Olympic National Park

You like Mountains? Check. Glaciers, too? ok, check. Oh, you want crashing waves of the ocean? no problem, check. Not just old growth, but Rain Forest? you greedy thing, but ok… check. Seaside towns? Check. Culture? definitely, check. Hiking trails, waterfalls, off-road drives? check, check check. Yeah, you get the picture, Olympic National Park has something for everyone.IMG_6099

We spent just over a week in this underrated National Park. We broke our exploration into 3 segments and saw quite a bit, but certainly not everything. There are odd boundaries to the park – it’s not a compact area. It consists of mountains, forests, temperate rain forest, and Pacific coastline. But it’s also not accessible to drive through (thanks Mount Olympus) so if you want to see the different regions, you have to go all the way around the exterior.

We drove from Seattle to the Southeast region of the park and stayed in Hoodsport, so the journey took us around Hood Canal. What a cool drive! Hood Canal is not a manmade waterway, and thus, not technically a canal, but instead a natural waterway – a fjord (Raj’s degree in Geography comes in handy occasionally). We had lovely views for most of the drive and I enjoyed the bungalows and cabins built right on the water (and rather close to each other) as we bustled along and even spotted a couple of seals. I imagine the area to have a very unique community – it intrigued me. IMG_6089

Hoodsport is small, unremarkable, and serves as a gateway to Staircase, the southeast corner of the park, but there isn’t much else in the area. We only stayed 2 nights, but enjoyed the winding, bumpy ride to the park entrance and a couple hours hike. There was a beautiful, calm energy and moss everywhere. We got lucky with the sun peeping through the trees and enlightening us with every shade of green the forest possesses. We took a short detour to see a downed red cedar; it’s size was tremendous!

IMG_6121We followed the loop trail along the Skokomish river and then over a suspension bridge and the kids loved jumping up and down and running back and forth. They are so easily amused! It was a very easy hike, and quite enjoyable to take in the smells of moss, cedar, douglas firs, and spruce trees as well as soak in the grounding energy of old growth.

IMG_6105Port Angeles provided the perfect base camp for our second leg of Olympic National Park. On its own, it was disappointing as it lacked charm, but it was convenient to hikes and off-road drives in the central/north areas of the park and everything we needed or wanted was there, from major grocery stores, good food (Toga’s Soup was totally yum – we ate there twice in 4 days!), to hole-in-the-wall cannabis shops (Sparket’s); we even got Gypsy a service while there.

Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls

We went on a hike to Sol Duc Falls, which was similar to the Staircase hike, but the falls were an added treat. It was slightly more challenging, but the kids did a good amount of the walking themselves for a change so that made it feel like a stroll (mainly because trading the weight of carrying them means our pace is cut in half)! Raj got a bit of an arm workout when they both insisted on 1-2-3 WEEE with him.

Sol Duc hike
Sol Duc hike

We stopped on the drive back for the Salmon Cascades and patiently waited to see the fish jumping upstream. I was struck by how challenging it is for them and was surprised at how determined they are. If you think about it, it’s really quite insane that they do this every year!IMG_6234

Hurricane Ridge is among the most touted of the Olympic Park highlights and it was so close we couldn’t pass it up. The drive was indeed nice and we planned to hike Hurricane Hill and then take the off-road drive to Obstruction Point and possible do a second hike. We had perfect weather to enjoy the views and actually found the Hurricane Hill hike quite challenging; even though it is partially paved, there are some seriously steep hills. The views were worth it though!

Mount Olympus in background
Mount Olympus in background

We had 360 degree views from the top and could clearly see not only Port Angeles, but Vancouver Island across the Strait de Juan de Fuca, as well as the mountains of Olympic, including Mount Olympus. Perhaps my favorite part of the hike was encountering a deer with her two fawn on the edge of the trail. We always try to maintain a respectful distance of wildlife, both for their saftey and ours, but it was difficult this time as they were ON our path! We resisted, but I have no doubt they would have let us pet them if we’d tried. By the time we drove to Obstruction point, frustrated with the number of other vehicles on the road, the weather had turned foggy and we were tired from the Hill hike, so we decided we needed a do-over for off-roading.IMG_6299

The following day I found info on Deer Park drive and we took advantage of a gorgeous afternoon to drive to the top. It definitely satisfied our bumpy fix!  There were countless switchbacks and narrow passages, and we made it to the top, we were rewarded with views of Mt. Baker and Mt Rainier (at least I think so, but maybe one was Mt. St. Helens?). IMG_6326The short loop hike at the top (Rainshadow Trail) was a no brainer for 360 degree views once again. It was the highlight of our time in that area, and that’s saying quite a bit. Oddly enough, there were a handful of chickens at the top, too – just for that touch of quirky. I desperately wanted to stay for the sunset, but you know, kids… dinner… bed times… all that.

Baker or Rainier?
Baker or Rainier?

For our third stop, we stayed in La Push on the Quilleute Indian Reservation. What an amazing place! Our campground was right on the beach – it was so fantastic to see the wild, crashing waves from any spot in the RV! It was an amazing beach with beautiful driftwood and waves that put Tofino to shame. When we realized it was dog-friendly, I was euphoric. There isn’t much better in my world than getting up to walk the dogs, seeing the ocean from my bed and then strolling on a sugary sand beach while the dogs frolic and play. I suspect there isn’t much better in their world either.IMG_6346

We couldn’t very well stay 14 miles from Forks, WA, where the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyers was based and filmed, and not stop in for lunch! As luck would have it, when we drove into town, there were signs and lines of people indicating that Stephanie Meyers herself was also in town for a book signing! Though we didn’t stand in line, we enjoyed the added Twilight fervor, including the “free fangs” that came with our lunch!IMG_0953

Interestingly, though it was an absolutely gorgeous and clear day in Forks, back in La Push and neighboring areas, there was a dense, eerie fog all day long. From the time we woke up, until the sun set, we were mesmerized by the fog playing tug of war with the sun… just when we thought the sun was going to peek through and the fog was receding, it would settle again with a vengeance. I have to admit, as a Twilight fan myself, I understood that day why the place inspired Stephanie Meyers to write a story with such supernatural elements.

Rialto Beach
Rialto Beach

During the foggy day, we took a drive to Mora and Rialto Beach, which is considered part of the Olympic National Park.I absolutely loved it there, fog and all. Though the fog was thick and visibility short, we could hear the powerful waves as we climbed over endless piles of driftwood and down on the beach, which was entirely formed by smooth stones. We enjoyed climbing around, and nurturing Nina’s fondness for rocks, though it’s always a struggle to prevent her from taking handfuls home with her.FullSizeRender 15

The main hike we did while visiting the west side of Olympic was to Third Beach. Basically, La Push Beach consists of First, Second and Third Beaches; we were staying on First Beach, which is the only one of the 3 accessibly by vehicle. To access Third Beach, it’s necessary to hike just over a mile down to the splendid beach, and mostly easy, except for the last .2 or so, which was steep, especially with each of us carrying our usual 35 pounds of baby. We passed a few campers who were hiking out after what I imagine was a fun night watching stars by the fire. I’ve never camped on the beach (as in tent camping), but it’s on my list!FullSizeRender 19

For the most part, we had a relaxing time in La Push. Fires were allowed, so that was a welcome change, Nina and I made “healthy” cookies, and we failed miserably at preventing our house on wheels from being covered with sand. As we left the fantastic beach, I would have been sad, except it was just the beginning of our Pacific Coast exploration! We took a detour on our way to our next beach stop and enjoyed a hike in the Hoh Rain Forest – The Spruce Trail Loop was short, and to be honest, we didn’t feel like we saw anything different than in the Sol Duc area, but it is always nice to stretch our legs on travel days. The highlight of the hike was definitely the kids having an impromptu dance party!

Campground Reviews:

Dow Creek Resort (Hoodsport) – 3.5 stars – For a self-contained unit, this is a good option. It’s wooded, spacious, and rustic. After the slowest check-in I’ve experienced (incompetent with computer), we backed into our large site and found a snake chilling by the hookups – it’s a very natural setting. For labor day weekend they had spots open, but still crammed everyone in together. There are hiking trails but no dog area, and the playground is pathetic. Basically, the place has potential, but needs some improvements.

Elwha Dam RV (Port Angeles )– 3 stars. There were sites where we would have been happier but at the site they assigned us, we were on top of each other and found it claustrophobic. The new management is very nice, and clearly take pride in their new business, but they still have a lot of work to do. We took advantage of their dog-walking services and were very pleased – i wish more places offered this! There is a nice walk nearby and a nice loop for walking dogs, but not an actual dog area. The playground needs improvement, too. The wifi was slow. 

Quilleute Oceanside Resort (La Push/Forks) – 4.5 stars – Holy views! Amazing to see the beautiful ocean from the rig. The sites were well spaced, but not at all private, but it didn’t matter. If you want to explore Second and Third Beach, as well as Rialto/Mora, this is a great location. Downsides: the staff was not particularly nice or helpful and the wifi was only in the office.

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