Hidden Coast Scenic Byway
Pacific coast at sunset on the Hidden Coast near Copalis Beach
About this byway
Prepare to compose your thoughts and write your next novel. The shadows are deeper in this part of the world, and the power and beauty of the ocean invite introspection. Roll up the cuffs of your pants and walk along the beach or light a fire in the fireplace and relax. This is a place of tales, long naps and sunsets that last forever.
It’s where history started before words could be written, and where the lore of the Quinault outlines the topography better than any map. Listen to the birds, the waves and the forest and you’ll learn the language of the Northwest.
From Seattle, take I-5 south to westbound US-101 near Olympia and head toward Hoquiam (112 miles / two hours). Follow signs to Ocean Shores and SR-109 and go north up the coast, ending at Taholah.
Things to do
Driving along a portion of wild and untamed Pacific Ocean coastline, you’ll wander past isolated beaches and tiny communities. Fishing, clamming and storm watching are ideal pastimes along this remote stretch. Take it easy; pull over often; breathe deeply and enjoy the solitude.
Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge, located near Hoquiam, protects muddy tide flats on the Grays Harbor Estuary, where thousands of shorebirds feed during their round-trip migration periods in spring and summer. Walk a mile from the parking lot to the Sandpiper Trail, a boardwalk that leads through a forest to the seashore.
A view of the beach and nearby forested cliffs is tremendous, and the sight of thousands of shorebirds will thrill bird watchers. Up to 16 different species are commonly found here. In late April or early May, a shorebird festival brings experienced birders and newcomers together for a delightful education. Audubon Washington has a colorful birding trail map for this entire region. Visit wa.audubon.org and select “Find Our Birds,” then “Olympic Loop.”
Ocean City State Park
This 170-acre camping park is a coastal wetland perfect for beachcombing and investigating sand dunes and the pine thickets that surround the freshwater and saltwater marshes. Ocean City State Park is part of the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds and is a good place to spot migrating gray whales as well.
Fishing (red snapper, salmon, tuna and more) is a popular activity here. Swimming, diving, surfing and use of personal watercraft are permitted. As with all coastal beaches on this byway, heed warning signs about rip currents and dangerous logs.
This coastal community, where the Copalis River greets the sea, offers razor-clam digging, fishing and a beach you can drive on (stay on the packed upper sand). Start with a visit to the Griffiths-Friday State Park, a 364-acre marine park with loads of saltwater shoreline on the ocean and freshwater shoreline on the Copalis River. The Copalis Spit Natural Area, a designated wildlife refuge, is part of the park.
One of the most fascinating attractions in the area is the Copalis Ghost Forest. Located on the banks of the Copalis River, the forest of red cedars and spruce trees was killed by a massive earthquake in 1700. The land beneath the trees subsided, and the forest was flooded over. You can reach the submerged forest by canoe or kayak from an informal launch site in the middle of the town.
A vacation beach town founded in 2004, Seabrook is worth a visit for its artfully designed village greens, walking paths of crushed oyster shells and houses that resemble New England cottages. Seabrook has dozens of orange and yellow bicycles for use in cruising the neighborhood, but there are also plenty of off-road trails and old logging roads for serious riders to enjoy.
When in season (October through May), razor-clam digging is one of the area’s most popular activities. Come prepared with rain gear and rubber boots, then buy a license, rent a shovel and gather some free clamming advice at the local mercantile.
Pacific Beach State Park
Located at the edge of the town of Pacific Beach, this 10-acre park has a busy campground and unbroken views of the ocean. A fine, sandy beach is ideal for strolling and flying kites. Otters can be seen here, as well as shorebirds, eagles and hawks. Also, be sure to take in the “Kelpers Day Celebration” in Pacific Beach over Labor Day weekend. Celebrate all things kelp here; it’s the only place you officially can.
Moclips was once a thriving Quinault village situated along the Moclips River. European settlers homesteaded the area in 1862, though it wasn't until 1905 that the town became official and the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway was completed here. Moclips became a popular destination for vacationers coming to the beach on the Northern Pacific. Pay a visit to the Museum of the North Beach for more information about the area’s history (www.moclips.org).
Today, a visitor can enjoy the beach at Moclips and hike along the Moclips River, which forms the boundary between the town and the Quinault Indian Nation.
Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah
The Hidden Coast Scenic Byway concludes at the literal end of the road, where SR-109 meets the Quinault River. In the village of Taholah, on Quinault Indian Nation land, the Quinault River enters the ocean. This area is a popular tribal fishery during fall salmon migration. Visitors will enjoy watching both the salmon run and these master fishermen at work. Tribal fish-and-wildlife guides will help you appreciate the area’s rich plant and animal habitat through stories dating back untold centuries.
The Quinault Museum, in Taholah, is dedicated to acquiring, organizing and protecting the material cultural heritage of the nation’s people, and to preserving traditional ceremonial and subsistence activities.
Extensive photo collections can be viewed, and a library is evolving. The museum is open Monday through Friday. Visit www.quinaultindiannation.com for more information about the tribe, guide services and the museum.
Gas, food and lodging
Food, lodging and gas are available along the byway in each of the tiny communities. Some camping is available.
Driving Distance: 41 miles from Hoquiam to Taholah, ancestral home of the Quinault Indian Nation.
Driving Time: One hour, not including stops.
Actual Time: Plan a full day for a road trip or two days for beachcombing, fishing, wildlife viewing and exploration.
Best Time to Travel: The route is open year-round.
Connected or nearby scenic byways