A few weeks ago we spent some time on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington, and absolutely fell in love with the area. We adore it in every way, even if it did pour down rain on us.
The peninsula is mostly covered by Olympic National Park, with the very outside of the peninsula all around the Park dotted with farms and cute little towns, and the Coast Guard station, of course! Olympic NP might just be my favorite national park (in the U.S.) so far, for lots of reasons, including that it covers such a variety of environments. You’ve got the old growth rainforest, the beautiful Pacific coastline, the majestic mountain ranges in the center, and water – so much water – waterfalls, lakes, coastline, rivers, and lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing. It’s a playground for just about anyone who cares anything for the outdoors and I am certain that there is something here for everyone.
We drove to the Olympic Peninsula all the way from Mt. Hood, Oregon, on a very rainy day – it’s quite a long drive, but we weren’t missing anything since it was raining so much. We immediately headed out to the western side, on the coast, and found ample sunshine and warmth.
We camped at the most lovely campsite at South Beach, parking Gelly right on the little bluff on the beach. It was a sunny evening, so we enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the Pacific Ocean with the waves lapping just feet from our camper. It simply doesn’t get much better than that.
The next day we ventured into the National Park to the Hoh Rainforest, which is an old growth rainforest located in the Southwestern portion of the park. We’d heard great things about this area and in particular wanted to hike part of the Hoh River Trail. Unfortunately the park office at Hoh is closed during the week – national park budgets continue to decline and we are seeing the effects on this trip, including office closures and unattended entry booths. We weren’t able to gather any info about that part of the park, so we just decided to get our boots on the trail and go for it.
The lush greenery in the Hoh Rainforest is an assault on the senses – huge towering old growth trees covered in moss loom over you and there are ferns as far as the eye can see and little creeks to hop over as you make your way deeper into the forest. There is such an abundance of color, the sounds of rushing water and birds chirping to each other, and the smell – which I can only describe as smelling like life itself. And just about everything is covered in moss and tiny ferns! The trail winds its way along (though not beside) the Hoh River, with some spots where you can go out to spy the river itself. The trail goes for quite a long way – 17 miles in total – but we decided to just do a few miles in and a few out. We’d love to come back and backpack all the way into the Glacier Meadows deeper into the Park.
About 2.5 miles or so into our hike, we encountered 4 people walking very quickly towards us and discovered that a bear had been walking on the trail towards them. It had spooked them pretty badly and they took off back to the trailhead. We wanted to continue our hike if we could, eager to get in some exercise after so much driving the day before, so we waited for about 20 minutes where we were, prepared to hightail it out of there if we saw any indication that the bear was headed towards us on the trail. With no signs of any bears, we joined with another couple of hikers (from Alaska, prime bear country, so they were a good addition to our group) to hike the trail, thinking that a group of four chatting loudly is probably sufficient to induce the bear to get off the trail if it was thinking about joining us. … and if not, one of the other two guys that joined us was definitely going to be the slowest if it came to running away, so there’s always that strategy.
After finishing the hike that afternoon, we drove out to La Push, on the western shore of the peninsula to catch the low tide. Tide pooling has quickly become one of my all time favorite activities and this coastline has excellent spots for it. We picked our way along the rocks at low tide searching out anemone, barnacles and other tiny sea creatures, and I delighted to find an orange starfish or two. Starfish are always what I’m really after when tide pooling – the vibrant colors, the odd places that they find themselves clinging; I adore starfish.
La Push, of Twilight fame, is a stunning stretch of beach with sea stacks a-plenty to view as you take a leisurely stroll along the beautiful shoreline. You’ve got to do a little bit of hiking to get down to the beach, but that makes it even better in my opinion!
… To Be Continued in Part II – Hurricane Ridge, Dungeness Wildlife Refuge and Cape Flattery!
LOCATION Olympic National Park, Washington, USA