Our Visit to Olympic National Park:
Three Parks in One
Olympic National Park is a gem. It has three different zones: Mountain, Rain Forest, and Coastal. Each distinct from the other, yet all on one peninsula. Each zone on its own is beautiful and worthy of a national park. Combined, it makes Olympic special. It is easy to access and close to the major metropolis of Seattle. This is a very enjoyable and accessible park to visit.
We made our way onto the peninsula from Coupeville on a scenic ferry to the beautiful town of Port Townsend, with sailboats dotting the harbor, and proceeded directly to Hurricane Ridge, near Port Angeles. The sky was cloudy and rain seem to loom in the air. We stopped at the main visitor center in Port Angeles and did our park business (stamp, talk to ranger, national park entrance sign picture). Since the weather forecast for the next two days was rain, we wasted no time and went straight up Hurricane Ridge. We drove through the cloud and mist, emerging above the low clouds but with another layer of cloud above us. As we emerged above the lower layer of cloud, the majestic snow capped peak of the Olympic mountains came into view.
Mountain Top View
Three black tail deer emerged from the woods as we parked at the Hurricane Hill trail head. They were used to people and probably looking for a handout. Unfortunately, people probably fed them in the past. The trail, through some snow still on the trail, led to a peak with fantastic 360 degree views of the peaks nearby. On this day in early June, the clouds were below us and framed the snow-capped peaks. A blue pond in the snow accentuated the beauty of this winter scene as clouds moved by in various shapes and sizes.
A chipmunk checked out the little tripod that was doing time lapse photos and decided it was not food, but he was clearly not afraid of people, coming within a foot of us. Despite the name Hurricane Hill, it was not at all windy on this cloudy day. I was mesmerized by the scenery all around and super relaxed, an excellent reward for the hike.
Loretta didn’t want to hang around deer because she was afraid they would charge us and head butt us or gore us, but the deer we saw didn’t have any antlers. I argued that I will protect her and punch the deer in the eye if he charged us. She was not convinced so I put the question to the ranger. The ranger was a master politician. He said we were both right in that they haven’t had any “adverse encounters” between visitors and deer (chalk one up for me) but we should always stay a healthy distance away since they are wild animals (chalk one up for her). This ranger has the political skills to be the head of NPS someday. I still think I was right and the deer was so habituated to people they won’t do anything aggressive.
Rain on One Side
We viewed a 20 minute film about Olympic peninsula at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and lingered to view the beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks. The mountain is maintaining about the same height since the continued tectonic plate rise is offset by the erosion. I wonder how they can accurately measure this. The west side of the mountain gets a lot more rain than the east side of the mountain, as clouds from coastal moisture are blocked by the tall mountains and fall as rain on the west side. Thus, the rain forest is on the west side of the park.
Rain Forest Time
Olympic is a big park and it takes a while to travel between different parts of the park. Day two was Rain Forest day, and appropriately, there was a constant light drizzle all day. We headed towards Crescent Lake, the largest and deepest lake on the peninsula at more than 600 feet deep. The color of the water is emerald green and super clear. We only saw a hint of the water color on this rainy, cloudy day but I can certainly imagine the vibrant color under the sun.
The Marymere Falls trail was a fantastic hike. The 0.9 mile trail (one way) was pretty flat for the first 3/4 but rose some 400 feet near Marymere Fall. The hike through old growth forest thick with fern was gorgeous and relaxing. While there was steady rain, the canopy blocked most of it during our hike. Marymere Falls is beautiful with three stages, each wider than the previous one. The “scenery per mile” ratio was very high. This was the best trail in the park, well worth the time and effort.
Next, we headed for Sol Duc falls trail at the end of Sol Duc road. The 0.8 mile one way hike felt even more like a rain forest than the Marymere Falls trail. The trees were taller and the ferns denser. The hike led to the top of Sol Duc Falls with various vantage points from above and below. The water was divided into four streams as it cascaded down. This was also a very rewarding hike with excellent scenery along the trail that led to a roaring, beautiful water fall at the end.
Twilight and Ewoks
After a lengthy drive, passing through the town of Fork, Washington of Twilight fame, we arrived at the Hoh Rain Forest visitor center. The Hall of Mosses trail was a fantastic 0.8 mile loop through a 5000 year old growth forest with very tall and straight Sitka spruce that almost rival the Redwoods in height, and covered with moss and lichens. Lush fern covered the ground and the whole scene conjured up the Ewoks scene from Star Wars – Return of the Jedi. We found a black and a yellow slug along the path, and heard birds of every sound. It was beautiful and iconic of the temperate rain forest that once blanked the coast from Northern California to Southern Alaska.
Of Old and New
From the same visitor center, we took the Spruce Nature Trail that led us down to the Hoh River. This trail had both the old growth forest and the young growth forest. The shifting path of the river created a zone that did not allow the forest to grow old and had a much more open feel with shorter, younger trees. The zones were clearly visible.
Despite the constant rain, it was a fantastic day in the rain forest. After all, what’s a rain forest without rain? It was very appropriate to walk through the rain forest on a rainy day.
Day three was coast day. We started the day with a fantastic brunch at First Street Haven in Port Angeles. This was a small place that was almost full when we got there and was full shortly after. The omelet was huge and delicious. The meal came with pastry and the coffee cake I chose was delicious. We could not finish all the food and took half of it with us for a quick lunch later. The people there were fantastic. There were all kinds of people, people of all ethnicity and color. A family came in with a toddler who had very strong lungs and demonstrated it via a very loud, persistent cry because he wanted to roam but the mother won’t let him (for good reason). She tried everything to calm him down. Then the waitress came with a box of toys!! That helped for a while. It’s amazing they had a box of toys ready to go!
Beach and Driftwood
We drove all the way to Kalaloch Lodge on the western shore under bright blue sky. There were cabins right on a bluff with amazing views of the ocean and the massive piles of driftwood. Along the way, we stopped at Rialto Beach, right across a shallow channel from La Push. We could have walked across from Rialto Bench to La Push but we didn’t know the tide schedule and didn’t want to get stuck on the other side!
Many people were walking on the beach, climbing the massive piles of driftwood. The ocean waves were soothing with beautiful scenery and rock outcroppings. It was a relaxing walk on the beach that was more pebbles than sand. This was not the South Pacific version of the beach, but equally soothing. It was just not something you want to lay on and fall asleep. No one was swimming, probably because it was still very cool and the riptide very strong.
What’s In a Name?
On the way to Kalaloch, there were several beaches with very unimaginative names like Beach 4, Beach 3 etc. Hey, why not let me name one of those beaches? I can certainly do better than numerical ordered beach names!
At Kalaloch, we took out our leftover breakfast and had it for a late lunch. Not that we really needed it because we were still somewhat full from brunch. After all, wasn’t brunch suppose to be both breakfast and lunch? Why were we having lunch when we had brunch? I’ll admit, I can’t defend the answer, and that’s why we gained weight on this trip!
To RV or not to RV?
As we finished, a “short” RV pulled in and a nice couple a bit older than us got out. I tried to convince Loretta many times to consider a RV for our future trips but she wanted no part of it. While in Alaska, we ran into a couple at a restaurant who raved about traveling with a RV. While at a scenic overlook in Alaska, another young couple came up to us and said “Hey, this is the third time we ran into you.” As it turned out, we were on the same cruise but they saw us twice before in Seward and Denali. They rented an RV for the land portion of their trip. He was from the UK, she was from South Africa, and they lived in Germany and they loved their rented RV. They tried to convince Loretta to at least give it a try by renting one.
Loretta was beginning to be swayed and I was researching the cost of rentals. I asked the couple at Kalaloch how long their RV was so I can get a feel what a 23 foot RV looked like. They said it was just right for two people and even invited us to look inside! We ran into such nice people along the way. I think they are all nice because they are all on vacation and already relaxed. By the way, Loretta is still not convinced.
The coastal scenery was beautiful but not as dramatic as the rain forest and the mountains. It was very reminiscent of the coast at Redwoods National Park. There were bigger piles of driftwood at Olympic than Redwoods. We stopped at Beach 4 and Ruby Beach. Each was a short hike from the parking lot down to the ocean, with tide pools by the rocks. Star fish and sea urchins were common and colorful.
The drive back was pretty long. Instead of driving back on US 101 for the third day in a row, I decided to go via WA 113 via tiny towns with strange names like Pysht. I hoped to see the north coast and a view of British Columbia but we only saw small glimpses of it through the thick trees. The drive was pretty boring, actually. US 101 along Lake Crescent was much prettier!
On Day 4, we drove down the eastern side of the peninsula which had a series of small resort towns along the Hood Canal. We turned up WA 119 along the shore of Lake Cushman to Staircase. Lake Cushman was beautiful with very clear blue/green water and a mountain backdrop, as pretty as Lake Crescent.
Staircase area is the southeast corner of Olympic National Park. We hiked the short (2 mile) Rapids Loop + North Fork Skokomish trail loop along the Skokomish River. It was a very pretty hike through old growth forest. You knew you were in a temperate rain forest with moss and lichen covering the trees and fern on the ground but it was not nearly as dense as the rain forests on the western side of the park. This area gets a lot less rain than the west side because of the tall peaks of the Olympic mountain range that block the clouds from moving east, yet it still felt like a rain forest.
Thought for Olympic National Park:
Diversity of background and thought creates better solutions, just like Olympic National Park’s diversity of mountain, rain forest, and coast created a better, more enjoyable park.
Impressions of Olympic National Park:
Olympic National Park is a fun park to visit. The abundance of beautiful and rewarding short (<3 miles) hiking trails with different terrain and scenery made this park lodes of fun to visit. The points of interest were very accessible with good roads leading to it. While a relatively large park, and plenty of time should be allocated to drive between places, the diversity and the quality of the scenery and hikes were well worth the time and effort.
Have you visited Olympic National Park? Leave a comment below on your experience.
National Park Rating:
(Note: Ratings are on a bell curve, which means there are as many 5 star ratings as 1 star ratings. All National Parks are wonderful, which makes this a very strict rating scale)
|Element||Rating (out of 5 Stars)|
Guide to Olympic National Park:
Top Attractions at Olympic National Park:
- Marymere Falls Trail
- Hurricane Ridge and Hurricane Hill Trail
- Rialto Beach
- Sol Duc Falls trail
- Hall of Mosses
- Ruby Beach
- Rapids Loop
- Crescent Lake
One Day Visit Plan:
- One day will allow you to visit only a small part of the park, but if you only have one day, start at the Port Angeles visitor center, drive up to Hurricane Ridge for the 3 mile hike on Hurricane Hill. Come down and stop by Lake Crescent and hike the Marymere Falls trail. Drive the Sol Duc road and hike the Sol Duc trail.
- Try to spend at least three days at Olympic National Park. The distances between places are far and the scenery diverse. In addition to the places in the One Day Plan, drive to Hoh valley and walk the Hall of Mosses trail, a highlight of the park, before heading to the coast to walk along the coast at Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, and Beach 4. Don’t forget to stop by Forks if you are a Twilight fan.
- On the third day, drive to US 101 along the Hood Canal through some quaint towns, and take the road to the Staircase Ranger Station to hike the trails in that area.
Practical Info for Visiting Olympic National Park:
- Dress in layers, especially if you are going to Hurricane Ridge or the coastal areas. The temperature at Hurricane Ridge is significantly lower than the coast and both can be windy.
- Bring rain gear! The western side along the coast and especially the rain forest area get over 100 inches of rain a year. Chances are very high you will get rained on.
- The distances are relatively long between places, so plan drive time accordingly.
- Olympic Lodge is a standout in Port Angeles. Plenty of services in Port Angeles.
- For a more central location, the lodge at Lake Crescent is a good place to stay.
- For sea side lodging, Kalaloch Lodge is beautiful.
National Park Facts:
- Size: 922,650 acres, ranked 13th
- Visitors: 3,401,996 in 2017, ranked 8th. Record was 3,846,709 visitors in 1997
- Peak Month in 2017: 764,282 visitors in August
- Low Month in 2017: 71,335 visitors in December
- Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle.
Date Visited: June 7-10, 2018