just wait till you see all of the sea life to ogle. Endless rocks to climb. Did I mention the caves? It is really something! 

But the adventure of this beach starts before you even get to the beach (actually, this is applicable for every beach on this list). From the ferry, the drive along the coast, to the hike out to the beach, everything about the trip is amazing.  The hike itself to this beach is just magic. It is so lush and green, with several winding boardwalks and bridges. Our kids loved skipping along the boardwalks. 

Backpacking logistics at Shi Shi Beach

The hike comes up as 8 miles roundtrip (4 miles each way), although, this is a little deceiving. You don’t need to hike the entire 4 miles as you can set up camp as soon as you hit the beach or soon thereafter. I definitely recommend going a little further down the beach, closer to all the tide pools. Although, it works equally well to set up camp and go explore without all your gear.

There is water to filter at this beach, and plenty of driftwood to burn, too. We noted a few campsites off the beach but decided to set up right there on the beach, in the sand. We love that sand can double as a pillow or a contoured bed. Just shape it to how you feel comfortable, then set your gear on top!

Lastly, in order to camp on this beach, you will need a few things. A permit from Recreation.gov, the Makah Recreation Pass (both described above), and you will also need to purchase parking. Parking at the trailhead is for day use only. You will need to park 1/2 mile down the road in a front yard that you pass before you get to the trailhead. There is a slot to pay for parking on the front porch. It sounds odd and confusing, but it makes sense when you see it. We backpacked here with another family, so I dropped the kids and the gear off and parked the car myself. This was a lifesaver! 

Backpacking on the beach with kids

3. Second Beach 

Nestled along the pristine coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, Second Beach is a picturesque and family-friendly destination that embodies the essence of a Pacific Northwest beach getaway. Located within the boundaries of Olympic National Park, this enchanting beach offers a unique blend of rugged beauty, dense forests, and stunning coastal vistas. With its sandy shores, towering sea stacks, and tranquil ambiance, Second Beach beckons families to embark on unforgettable adventures in one of nature’s most breathtaking settings.

Second Beach also holds a special place in my heart. We took my mother-in-law camping here, and it was the first time in many years she had slept in a tent. It ended up being the perfect place for a multi-generational backpacking trip!

Backpacking logistics for Second Beach

The hike to the beach is 4 miles round trip (2 miles to the beach) with a minimal 310 ft of elevation gain. This is definitely one where you can run back to the car fairly easily. So easily, actually, that you can bring some comforts from home if you want.  We ended up packing in a full-sized 6-person tent and queen air mattresses to make my MIL’s stay extra comfortable! It was easy peasy to do, being such a short distance from the car.

Our two favorite things about Second Beach are the rocks to climb and the wide-open beach. My kids ran and ran and ran! It was glorious! If you happen to get a clear day, the sunset on this beach is quite incredible. There are also lots of tide pools at low tide. Starfish and anemone heaven!

This beach has a mix of off-and on-the-sand campsites. We nestled ourselves up in the woods just above the beach. We brought a hammock which we set up overlooking the ocean. What an amazing place to chill and listen to the waves. One important thing to note about this beach is it does not have access to fresh water. You will want to pack in plenty (again, being close to your car helps, so bring extra). 

Second Beach is a gem that you should definitely add to your list!

Backpacking on the beach with kids

Backpacking on the beach with kids

Getting started backpacking with kids

If you have never been backpacking with your kid, these beaches are definitely a great place to start. If you are looking to get into it for the first time, I recommend checking out these two articles by other Run Wild My Child mamas. Both these awesome articles will get you started and give you lots of helpful tips! And, don’t forget about the RWMC camping with kids digital guide, which (while not specific to backpacking) will give you a great overview of camping gear, expectations, advice, etc. 

Backpacking the beaches of the Olympic Penninsula Tidepools

Olympic beach backpacking with kids

Beach backpacking with kids in the Olympic Peninsula is a gateway to a world of adventure, discovery, and cherished memories. The benefits of exploring these kid-friendly coastal destinations are unlimited. From the physical activity and outdoor immersion that promote healthy development to the educational opportunities embedded in the region’s rich history and diverse ecosystems, beach backpacking offers an unparalleled way for families to bond and grow together.

Beach backpacking in the Olympic Peninsula is an opportunity for families to unplug from the distractions of daily life and immerse themselves in the wonders of nature. From the thrill of spotting a bald eagle soaring overhead to the joy of running barefoot on the sandy shoreline, each moment is infused with a sense of excitement and adventure. Parents and children alike can revel in the simple pleasures of beachcombing, splashing in the waves, and witnessing breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky in hues of gold and pink.

So, pack your backpacks, gather your little adventurers, and set off on an unforgettable journey along the beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. Embrace the beauty, history, and enchantment that await you, and create memories that will forever hold a special place in your hearts. The wonders of the coastline are calling, and it’s time to embark on a family beach backpacking adventure of a lifetime.

And although it might seem like a lot to consider, when broken down, backpacking on the beach can be a totally doable epic adventure. I hope this helps you to get out with your kiddos and spend the night on the beach! And when you do, please share any lessons learned. I would love to hear your stories!

About the author

Teri is the mama of 2 adventurous kiddos (ages 7 and 9), living in Washington State. She loves to explore the outdoors, and her kids often tell her she has a “crush” on the mountains (she agrees). Teri is an avid hiker and backpacker, who enjoys getting out on solo trips as well as trips with her kids. She has been taking her kids camping, hiking, and backpacking since before they could walk. Teri loves to unplug with them, be fully present, and immerse themselves in the outdoors. She has traveled a lot of the world with her kids, they lived in China for a while, but she keeps finding herself most excited about her own backyard. Teri is passionate about inspiring other families and moms to get outside and explore the outdoors with and without their kids.

You can find more from Teri online in the following locations:
Instagram: @the.trekking.mama
Website: www.thetrekkingmama.com
RWMC posts: Teri Walzenbach