Weekend Wander: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

We set out for a long weekend wander through our extended backyard last weekend, with no set plans other than to explore a region of our state we’ve haven’t spent nearly enough time in — the Olympic Peninsula. Home to a national park, miles of rugged coastline, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and enough hiking trails to last a lifetime, we knew we couldn’t go wrong.

Day One, A Short Day 

We drove north out of Seattle and caught the ferry in Edmonds. There’s nothing like a ferry ride, even a short half-hour crossing, to make you feel like you’re leaving it all behind.

Our first stop was Port Gamble, a beautifully restored 1850s logging town just a short drive from the ferry dock, on Highway 104. The picture says it all, Port Gamble is “Washington’s best kept secret.” It was new to us, and we were right in time for lunch.

We found the perfect place on the main street, toward the water, at a place called Scratch Kitchen, where we split a yummy sandwich and a huge apple and greens salad. Afterwards I learned it’s the pizzas that are famous here. We’ll get one next time.

A handful of gift shops line the main street, housed in restored homes, each with a plaque explaining the building’s original use or who lived there (second picture).

Before we headed out, John chatted it up with the local sport shop owner about new mountain biking trains in the area. He will be back, for those, and for the kayaking in the bay here.

 Day Two

We stayed overnight in Port Angeles, unsure what our next day’s plan would be, but we quickly settled on the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, a two-hour drive on Highway 101.

The temperate rain forest there, which gets 12-14 feet of rain a year, used to stretch from Southeast Alaska to the central coast of California. Imagine that!

We experienced 11 miles of it (round trip) on the Hoh River Trail, starting at the visitor center and stopping at Five Mile Island. The island is a huge gravel bar on the Hoh River, in a spot off a meadow that caught us by surprise coming out of the woods where’d we’d been for most of the hike.

There were a handful of backpacking sites here. We stopped in one for lunch and vowed that on our next trip, we would spend the night and finish the rest of this 17 mile trail, which leads to Mount Olympus.

We didn’t see any of the park’s resident elk, unfortunately, but we did see an impressive grove of old-growth trees, a waterfall (around the two-mile mark), thick ferns and lots of hanging moss. The trail itself gains only 500 feet in elevation, and is mostly flat. All in all, it was a nice introduction to the Hoh.

One more picture because I just can’t get enough of these old growths.

Day Three

We stayed overnight in a cabin on First Beach in La Push and awoke to a typical overcast and rainy day on the coast. It didn’t stop us from getting out the door for low tide at Rialto Beach, also within Olympic National Park.

There is so much to love about this beach. From the huge piles of driftwood, that is thankfully illegally to remove or to burn, to the tree-dotted sea stacks. We walked 1.5 miles from the parking lot to the “Hole in the Wall,” which is only accessible at low tide. After exploring the tidal life and taking a grand tailbone-fall on the rocks, we made breakfast and coffee in our jet boil before meandering back down the beach for cabin naps.

Driftwood stacks.
Hole in the Wall.
I love this wheelchair accessible path to Rialto Beach.
We love our Jet Boil.
Another view of the wheelchair accessible path. My dad would have loved this.
Our beach cafe.

After a cabin siesta, we headed back out, hoping to hike 1.8 miles to Third Beach, but unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with this holiday-weekend idea. The parking lot was packed — with no overflow options, no road parking, and no shoulder to walk on. We chose Second Beach instead. It has a big and plentiful overflow lot.

We were disappointed, but not for long. The Second Beach trail was short (less than a mile), but truly spectacular.

Do you know that feeling of wonder, that feeling of energy and peace, that feeling of reverence that you can get while walking in the woods? That feeling floods you here.

The misty rain added to the effect.

We took our time and enjoyed it.

We knew weren’t alone in our feelings about this place when we stumbled upon the “offering” tree, an old stump where people leave small pieces of driftwood, beach rocks and glass, flora, shells, crabs, mussels and other, mostly ephemeral, things they’ve found on the beach below.

The Offering Tree

The final descent to the beach is steep, but it’s the shortest part of the trail. At the bottom, hikers are greeted by piles of driftwood to climb over before setting out to explore the two-mile expanse of beach punctuated by dramatic sea stacks.

Our national parks were truly one of America’s greatest ideas.

Day Four

We spent one more night in our beach cabin before turning for home, making two more stops on the way.

The first place we stopped was Lake Crescent. We visited the historic lodge, and then set out for a short, picturesque walk to Marymere Falls.

Lake Crescent Lodge

marymere falls

Last, but not least, we headed up to Hurricane Ridge. The webcams showed a rare clear day, and they did not disappoint. At just over 4,000 feet elevation on the drive up, the clouds broke and we were greeted with this stunning view at the top.

And these views as we hiked the loop up to Sunrise Point.

Finally, it was time to head back home, with a fuller appreciation of your big backyard.




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