North Cascades National Park

In our continuing quest to visit as many national parks as possible, we ticked another off the list–and this one was beautiful!  North Cascades National Park is located in the northern part of Washington State in the middle of the Cascade Range. IMG_0444It’s brimming with old-growth forests, hundreds of glaciers, swiftly flowing rivers, and alpine lakes. You kind of have to want to come here, as it’s not a park you just drive by. Certainly the remoteness makes it all the more special.IMG_8870We visited just one day and saw what we could from the car and short trails. However, the real way to see North Cascades is on foot with a pack on your back. We are not traveling that way these days so we settled for the tourist route and it was still spectacular.  We can’t help but wonder what we missed by not being able to get to the back country.IMG_0461From our campground in Concrete, Washington the park was about a 30 mile drive. Of course the visitor center was closed due to COVID-19 but rangers still greeted us outside with maps and suggestions. Our first official stop was the town of Newhalem. This old village was once the “company town” for Seattle City Light, the power company that has transformed the power of the water in these mountains into electricity for Seattle and the surrounding areas. As such, there are large power lines, old pump houses, and hydroelectric dams throughout the park.IMG_0460Not far from Newhalem we came across the Gorge Dam and Gorge Creek Falls.  While man has certainly altered the landscape here, it is still a spectacular natural site.IMG_8877The most incredible views were found at Ross Lake. We could have spent days here if we were down at water level. Instead, we soaked in the glacial-topped peaks and glacial-green waters. The Ross Lake National Recreation Area, at over 100,000 acres, is a lot to explore!IMG_8884.jpegWe took in a few short hikes that gave us a flavor for what the back country might look like. The Ladder Creek Falls trail features a suspension bridge over the Skagit River, gardens, and a 1920’s powerhouse. IMG_8894

The powerhouse was constructed to produce electricity for homes in Seattle as part of the Skagit Hydroelectric project.IMG_8905The Trail of the Cedars was a short, 0.3 mile loop starting on another suspension bridge and weaving through an old-growth forest along side the Skagit River. Just lovely.

Lunch beside the river in a shady spot and a quick stop at the Cascadian Farms Organic Farm Stand for the best chocolate ice cream on the planet rounded out the day. We left feeling like we saw a lot but left much yet to explore.

IMG_8914Steve also made a habit of picking wild blackberries from the bushes around our campground. With so many berries he made his first pie! We were in this area for just a few days and spent the rest of our time shopping for an internet jetpack, barbecuing, and enjoying the cooler-than-Arizona weather.  From here we begin to travel eastward.

 

Berries and Bikes North of Seattle

We’ve spent the past ten days exploring the valleys and coastline north of Seattle. Our destinations were somewhat defined by the locations of our Thousand Trails campsites. This isn’t an area we had on our bucket list, but it should be on yours, and it’s one we are happy we explored. We have really enjoyed driving the country roads, discovering farm stands, u-pick berry sites, and local bike trails.

 

After we left the Olympic Penninsula we headed to Monroe, WA and the Thunderbird RV and Camping Resort. Monroe is about 35 miles northeast of Seattle and our campground was located on the Skyhomish River. From our base we explored the cute town of Snohomish and found the incredible Centennial Trail.

The Centennial Trail is a rails-to-trails route that covers a 30 mile route through cute towns and fertile valleys. We rode on the trail on two consecutive days.  First we started in Snohomish and rode north to Macias. The next day we went further north and rode a section near Lake Stevens.

We rode a third day too!  Our final outing was from the northernmost trailhead of the Centennial Trail. The trailhead is defined by the Nakashima Heritage Barn, a 1906 structure owned by the first Japanese-Americans to farm in the area. They operated it as a dairy farm until 1942 when they were forced into internment camps and sold the farm. We really liked this trail!

In between the bike riding we stopped at a number of farm stands to explore the area’s fresh produce. IMG_8845Steve bought and pickled cucumbers he said tasted like candy. We also visited the Loggers Inn in Sultan. They claim to be the “oldest in the west” but we’re not sure what that meant since the building was built in the 70s. Nevertheless, Bob and Mia enjoyed one more beer garden.

For four days we camped at the La Conner RV and Camping Resort in La Conner, WA. La Conner is on the coast about 70 miles north of Seattle and less than 10 miles south of the port city of Anacortes. One day we ventured even further north to the very cool city of Bellingham to do a little shopping and sight seeing. Wandering the Whatcom Falls Park in the center of the city reminded us of New York’s Central Park. Greenspace in a city makes all the difference.

More beautiful scenery and a stop at a shellfish farm punctuated the day. Steve got oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farm and enjoyed them the next night.

The little town of La Conner was a fun hangout right on the water. We had lunch, strolled the main street, and watched the boats float by. Evenings are usually filled with a sunset walk and maybe a campfire.

We’re getting pretty good at making s’mores. All in all we’ve had great weather and for that we’re thankful.IMG_8852

 

Olympic National Park

One of my goals for 2020 was to identify a “WOW” each day and this has been a week of WOWs! We’ve been exploring the Olympic Peninsula with a focus on Olympic National Park (ONP) and every day, around every corner, we’ve found ourselves saying WOW! Hopefully this post will give you a taste of what this magical place is all about.IMG_1511Olympic National Park makes up almost a million acres and much of it is untouched. You can access the park at various points along Highway 101, the road that rims the entire peninsula. This isn’t a drive-thru park.locator_website6 It takes time and a desire to even see the highlights. To really see the back country, you’d need to hike for miles and miles.  We chose to visit the most popular regions and it still took days.  

We started by basing ourselves at Oceana RV Park, on the Pacific Coast in Ocean City, WA, near Aberdeen. This Thousand Trails campground was a little far from the closest park entrance but it was located right on the beach and very close to the tourist area of Ocean Shores. In our four days here we rode bikes on the beach, hit up a few of the local breweries, and ventured into the national park twice.

Our introduction to ONP was to see the Quinault Rain Forest and the world’s largest spruce tree. Lake Quinault is a cute resort area and the lake was rimmed with swimmers and campers. Our drive around the lake took us into the lush rainforest.

Next we headed further north to see the famed Hoh Rainforest. Located on the west side of ONP, this area receives 140-170 inches of annual precipitation, which helps make it one of the most spectacular examples of a temperate rain forest in the world.

We did the short Hall of Mosses trail and were stunned by the vibrant variations of green all around us. IMG_0192

On our way home from the rainforest we stopped at Ruby Beach and hiked down to the water. IMG_8722While not the warm, wide expanse of beach we are used to in Mexico, Ruby Beach has its own character with tons of driftwood and rugged rock outcroppings amidst the fog. It all made for some cool photos.

 

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After our four days on the coast we drove to the northernmost part of the Olympic Peninsula and based ourselves at the Olympic Peninsula/Port Angeles KOA for two nights.  From this location we were well positioned to see a few more of the park’s highlights.  Hurricane Ridge is the “not to be missed” attraction in ONP, so we made that a priority. IMG_8731Driving the 17-mile Hurricane Ridge road is an attraction in itself. At the top we were treated to spectacular 360-degree views of the snow- and glacier-covered Olympic range and Mount Olympus, and the deer seem to roam without concern for the tourists.

IMG_0281The visitor center area is dotted with hiking trails and we tackled a few of the short ones. The pictures really don’t do the place justice.

The final regions we explored in ONP are called Lake Crescent and Sol Duc. Lake Crescent is difficult to miss, as it skirts the US-101. We stopped along the lake for lunch on two occasions and also visited the cute Lake Crescent Lodge.

While we were there a wildfire broke out across on the other side of the lake and it made for some dramatic photos.

IMG_0299In the Sol Duc area we headed straight for one of the park’s most popular walks, the 1.6 mile round trip Sol Duc Falls. Hiking a bit of distance felt great and every step was beautifully green. IMG_0307IMG_0327IMG_8751Unfortunately, the next day my foot told me it was just a little too much!

As always, we’ve packed a picnic lunch each day and found some sweet locations to have our lunch and bring the dogs along too.

While ONP is certainly the primary destination on the Olympic Peninsula, we were pleased to find many other attractions to keep us busy. Nearby Sequim (pronounced “skwim”) is chocked full of lavender farms and U-pick berry farms. 

We stopped at one of each, bought berries that tasted like candy and lavender iced-tea that was super refreshing. It was just enough to convince us that we needed to come back to this area very soon!

Our last night on the peninsula was spent at a Harvest Host. These are businesses (wineries, farms, breweries, etc.) that offer RVers a place to park in return for a purchase.  In Hoodsport, WA we parked in the pretty grass area of the Hoodsport Winery. Located right on the Hood Canal, we had gorgeous water views and friendly neighbors. Of course we bought a few bottles, but most of all, we loved picking ripe blackberries from the bushes right at our campsite.

Now we are headed to the “mainland” of Washington State and will experience a few more Thousand Trails campgrounds over the next few weeks.