OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

May 19th – May 22nd, 2017

Another long weekend had arrived and Maria and I were looking forward to checking out our second National Park in Washington, Olympic National Park. 

Below is a map highlighting all the places we visited.

Port Angeles - 1 Night

We left for our trip on Friday after work in the early afternoon. Similarly to our last long weekend trip to Washington at Mount Rainier National Park, the campground we wanted to stay at, Heart O' the Hills, wasn't reservable ahead of time. We figured we wouldn't secure a site if we headed straight there that evening so instead we decided to spend the first night in a hotel in Port Angeles close to the campground.

There are a few different options of getting to Port Angeles from Vancouver if you can get your timing right. If you manage to catch one of the two ferries servicing the area, you can save about an hour of driving. The first ferry is the Port Townsend <-> Coupeville ferry which is the ferry I would recommend taking if you are planning to take one at all since it is reservable. If you go this route, be sure to make a reservation and arrive at least 30 minutes before sailing time.

The timing for the first ferry didn't work for our schedule so we decided to try the second ferry option, the Edmonds <-> Kingston ferry, which has larger vessels that support more cars but does not accept reservations. To our disappointment when we arrived, we were greeted with a 2+ hour wait to get to the other side. When talking to locals in line, they mentioned it was like this every week on Fridays. We ended up taking the overland option and driving just south of Tacoma until meeting Highway 16, because waiting for the ferry would have added an extra hour to our trip. 

We finally arrived in Port Angeles that evening where we stayed at the Olympic Lodge. We had a room with a fantastic view of the golf course perfectly situated with the Olympic Mountain Range in the background. The town itself is a pretty sleepy fishing town with not much else to see or do other than the park. 

Heart O' the Hills - 1 Night

In the morning we had a fairly early start, packed our bags and headed to Heart O' the Hills. Right before the campground we came to a fee station, with park entry being $25 for a 7-day pass and $50 for an annual pass. Most of the entrances into the park have ranger-manned stations that accept both cash and credit cards as well as provide information and maps if needed. Once we paid our entrance fee and arrived at the campground, we secured our spot by leaving our tent behind. All sites within Olympic National Park are first-come, first-served so be sure to arrive early in the day to secure the best spot. There is a registration board at each drive-in campground where you pay the $20 per night fee.

We headed back towards Port Angeles until we met Highway 101 again and then headed west towards Sol Duc. The biggest points of interest on the way are the beautiful emerald Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls. This part of the drive is especially beautiful as it is the only portion of the 101 that actually goes through the park. The rest of the time, it just encircles the perimeter of the park (with various entry points along the way).

After about an hour of driving, we arrived at the trail head for Sol Duc Falls. This is a great, easy hike to start the day with a pretty cool waterfall at the end. When we arrived at the waterfall, sunlight was streaming through the trees towards the lush green forest floor that surrounded the falls. The combination of spray from the waterfall and sunlight cast double rainbows in every direction. The area was still peaceful in the late morning as most people hadn't started to hike just yet. 

Next, we wanted to check out the Hurricane Hill Trail. To get there we drove back towards our campsite at Heart O' the Hill and instead of turning in, we continued south along the road to Hurricane Ridge. Due to the unusually high snowfall, the road from the Visitor Center to the trailhead was closed, so we had to walk about 1.5 extra miles before we even began the hike. The hike itself is 6.4 miles round trip, with a 912 ft elevation gain.

The trail had lots of snow still on it but it was pretty packed down, so we didn't need our snowshoes. Pretty soon after we started, we reached some short switchbacks that took us up to the first ridge. We followed a fairly wide path after this eventually coming to another two sets of switchbacks with amazing views of the Bailey Mountain Range before finally reaching the summit. 

Once we had reached the top we were lucky enough to be the only people there. The only others we had to share the view with were some cute little chipmunks and squirrels. From the top we had good visibility of all of Mount Angeles to the east, as well as Port Angeles and even Vancouver Island to the north. We took in the view and had a leisurely lunch before heading back to the car. 

After a long and active day, we drove back to our campsite for dinner, hot chocolate and s'mores.

Hoh Rainforest - 1 Night

The next morning we had an early breakfast, packed up our gear and hit the road again on the 101 west towards Hoh Rain Forest. This is the same route as the one we had taken to Sol Duc Falls the day before but instead of turning off we stayed on the main highway. 

The entrance and Visitor Center to the rain forest is located 30 minutes from the 101 along Upper Hoh Road just outside of Forks. The drive along this road is very beautiful and scenic as you drive parallel to the Hoh River passing through little farming villages and dense old growth forests. At the end of the road you are greeted with a natural wonderland of lush green vegetation to your left and the perfectly positioned Hoh Campground along the river to your right. We stopped there first to secure a site and pay the registration fee before entering the Visitor Center and starting our first trail of the day.

From the Visitor Center, you have the option of going on one of 3 hiking trails, some that take you deep into the glaciers and peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range. If you are limited on time and just want a taste of the rain forest like we were, then the Hall of Mosses trail is the trail for you. This was a quick 0.8 mile loop that took us on a journey though the wonderful nature of the rain forest. There were educational signs and plenty of photo ops sprinkled throughout the trail.

Next, we drove back into Forks to grab some lunch at The In Place. Forks seemed a little forgotten and was still trying to coast off the fame of the Twilight books and movies from years back. Maria had read the books when they first came out, so she wanted to check out the filming locations after we finished lunch.

Once we had our Twilight fill, we hit the road again towards the coast where we planned to see the beaches situated around La Push. We decided to go to Rialto Beach first, but to our disappointment the road was closed with seemingly no public access to the beach at all. Moving on, we headed to First Beach which is located right in La Push and is the only beach in the area that is accessible by car. The beach is very picturesque with large rock formations scattered along the shoreline. Driftwood, shells and seagulls dotted the sandy beach that stretched as far as the eye could see.

Second Beach, which is located a few miles up the highway, is very similar to First Beach. The major difference is the 1 mile hike to get to it. Here you can see more unique rock spires and several streams feeding into the sea. When we arrived we found it to be a little bit more secluded and peaceful. We laid on the warm sand for a while until deciding to pack it in for the day and headed back to our campsite for dinner.

Drive Home - 1 Day

Our final day of the trip was upon us and we still had a lot to see. We woke up early, packed up our campsite and hit the 101 south to complete the loop around the park. Our first stop of the day was Ruby Beach, which gets it name from the many ruby-like crystals found in the sand there. This was probably our favorite and most memorable beach of the trip. The parking lot is a few hundred meters from the highway, with a short walk down a well-maintained path to the beach. The view from the beach was incredible, with countless sea stacks set against the sand and driftwood.

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Next we turned east on the 101 and reached the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station and Kestner Homestead trailhead. It seemed like we had saved all the best sites for last as this was our favorite rain forest walk through the park so far. The area is know to average over 12 feet of rain, much like Hoh Rain Forest, so you can imagine the dense moss and vegetation that surrounded the trail. We took the short 1.5 mile loop through the dark forest, and about a third of the way through there was a homestead from the late 1800s to explore.

We then headed south along the 101 until we entered Aberdeen and had lunch at Denny's. From there we continued our loop and headed towards the northern terminus of the 101 in Olympia. The drive north from there along the 101 to Port Townsend is another very beautiful stretch with the mountains of Olympia on the left and the Hood Canal on the right. We had decided to book the Port Townsend <-> Coupeville ferry for our way home so we could check out Whidbey Island which we had missed on the way down. 

We arrived in Port Townsend in the early evening and parked in line for the ferry. We had about an hour to kill so we decided to check out the town. It was very cute, with quaint little shops and trendy restaurants scattered on the main strip. The architecture is quite unique as many of the old Victorian era buildings still remain. 

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We took the ferry and arrived on Whidbey Island, then took Highway 20 north through the seaside towns and past scenic farms towards Deception Pass State Park. This is supposed to be Washington's most visited state park and when we arrived we could see why! A highlight of the park was the high steel bridge connecting the mainland to Whidbey Island. If you are going to the park just to see the bridge I would recommend parking on the north side of it as the parking is free. If you plan to camp, hike or hang out at the beaches, that's all on the south side where you can park for a small fee. 

And that was the end of our trip! Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions for us don't hesitate to ask us in the comments section below.

Until next time,

Slade