by Bob Morse

revised by Scott Horton

High, rocky bluffs and offshore islands that are home to over a dozen species of nesting seabirds dominate the Outer Olympic Coast from Cape Flattery to Point Grenville. Storm-petrels, auklets, and puffins nest in burrows dug into grassy hillsides, while cormorants and murres nest on the high, open cliff ledges. The world’s finest temperate rain forest stretches from the water’s edge to the mountains of the Olympic National Park and is home to nesting Sooty Grouse, Marbled Murrelet, Varied Thrush, and Red Crossbill. Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock, Western Redcedar, Sitka Spruce, and Bigleaf Maple, luxuriantly draped with mosses and lichens, form a sensuous landscape with the richly carpeted forest floor. Populations of several characteristic birds of the western Olympic Peninsula have changed over the past 20 years. Since their dramatic recovery, Bald Eagles are nearly ubiquitous and the pressure they exert on prey species such as gull roosts is considerable; Spotted Owls have become nearly absent from the lower elevations, giving way to the colonizing Barred Owl that is now commonplace; Tufted Puffin populations have declined and they are much more difficult to view from shore. The following itinerary offers opportunities to sample the birds of the coast, rivers, and managed and old-growth forests at several spots, including the Hoh River country and Lake Quinault.

map La Push


From US-101, turn west on SR-110. In 7.8 miles the Mora Road branches off on the right. Keep left on SR-110 toward the fishing village of La Push on the Quileute Indian Reservation. The road travels through Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock, and Sitka Spruce forests of varying ages and crosses into Olympic National Park as it nears La Push. The forested 1.3-mile Third Beach Trail, on the left in 3.8 miles, leads to a wilderness beach and the 17-mile beach trail south heading to the Hoh River. Pacific Wren, Varied Thrush, and Red Crossbill along with other forest birds are heard more often than seen here. Farther along (1.4 miles), Second Beach Trail, on the left, leads in 0.7 mile through spruce woods down to a picturesque beach where cormorants, Bald Eagles, Black Oystercatchers, Tufted Puffins, gulls, Harbor Seals and sometimes Sea Otters may be seen. Peregrine Falcons nest at Second Beach. Crossbill flocks are frequently seen in the beachfront forests from both beaches. The many small islands of the Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge, just offshore, host thousands of nesting seabirds, including the state’s largest colony of Leach’s Storm-Petrels. The petrels are entirely nocturnal near their colonies and never visible during the day. Several of the beachfront islands at Second Beach offer excellent views of nesting seabirds including Pelagic Cormorant, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, and others. It is possible to approach too closely during low tide, so be sensitive and avoid disturbing the nesting birds.

On the outskirts of La Push, just after the La Push Ocean Park Resort cabins, turn right onto Alder Street and then immediately left onto River Street. At the T-intersection, go left onto Main Street (aka River Drive) and follow the road a short distance to a gravel parking area that provides a good overlook of the Quillayute River and First Beach to the south, with the Quillayute Needles and the open ocean beyond. The island at the river mouth is James Island with Little James Island at the far right. The larger of the two islands in the middle is called Kohchaa, which in the Quileute language means “gathering place for gull eggs and seafood.” Peregrine Falcons nest on James Island, Bald Eagles on Little James Island. Gray Whales can be conspicuous off First Beach during their northward migration in April. If you accept Northwestern Crows as a distinct species, crows regularly seen at La Push and nearby beaches can probably be assigned to this species. During the summer salmon season, a charter fishing trip from La Push can encounter abundant and diverse seabirds including Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Cassin’s Auklet, Tufted Puffin, and other alcids, phalaropes, jaegers, Humpback Whales, and other marine mammals.

La Push has been notable for a seasonally large gull roost on the gravel bar near the Quillayute River mouth, easily viewable from the overlook. The dramatic increase in Bald Eagle numbers and their constant presence in the Quillayute estuary has diminished the size, but not the diversity of these gull flocks. Brown Pelicans and Heermann’s Gulls arrive from Baja in summer, followed by Ring-billed and California Gulls from the interior. Pick out pure Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls among the far more common hybrids. In winter, check for Mew, Herring, Thayer’s, and Glaucous (rare) Gulls. Also Bald Eagles, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Peregrine Falcons regularly water and bathe here. Harlequin Ducks, all three scoters, Buffleheads, goldeneyes, and Common and Red-breasted Mergansers are often in the river mouth or channel. Crows (Northwestern) are common here. Check for Black Oystercatchers, Wandering Tattlers (spring and fall), and Black Turnstones (fall through spring) on the jetty and islands, and for loons and grebes in the boat basin. The area is attractive to unusual species, but underbirded. Mourning Dove, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Sage Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Palm Warbler, Western Meadowlark, Common Grackle, and Brambling are among the unusual migrant or wintering birds seen in this vicinity. Washington’s only record of Great Knot is from La Push, and in 1996 an Emperor Goose spent the month of January here.

Retrace your route to Mora Road and turn left. The road enters Olympic National Park in 2.7 miles and winds through coastal old-growth forest, ending at the Rialto Beach parking area (2.2 miles). Several short hiking trails visit the Quillayute River or its sloughs, where birds of the forest, riverine growth, and river can be seen, including Spotted Sandpiper, Warbling Vireo, American Dipper, Swainson’s and Varied Thrushes, and Yellow Warbler. Hooded Mergansers have raised their broods at the ponds across from the Mora Campground just inside the park entrance; Merlins have nested in the campground.

Rialto Beach is the departure point for beach hikers heading north. The picturesque Hole in the Wall, 1.5 miles north is a nice half-day hike. Twenty miles of wilderness beach trail leads to Cape Alava, where a three-mile trail connects to road access at Ozette Lake. To the south, a one-mile spit parallels the Quillayute River and ends at Little James Island.

map Ho


Return to US-101 and turn right, continue through town to the Forks Visitor Information Center on the left (2.7 miles), which has national forest and national park information and maps. Summer hours: Monday–Saturday 10AM–5PM; Winter: Monday–Saturday 10AM–4PM; Sundays, year round: 11AM–4PM. Reset your trip-odometer to 0.0 here, travel 11.9 miles, and turn left onto the Upper Hoh Valley Road to reach the Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest. The park entrance booth is 12.6 miles from US-101. The road passes through various stages of managed forests, from recent clearcuts to mature stands of Western Hemlock and Western Redcedar. There are many opportunities to pull over to look for species typical of these habitats, including Sooty Grouse, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Vaux’s Swift (overhead, May through July), Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Willow and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Hutton’s Vireo, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s and Varied Thrushes, and Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers. Stop at the alder grove at the parking lot on the right just before the entrance booth, where Downy Woodpecker, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, and Black-throated Gray Warbler are common from May through July. On the other side of the road, and a few hundred feet back west, a footbridge crosses a bog to a trail, good for birds of the coniferous forest from mid-May through mid-July. Barred Owls may be heard at night in the spring. Continue to the visitor center in about another six miles. Loop trails with interpretive signs lead through moss-draped maples, providing a good introduction to this classic temperate rain-forest ecosystem. In the nearby campground, watch for Gray and Steller’s Jays. Crows here may also be thought of as “Northwestern”; these wide river valleys and coastal areas were its traditional range before development brought an end to their isolation from the widespread American Crow.

Return to US-101 and turn left. The road reaches the ocean at Ruby Beach (13.9 miles), and runs south through the coastal section of Olympic National Park for the next 10 miles. There are several well-signed access points to the beach, where Black Oystercatchers may be found in rocky places. Records of Tropical Kingbird and Tennessee and Black-throated Blue Warblers at Ruby Beach give a hint of the vagrant potential of this stretch of seldom-birded coastline. The Sooty Fox Sparrow can be conspicuous during breeding season here. The Destruction Island overlook, an unmarked, paved pullout (1.2 miles), can provide spectacular views, sometimes Gray Whales or Sea Otters (with scope) feeding just outside the surf line, and sometimes thousands of Sooty Shearwaters circling mysteriously just offshore. The island is a major seabird nesting site but at four miles offshore is too distant for viewing. Kalaloch Lodge is on the right in 6.2 miles.

map quinault


After crossing the Queets River (5.0 miles south of Kalaloch Lodge), US-101 heads inland, running east and south through the Quinault Indian Reservation to Lake Quinault. This four-mile-long freshwater lake, fed by the Quinault River and other mountain streams, lies in the southwest corner of Olympic National Park. The adjoining dense conifers, lush broadleaf forests, and lakeside thickets provide a number of opportunities to sample the birds of this part of the Olympic Peninsula. Much of the better birding is along the south shore of the lake. Turn left about 26 miles from the Queets River bridge onto the Lake Quinault South Shore Road, then right in 1.4 miles into the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail parking lot (America the Beautiful or Northwest Forest Pass required; available here from a self-service pay station). Take time to enjoy the half-mile, self-guided walk through magnificent old-growth temperate rain forest with its rich association of ferns, lichens, mosses, and Vine Maples. Colossal specimens of Douglas-fir, Western Redcedar, Western Hemlock, and Sitka Spruce dominate the trail and the gorge; you may see American Dippers in the cascades.

Continue on to the Lake Quinault Lodge in 0.7 mile. Built in 1926 in the heyday of the national-park style, the rustic lobby, expansive grounds, and dining room overlooking the lake are a “must see” for visiting birders. After staying here in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommended that much of the north shore of the lake be included in Olympic National Park. The Quinault National Recreation Trail System, which starts across the road from the lodge, offers a series of hiking trails through the towering coniferous forests.

Birds of these habitats include Sooty Grouse, Barred and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, and Dark-eyed Junco. Check around the lodge, other lakeside buildings, gardens, and along the shoreline trail through broadleaf forests and shrubby thickets, for Red-breasted Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Olive-sided and Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos, swallows, American Dipper (in streams entering the lake, especially at the east end in winter), Swainson’s Thrush, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Black-throated Gray, and Wilson’s Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Fox (winter), Song, and White-crowned Sparrows, Western Tanager, and Black-headed Grosbeak. The lake hosts wintering Trumpeter Swan, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Loon, and occasional Marbled Murrelets (summer), which nest in the old-growth trees in the hills. Around the lake, check for Osprey nests in snags, and Bald Eagles (especially in winter).

Just east of the lodge is the Quinault Ranger District Station, where you can obtain trail maps, a local bird list, and trailhead parking permits. The South Shore Road continues east, then leaves the lakeshore and meanders through open farmlands bordered by alders and maples to the Upper Quinault Valley. In winter, these fields may have herds of Elk. In 5.8 miles, the South Shore Road becomes a dirt road and parallels the Quinault River. Watch for Harlequin Duck (spring), and large numbers of Bald Eagles feeding on dead salmon in January along the river and creeks.



Depending on tides, time of year, and weather, birding at Point Grenville can be outstanding or it can be dreary. May through early June is the best time, but other seasons can offer much. During migration and winter, seabirds and waterfowl pass the tip in good numbers. Point Grenville can be a great migrant trap and is almost always an excellent sea-watch location. Unusual birds such as Horned Puffin, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Palm Warbler, and Vesper, Lark, and Black-throated Sparrows have been seen here. Public access is restricted on much of the Quinault Indian Reservation, and non-tribal visitors to Point Grenville must have permission to bird there. Call the tribe at 360-276-8215.

Return to US-101 (stay left at the fork after the lodge) and go left (south). At 5.5 miles, turn right (west) onto the Moclips Highway, a 20-mile stretch of road through second-growth forest. At the T-intersection with SR-109, turn right (north) toward Taholah.

The paved road leads to abandoned buildings of the former Coast Guard station. Park here. During its use by the military, the area around the buildings was cleared and lawns planted. The facility was abandoned in the 1970s, and the fields have reverted to tall grass interspersed with shrubby thickets. Sooty Grouse nest in the narrow corridor of mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest habitat along the entrance road. Migrant songbirds use the California Wax-myrtle, other bushes, and forest edges. The Sooty Fox Sparrow has its southernmost known nesting location here, and is most abundant in the winter in bushes to the southwest of the buildings.

Walk north from the buildings, then west on a dirt track across an open field leading to an overlook facing west. In the past, Tufted Puffins have nested in the bluff just below the cliff face across from the offshore sea-stack. Pigeon Guillemots nest in the rock cliffs to the north and Pelagic Cormorants on the whitewashed, open cliff ledges to the south. On the offshore rock formations, Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls (and the more common hybrids of these two species) nest in the grassy areas near the top. Peregrine Falcons may be visible on these rocks or hunting nearby.

A second viewing area requires a short walk to the south side of the point. From the old buildings, follow a dirt road to the southwest. Where it appears to end, a small trail leads through thickets of alder, huckleberry, and Salal to a steep overlook. Black Oystercatchers are often seen below, on the rocky shoreline. Cormorants, puffins, and gulls nest on the second islet to the south. The waters below often have Surf and White-winged Scoters, loons, Western Grebes, and Common Murres.

The spectacular cliffs that characterize the Outer Olympic Coast end here, giving way to a broad coastal plain. Travel south on SR-109 to reach Ocean Shores and other birding sites of the South Coast.