It’s true, you and your crew are still thawing out from winter. And your family’s spring break plan is still in the hatching stage. But if camping at one of Washington’s most coveted slices of shoreline is on your summer to-do list, the time to snag a spot is right now. Here’s everything you need to know to get in on camping at Kalaloch this summer!
Finally, a Summer To-Do List You Can Get Behind!
Anyone who’s ever hit Washington’s sandy coast knows that expansive, golden beaches are what it’s all about. And Kalaloch is no exception. Campers come from all over to take in the sun, sand and surf each day of their stay. So when you pack family accessories for this trip, think beach vacay! Bring plenty of buckets and pails, shovels and rakes for kiddos to dig with. They’ll stay busy for hours building sandcastles with tide-fed moats or burying themselves in the sand. Kite flying is another favorite pastime here. Whether you anchor yours to an errant log or practice loop-de-loops with your stunt kite, you’ll have plenty of room to do it. It’s amazing how not crowded the beach is, even on a sunny summer day! Add to this list, beachcombing, which is another family fave. The national park coastline runs for miles in either direction, so you can explore as far as the eye can see. Just remember to keep watch on the tide when you do. And of course, everyone has to snap a pic under the famous hanging tree that’ll leave you wondering how it stays anchored to the bluff. It’s definitely a post-worthy pic!
The campground beach is one of many along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. And even though you’ve got to drive a few miles to hit some of the other beaches in the area, we highly recommend exploring them. Put Ruby Beach first on your list. It’s a consistent Washington state hot spot, sure to be found on any Washington “can’t-miss” or “gotta-go” lists you can find. And while Kalaloch is sandy, Ruby beach is rocky with driftwood clusters that kiddos can use to build forts or as chairs for your picnic lunch. It’s also where you’ve got the best chance to spot some of the sanctuary’s most famous critters, the resident sea otters and puffins. Keep a good watch on the rock outcroppings if you want to find puffins, and bring binocs, trained on the ocean, to spot the sea otters, grouped together in a furry flotilla. And if tide pools are your family’s jam, hit Beach 4 for some good finds at low tide.
Check out a Ranger Program
After you’ve worn your crew out with some serious beach play, head to one of the many Park Ranger programs offered throughout the summer. Weekly program offerings are posted on the welcome board near the campground entrance. Once you’re settled in, stop by to see what’s on for the week and pick your faves. Although each program is different, most evening programs are super kid-friendly as well as educational. Expect time for your curious cuties to touch natural artifacts (think: sea otter fur, special rocks and bones) and pose plenty of questions during the brief (and casual) outdoor program. In addition to evening programs, rangers also lead Science by the Shore outings a few days each week. This is a chance for families to go beyond the typical day-at-the-beach-activities, like sandcastle building and tide pooling, and instead dig into some real hands-on science activities along the coast. Think of it as your STEM summer extension activity!
Take a Hike
If hitting a gorgeously green rainforest trail is on your to-do list, you won’t find many opportunities around Kalaloch. But you can find trails a-plenty in the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests. Both are about a 45-minute drive (in either direction) from Kalaloch, so you could easily plan a day trip with plenty of time to be back at camp for a tent-side dinner. Just be sure to secure your food items at the campsite before you head to the forest!
Learn a Little Too
Keep your seaside adventures interesting with some awesome kid programs, created by the National Park Service. The Ocean Steward Program (ages 4 & up) focuses on learning about our delicate marine eco-system, using fun games and activities kids can complete on their own. Depending on her age, your sidekick can work through one of three different activity paths to earn a badge when she’s done. You can pick up a copy of the program at the Welcome Center when you arrive, or download it before you head out. The Junior Ranger Program is similar to the first program, but instead of focusing on water, its focus is on learning about the Olympic National Park’s entire eco-system. Budding scientists can work through the activities while you’re out exploring, or keep it handy to pass out during quiet time or while sibs are napping. Families can also check out a Discovery Backpack at the park’s Welcome Center. It’s filled with field guides, worksheets, outdoor games to play and special tools Littles might need to get up close with plants and creepy crawlies they find along the way (think: magnifying glasses and binoculars). There’s a suggested $5 donation to use a pack, but it’s well worth it if you’re heading out on a hike or need a little extra something for your beach bum to do.
Snag a Camping Spot
We’re not going to lie, reserving a camping spot at Kalaloch is not easy, like trying to score a Hatchimal at the holidays not easy. But with a few tips and tricks you should be able to grab a spot before they’re all gone! Here’s what to do:
1. Campsites open up six months in advance, and the reservation window starts at 7 a.m. sharp the morning of. We suggest scoping out your spot a few days (or even weeks) ahead of time. Once you’ve found the prefect spot, we also suggest finding a back up or two just in case.
2. When you’re choosing the perfect spot, be sure to review the campsite details closely. Many spots are small, and fitting a larger SUV or trailer into them would be difficult. There are also a few spots that don’t have space for a tent or are on a steep grade.
3. Check proximity to the highway and bluff overlooks that might be of concern for wiggly wee ones when you’re picking your site. Although these hazards are pretty easy to monitor, it’s good to keep them in mind.
4. Like many Washington camping spots, summer weekends fill up fast. So if you have some flexibility, try booking mid-week or even off-season to have a better chance of scoring the perfect reservation!
5. Once you’re ready to book, we suggest getting on the website at least 15 minutes before the reservation window opens. This will give you enough time to make sure sites are still available, and make adjustments if you need to before clicking in. Good luck!
Good to Know
1. You don’t need a National Park pass to camp, park or play at any of the beaches along this 7-mile stretch in the Olympic National Forest. Unless you plan to hike a trail that’s a little out of the way, you can skip the park pass and breathe easy.
2. Your fur babies are welcome to camp in the park too. Just make sure they follow the rules, so they can safely enjoy this beautiful coastline.
3. If you forget to pack some necessities, need to replenish your ice stash or just can’t live without your morning cup o’ Joe, don’t fret. There’s a well-stocked General Store just down the street at the Kalaloch Lodge that has most everything you need. It’s open daily from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. in the summer.
Olympic National Park
Off Hwy. 101
Cost: $44/night; $154/week
Have you camped at Kalaloch before? Do you plan to go this summer? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below.
— Allison Sutcliffe (all photos courtesy of the writer)