More than a year has passed since our 2015 Pacific Northwest vacation, proving I’m an embarrassingly slow blogger, but I am determined to document not only this trip but also all our 2016 adventures in time! In case you need a refresher of the first few days of this vacation, you can read about Mount St. Helens here and Mount Rainier here.
After a few days exploring Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier National Park, our 2015 Pacific Northwest adventure was taking us even further on the Olympic Peninsula. The majority of our vacation was going to be spent hiking the mountains, walking through the rain forests and wandering along the coasts of Olympic National Park.
Day 3: September 5, 2015, continued
Our route from Mount Rainier National Park to our lodging accommodations in Port Angeles, just outside of Olympic, was going to take us roughly four hours. Since we knew we would be logging a lot of time in the car, we had planned accordingly by bringing the audio books of two personal favorites that seemed appropriate given our trip’s destinations: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson and Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by John Krakauer.
For the duration of our Olympic National Park visit, we were going to be staying at farm that served as a bed and breakfast. It was our first experience using the website AirBnB.com, and I was sold on this particular listing when I read they have five dogs. And goats. I mean, really, what more do you need to be happy? The fact that this farm had gorgeous views of the Olympic mountains was merely a bonus.
Day 4: September 6, 2015
Sunday was our first full day to explore Olympic National Park, but the weather wasn’t looking very cooperative as our day started; the clouds had followed us from Mount Rainier to Olympic. Nevertheless, we headed to the nearest section of the park, Hurricane Ridge, roughly 20 miles from Port Angeles.
As we drove the winding road up to the ridge through thick fog, I had flashbacks to the time we almost died on Mount Rainier. Listening to Krakauer’s personal account about one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Mount Everest also put all kinds of visions of our untimely demise into my head. We Midwesterners should really stay on flat land when the weather is so dicey. After many twisting curves along the road, we finally made it to the top. And our bravery was rewarded with views of more fog.
We browsed the visitor center and gift shop, hoping the early morning fog would break, but after a while, we accepted that we wouldn’t see much more than the optical illusion of the Olympic Mountains hidden behind all the fog. Hurricane Ridge is known for its sweeping views on a clear day, but Washington isn’t exactly known for its clear days. Luckily, we knew we’d be able to return to Hurricane Ridge later in the week for a second chance to see those remarkable views.
Sol Duc Falls
After successfully navigating our way back down the twisting road, we enjoyed lunch at a Port Angeles restaurant called the New Day Eatery and then journeyed a bit further into the National Park boundaries to the Sol Duc Valley. One of the sights I had bookmarked in my planning was Sol Duc Falls. The easy hike to the overlook for these misty falls was less than a mile and gave us our first taste of the Olympics’ old-growth forests.
Day 5: September 7, 2015
The plan for our second day in Olympic (which was also my birthday!) was to travel about two hours to our first destination on the western side of the park, the Hoh Rain Forest, and then stop at some of the beaches along the coast. The road from Port Angeles to the rain forest passes through Forks, Washington, also known as the setting for the popular Twilight series. I’m not a fan of the series (I’ve never actually read any of the books), but it was neat to see some of the signs around town that obviously play into the series’ popularity.
Hoh Rain Forest
The Hoh Rain Forest offers just a glimpse at the type of temperate rain forest that once blanketed the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska. In a typical year, the Hoh Rain Forest receives 12 to 14 feet of precipitation.
But 2015 was not a typical year as the Pacific Northwest suffered drought conditions. As I mentioned in a previous post, there were wildfires burning throughout Washington during our trip, and while the Hoh Rain Forest was not one of these areas that fell victim to fire, the drought still left its mark.
Of all the sights we were going to see in Olympic National Park, I was probably most looking forward to the Hoh Rain Forest. Pictures of this lush, dazzling place have a magical quality about them. But because of the drought that had preceded and continued through our trip, we didn’t get to experience the Hoh Rain Forest in its usual glory, and I was a little underwhelmed. The normally beautiful greenery had a lackluster brown hue to it. I’m a graphic designer, so I’m not oblivious to the fact that photos of the Hoh Rain Forest undergo post-processing, but drought was the culprit here, not just unrealistic expectations set by overly zealous photographers armed with Lightroom and Photoshop (and if I’m being honest, I’ve done some editing to make the greens pop a bit more in my photos of the Hoh Rain Forest, too).
Despite the disappointing color, there was still an unquestionable beauty to this place, and I found it incredibly humbling to roam among the giant Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees.
We also took a small trail detour to see the Hoh River, known for its stunningly blue water that originates from the Hoh Glacier on Mount Olympus.
Ruby Beach, Second Beach of La Push and Rialto Beach
I have often proclaimed that given the choice between mountains and beaches, I will always chose mountains, but if I were to be a beach-kind-of-girl, the rugged beaches of the Pacific coast would be my kind of beaches. Not only do they offer a wild beauty, but they also offer the possibility (albeit a small one) of seeing sea otters!
Ben & Kim vacation fun fact: I always tease Ben about the fact that he denied me the opportunity to see sea otters, one of my favorite animals, during our honeymoon (a story that someday I’ll share). The Olympic coastline could have helped Ben erase that sad, sad memory, as sea otters were reintroduced along the Washington coast in 1969 and 1970, but unfortunately our Olympic beach experience was otter-less.
Our first experience with the Olympic National Park coastline was Ruby Beach, the northernmost beach of the Kalaloch area of the National Park and perhaps the most easily accessible of all the beaches we visited. From the parking lot, the beach is just a short walk down a bluff.
The beach itself is rocky, not sandy, and driftwood is scattered up and down the shore.
To me, the most striking features of Ruby Beach (and all the beaches we visited) were the rock islands shaped by years and years of wind and water erosion known as sea stacks.
From Ruby Beach, we drove to Second Beach of La Push, perhaps my favorite beach of the day simply because soaking up the sights of this beach requires a little effort via a short hike through old growth forest. Again, driftwood was scattered all about (the last bit of the hike even requires scrambling over driftwood to reach your destination), but Second Beach was actually sandy.
It was the first day of the annual Paint the Peninsula Plein Air Painting Competition held on the Olympic Peninsula, and we actually had a chance to experience some of the professional artists painting their unique take on the National Park along Second Beach. If I were a painter, I would be all about Plein Air painting; I’ll take any excuse to be outside!
Our last stop was Rialto Beach, about 15 minutes from Second Beach. It’s another easily accessible beach, and as I was planning our trip, Rialto was one of the most highly recommended beaches to visit; it seems to be a favorite among visitors to Olympic. One of the big draws of Rialto is the one mile hike to Hole-in-the-Wall during low tide. Sadly, we arrived at Rialto pretty late in the day and we had no notion of the tide schedule (a big no-no if you plan to do any type of beach hiking). We really only stayed at Rialto long enough to say we’d been there before we started our trek back to Port Angeles.
I hadn’t really considered the beaches a top attraction of Olympic (I’m a mountain girl, remember?) but in hindsight, I wish I would have planned our beach excursions around the tide schedule and allotted more time to explore everything the National Park coastlines have to offer.
Overall, I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend my 28th birthday wandering through the rain forest and meandering along the rugged beaches of Olympic National Park. Sitting along one of the beaches, Ben gave me my birthday/early anniversary gift of a wooden ring he had made me. Every time I wear it, it kindles fond memories of our trip (despite our not seeing any sea otters *wink*).
P.S. I promise not to take a year to share Part 2 of the Olympic National Park portion of our trip! Maybe only six months…
… kidding. (I hope.)