In Washington’s northwest corner lies the Makah Reservation, home of the Makah Tribe and gateway to the rugged beauty of the Olympic Coast. Shi Shi Beach is situated near Neah Bay, a bustling harbor in the heart of the reservation and a great place to base your explorations. The Pacific Ocean and Olympic National Park create the western border of the tribal lands, while Cape Flattery and the Strait of Juan de Fuca define the northern boundary, with the coastal peaks of Vancouver Island seemingly within arm’s reach. Access from the east is via State Route 112 and is a four-hour drive from Seattle.
Weather At Shi Shi Beach
The Olympic Peninsula includes portions of temperate rainforest. Expect cool, wet weather that gives rise to the lush green forests. The region is accessible year-round, though spring through fall will be the most enjoyable. Some of the services and accommodations around Neah Bay are closed during the winter, so check ahead. Be prepared with proper clothing if venturing out during the winter months which can bring big surf, up to 8 inches of snow and icy trails. Spring and summers are cool and damp, with temperatures ranging from the 40s to near 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Coastal fog is common but can really add to the mood of images. Sunny skies can be had only a few miles away; keep your options open and think about placing yourself at the transition zone for more dynamic skies.
The multitude of sea stacks adorned with weathered spruce growing at impossible angles is a primary attraction to the Olympic Coast. Iconic Shi Shi Beach, Point of Arches and Cape Flattery are must-see locations for landscape photographers. Makah recreation permits—required to access these areas—are $10 per calendar year and easily purchased in Neah Bay. Additional parking fees are charged for overnight visits to Shi Shi Beach as overnight parking isn’t allowed at the day-use trailhead.
While photo opportunities are available at some roadside turnouts along State Route 112 and Tsoo-Yess Beach Road, I highly recommend a day hike or overnight trip along Shi Shi Beach for the unique sea stacks, lighting and tidal conditions. As Shi Shi is part of the National Park System, camping permits and approved bear-proof containers must be obtained. Tide charts are also a must since portions of beaches are submerged at high tide and require advanced planning for safe passage.
Wide-angle to mid-range zooms were my go-to lenses for capturing the towering stacks and sky. Sunset light tended to work best along the west coast, though sun shining through fog can create some surreal effects. A tripod for low-light shooting or smoothing wave action with long exposures was necessary.
Best Times To Visit
I chose to visit in the spring, when temperatures are cool and crowds minimized. Midweek visits might lessen camper congestion on beaches for overnight camping. As access to some areas may be limited depending on conditions, be sure to inquire with the Makah Tribal Council when planning your trip.
Contact: Makah Tribal Council, makah.com
See more of Harry Lichtman’s work at HarryLichtman.com.