The Beauty (and Perils) of Rialto Beach – A Cautionary Tale

Just 3 miles down Mora Rd from the Manitou Lodge, you’ll find Rialto Beach, probably the most spectacular of the Olympic Park “front-country” beaches. Perpetually great surf, some of the largest driftwood logs on the coast, clear views of James Island off La Push on the opposite bank of the Quileute River. Hiking north, there’s an obligatory fording of Ellen Creek, following which you’ll encounter paired rock monoliths – the “Sisters”. Just beyond is “Hole-in-the-Wall”, a surf-carved tunnel in the headland that can be easily walked through at lower tides. At these lower tides, one can explore an expanse of tide pools around the tunnel teeming with intertidal life – multicolored sea stars, anemones, sea urchins, etc. Further north on the beach, there are a multitude of attractive coves, inlets, and headlands. Moreover, all of this can be accessed in a civilized way from a parking lot at the south end of the beach. No need to hike through the woods, fall down a bluff, and scramble over a pile of driftwood logs to access Rialto Beach. In the summer season, there’s even a ramp installed allowing disabled tourists to reach a good beach viewpoint.

Rialto, nonetheless, is a wild beach with its own rules. The Park Service provides the usual and obligatory warnings about not playing in the surf in the presence of driftwood logs, and, while on the beach, possessing some awareness concerning tides so that one does not get trapped between headlands by an incoming tide. These warnings should be taken seriously.

Our guests regularly experience an unexpected drenching from rogue waves on Rialto. For most, this is just part of the fun. For some time, there’s not been an incident entailing real danger. However, within the past month a group of our guests, which included a couple of chihuahuas and a baby, hiking well north of Hole-in-the-Wall in the late afternoon/early evening, to their dismay found their return blocked by a fast rising tide and oncoming darkness, and spent the entire night pretty darn uncomfortably (chihuahuas do not give off much warmth) on the beach. Ultimately, all ended well, but it is hoped that the underlying message will not be lost on the reader – time, tide, and daylight really do not wait for you and are unconcerned about your safety. Consult a tide table, and plan ahead.

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