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.  

Mt. Rainier National Park

We’ve formally declared our love of our National Parks with a new sticker on our rig.  It’s right above the map which shows the states we’ve RV’d in.  We’re making progress, huh?IMG_8656We ticked another park off the list–Mt. Rainier National Park and let’s be honest.  You can’t do Mt. Rainier National Park in a day…but we tried. We are on our way to the Olympic Peninsula and had one day at a campground about 70 miles from Mt. Rainier. We figured, why not? IMG_8591And we’re so glad we did it! Mt. Rainier is the tallest peak in the Cascade Range at 14,400 feet and is visible for many miles in every direction. We’ve seen Rainier from a distance, from Seattle and from the air, but never as up close as this. 

There are five major visitor areas in this massive national park, and we were able to touch on two of them. We entered the park from the southwest and explored the Historic Longmire area.

Though the museum was closed due to COVID, we were able to explore a few short trails to get a feel for the park. The Trail of the Shadows, a one mile loop, included some great interpretive signs that provided some history about the area.

Up the road we encountered Christine Falls, which are framed by the highway’s bridge.  We hiked the short trail to get a view of the falls from below. 

Because we got an early start, we avoided the crowds that descend on this area by mid-day. That allowed us to enjoy the scenery without much contact with others, and it gave us lots of time to take pictures. See our truck crossing the bridge? IMG_8627We next came upon Narada Falls, which involved a short, steep downward trail to fully view the cascade. Knowing much of the infrastructure of this park was originally established in the 1890s, we really appreciated the thoughtfulness and accessibility of each feature.

Of course there were many trails that my foot was not ready to explore yet.  Like so many of the places we’re visiting on this trip, we will need to return. 

The second area we explored was called Paradise in the southern part of the park.  We think it was spectacularly beautiful, but the fog had not yet lifted, so we saw things through a bit of a haze.  Paradise is where the main visitor center is located, along with the historic Paradise Inn.  IMG_8634The Inn originally opened in 1917 and features a grand lobby and massive stone fireplaces. Today, however, it’s boarded up, awaiting the 2021 season (hopefully). IMG_8633

Steve took the short hike to Myrtle Falls from Paradise and encountered snow covered trails on his way. Even though it’s late July, the temperature at Paradise, 5,500 feet elevation, was in the 40s. Imagine what the weather is like at the summit, almost 10,000 feet higher?

They say that 10,000 people attempt to summit Mt. Rainier every year. About 25% are successful. Many use it as a training exercise to prepare for other epic climbs like K2 or Everest. While Steve is curious about the higher elevations, I was happy to make it to Paradise. It made for a lovely day and beautiful picnic lunch setting.

There was so much more to explore but our time was limited.  We suggest spending multiple days in the area to improve your chances of seeing the summit. July was a great time to visit as the wildflowers were in full bloom. When we return, we’ll likely enter from the east and shoot for the Sunrise Visitor Center. 

We are happy to be in Washington, where the weather is cool and the coffee is strong. We’re stopping at little coffee stands along the way to get our boost. Often they include a little chocolate covered espresso bean on top and now we are kind of used to that!

We’ve got another National Park visit just around the corner. Can you guess what’s next? Stay tuned for the next blog for a full recap. As always, we love your comments!