Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches - Olympic National Park

Point of the Arches at the south end of Shi Shi Beach
 Winter isn't the time that most people think of visiting the coast.  After all, there's snow in the mountains and plenty of skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing to do.  However, winter does offer some advantages (including having all those people in the mountains skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing!).  The sun is further to the south in the winter months, offering softer light for a larger part of the day, and low and high tides tend to be more extreme.  With this knowledge in hand, a photographer can employ much creativity while exploring options not necessarily available to visitors later in the season.
Sunset at Point of the Arches
Of course, there are some downsides to visiting in winter as well, starting with temperatures.  My visit took place with snow in the forecast and temps in the 20's.  For Shi Shi in particular, this made the approach interesting with an icy boardwalk section and an icy crossing of Petroleum Creek.  Couple cold temps with the moisture present in the air, and it is very easy to get chilled to your core.  I strongly recommend a layer system and several extra pairs of socks.

As for camping, make sure you set your campsite in the trees.  While camping on the beach can be an attractive option in the summer, I can tell you firsthand that not much, if any, of the beach is safe in winter.  High tide can make much of the beach impassable in the winter months.

Sunset at Point of the Arches

From a photography standpoint, if you have visited Shi Shi in the spring, summer or fall, you may have some adjusting to do when planning your compositions. Did I mention that the sun sets much further to the south?  Much further than I anticipated I will admit.  Still, as long as you plan for this, there can be rewards.

The tidal pools around Point of the Arches are some of the best I have seen on the Washington coast.  Though they can be enjoyed in all seasons, the extreme low tides of winter make even more of them accessible and allow for further exploration.  But don't spend all of your time looking down.  Bald Eagles can be regularly seen flying overhead and even perching in the trees above the arches themselves.  Sea otters are also a common and fun sight.

Point of the Arches at dawn.
Campsights near the Point of the Arches can be ideal for quick and easy access.  Camps around Petroleum Creek afford a nice composition of having the winter sun set behind the sea stacks, with its light seen through two separate arches.

Raccoons must be reckoned with.  I've never experienced them in previous visits, but they were certainly present during my last visit.  Though I had a visitor at my camp near the point, they seemed concentrated around the campsites at the very north end (beginning) of Shi Shi Beach.  Remember that a hard food container is required (see the Olympic National Park web site).

For lenses, I found my 24-70mm most useful for landscape, and 70-200mm with 2x extender for tidal pools and wildlife.  Though I brought my 17-40mm, it never saw the light of the day on this visit.  Graduated neuatral density filters and polarizers are also important.

I hope you get a chance to visit our coast during its "off season".  I think you will enjoy it.

If you are interested in further viewing, I have other images from this area as well as Rialto Beach, Hole in the Wall, Ruby Beach, Strawberry Point, Toleak Point, Cape Alava and more in my Washington Coast gallery.


  1. Wish I could have joined you on that trip. Shi Shi is an incredible place - one of the most spectacular locations on the whole west coast in my opinion.

  2. There will be future trips, Greg. And an invite will await you once again!