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Washington Part 5: Olympic National Park

Photos: Kaloch Beach (top); Hoh Rain Forest (bottom left); Hurricane Ridge (bottom right)

This is Part 5 of a 6 Part series focused on Washington. We will spend one very busy week traversing a wide loop around the scenic state, hitting three gorgeous National Parks (Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades); visiting the fun North Cascade Highway towns of Winthrop, Chelan, and Leavenworth; viewing a waterfall twice the height of Niagara; and even riding a car ferry across the Puget Sound to spend some time in Seattle. In Part 5, we will explore the coast of the Olympic Peninsula and three distinct sections of Olympic National Park--Hoh Rain Forest, Lake Crescent, and Hurricane Ridge.

Today, we have a long day of driving--the longest of our trip. We are headed to the Olympic Peninsula from Mount Rainier National Park. Our plan is to start on the peninsula's coast, so our first stops will be at some of the beaches along the Olympic coast. It will take us about 4 hours to get to that point from our current location.

Photo: Today's Route Around The Olympic Peninsula (Source: Google Maps)

When we reach the peninsula's coast, our first stop-off is the scenic, driftwood strewn Kaloch Beach. Overlooking the beach is Kaloch Lodge, a cozy hotel and restaurant that blends in with the scenery. The inviting lodge's coloring mirrors that of the beach--driftwood trimmed in sea blue.

Photos: Kaloch Lodge (left); View from Kaloch Lodge (right)

We’re both famishe, so we decide to stop for lunch at Kaloch Lodge while we're here. We’ve been driving for close to 4 hours now, so we both need a break from the car, as well. We’re seated at a table at the window overlooking the beach below. It’s low tide, so we can see a long stretch of sand. We each order an iced tea—more caffeine is needed—and then decide to share a Grilled Sockeye Salmon Sandwich (sun-dried tomato pesto aioli, lettuce, and thick cut bacon on a pretzel roll) and a Grilled Chicken Wrap (tabouleh salad, mixed greens, and tahini-lemon aioli). For sides, we get the French fries and a side salad with blue cheese dressing.

Photos: Grilled Sockeye Salmon Sandwich (left); Grilled Chicken Wrap (right)

The food is surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because typically in my experience when places don’t have much competition, they don’t seem to try all that hard. However, the sandwiches (particularly the salmon) are tasty, and the side salad is really nice—even the blue cheese dressing has some nice pieces of blue cheese in it.

Photos: Kaloch Beach

After lunch, we drive up the coast, but sadly, Ruby Beach is closed this year for a large scale construction project. That’s the beach I want to check out most since it has the famous west coast sea stacks (vertical rock columns situated in the water). We stop at an overlook or two of the beach below, but we don’t end up stopping to go down. None of the other beaches along this stretch really have sea stacks which is what I had hoped to glimpse. Additionally, Beach 3 which has the famed suspended Tree of Life has absolutely no parking available. We pass by the beach twice trying to find a spot and finally give up.

Our coastal tour complete--if with a minor disappointment--we head inland to our next stop, the Hoh Rain Forest. Olympic National Park is immense. It takes up a good portion of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. No road goes straight through the center of the park, but rather it is segmented by in and out roads surrounding the Olympic Mountain Range. This makes the park a bit more difficult to explore.

Photo: Olympic National Park

Underlying Source: (you can find the full-sized park map link here)

In keeping with that, the road to the Hoh Rain Forest follows an in and back route. The Rain Forest's park entrance is situated about 12 miles down a turnoff from the main stretch of highway we are currently following. It takes a bit of time to traverse the route, but we do periodically get a glimpse of the moss-covered trees for which this area is famous.

Unfortunately, when we get to the (almost) entrance to the parking area, we encounter a long line of cars waiting to get into the park and come to a complete stop next to a sign that reads “2 hour wait for entry from this point.” We’re in for quite a wait, but we’re here now. There's no turning around unless we want to skip seeing it. After our hiccups with the beach, I'm determined that now that we are here, we are waiting to see the famed rainforest.

So, we wait—for a little over an hour—crawling toward the park entrance booth. It is what it is, and after about an hour we get to the booth. We show our Annual National Park Pass* and collet a map and park flyer. The attendant tells us to wait for a car to come to the exit before we head in, so we have to wait for a few minutes. We strike up a conversation with him, and we ask if he’s from the area. No, his home is in New Mexico—dramatically different weather than here! We trade tips on various National Parks as we wait, and after a few minutes, a car finally comes up the road headed for the exit, and we wave goodbye.

*Note: The "America the Beautiful" National Park Annual Pass is a great value if you are visiting several parks. The pass is $80 and valid for 12 months from the month of purchase (expiring the last day of that month). With the pass, you get access to more than 2,000 recreation areas. "Each Annual Pass can have up to two owners and admits pass owner(s) and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle sites and a pass owner plus 3 adults (not to exceed 4 adults), where per-person fees are charged (children under 16 are always admitted free)." The following are entitled to FREE annual passes: Current U.S. Military members and their dependents, U.S. veterans, Gold Star Families, and U.S. 4th graders. U.S. citizens/permanent residents with permanent disabilities are entitled to free lifetime passes. Additionally, the parks offer discounted senior citizen passes, both annual ($20) and lifetime ($80). More information on all of these pass options can be found here. For specifics/FAQs on the Annual Pass (or to purchase it ahead of time), you can find more information here.

It’s about 6 miles to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center from the booth—a straight shot down the road. In a few minutes, we find ourselves in the small parking lot at the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest's trails. There are two trails we want to try today—the Spruce Nature Trail Hike and the Hall of Mosses Hike.

Photo: Me With A Fallen Tree's Roots and My Husband With An Ancient Upright One

There is a warning at the front of the trail about bobcats in the area and not to hike alone. I am also tracking warnings about bears. Luckily, we have bear spray with us just in case.

Of the two trails we plan to explore, the Spruce Nature Trail is the less traversed of the two and is the slightly longer at 1.2 miles. It is an easy loop trail through the woods with a pop-out at a waterway along the way. We set off on it and are soon ensconced in the tranquil forest.

The Hoh Rain Forest is quite picturesque, featuring enormous tree trunks and vivid greenery. Some of the flora here is over 1,000 years old. Many of the tree trunks are reminiscent of the Muir Woods redwoods given their towering height.

The Spruce Nature Trail is flat and easy to travel, so we move at a relatively quick clip through the path. I’m captivated by the mammoth trees, moss draped canopy, and primordial feel of the forest. When we come to a waterway, we pop out for a moment to take in the more open scenery, but the beauty of the woods quickly lures us back under cover.

After about 30 minutes, we are back near the start of the trail and switch over to the Hall of Mosses Trail, which also begins nearby. The Hall of Mosses is a 0.8 mile easy trail that goes through some of the most picturesque sections of the forest. We pass more moss draped trees, cross under enormous felled logs, and relatively quickly cover this trail, as well.

In true rainforest fashion, it begins to drizzle. There's certainly plenty of water here. They average 12 feet of rain a year. It definitely lives up to its name! The ground is quite literally saturated, and there are small pools of water dispersed throughout the forest. The moss thrives in these conditions, even managing to blanket the pools, mirroring the canopy above in a sea of greenery.

Our explorations complete, we drive back out the way we came, and turn north back on Highway 101. This route takes us directly through Forks, the setting for Stephanie Meyer's Twilight novels. I've read that people flock here every year as a result of the books turned movies, but there is literally nothing to see. It's just a small logging town with no sights of note. Even Meyer had not visited prior to setting her novel here.

Turning toward the east as we reach the northern portion of the peninsula, we eventually reach the shores of Lake Crescent. The 12 mile long lake is the second deepest in Washington State (after the previously visited Lake Chelan). The water's smooth surface is an idyllic blue on sunny days, but unfortunately, we are experiencing a rather overcast afternoon--not an anomaly for the Washington Peninsula which is known for its often cloudy skies.

We stop off at one of the pullouts along the lake to get a better view. Even with the low-hanging clouds, it's quite a pretty spot. However, it's also a bit damp and chilly as it's getting later in the day, so we don't linger long. We continue down the highway to Port Angeles.

Photo: Lake Crescent

Port Angeles is our base for this evening. We have a hotel booked, and it will make a great jumping off point to explore the last section of Olympic National Park we plan to see--Hurricane Ridge--before circling back to Seattle. On the way to the hotel, we take in a quick overview of the small city and its layout. There is an area down near the water that appears to have a density of restaurants and shops. After settling into the hotel, we will probably find our best options for food in that direction.

Photo: Port Angeles

Soon, we arrive at Olympic Lodge, our hotel for the night. They have a welcoming lobby, and the hotel fronts a golf course. There's also a pool situated off the lobby, but it's a bit chilly for us to consider swimming this evening. After checking in and asking about the included breakfast for the morning, we head up to our room.

Photos: Olympic Lodge

My husband is exhausted after all of the driving today, and we decide to head out to dinner fairly quickly after our arrival. It’s also a Saturday night, and we do not have a reservation anywhere. So, the sooner we find a restaurant, the better.

Photos: Our Room & The Golf Course View From Our Window

The hotel desk attendant recommends one of their favorite local restuarants— the Kokopelli Grill. The Kokopelli Grill is a fresh seafood restaurant in town with a relaxed atmosphere. There is a decent line of people waiting to dine when we arrive, so I’m concerned about the chance of our getting a table. However, we are in luck this evening. We soon find ourselves seated at a window table upstairs.

Photos: Kokopelli Grill Upstairs Room; Campeche Appetizer; Side Salad

We spot an appetizer being served to the table behind us and decide we need to order it. The appetizer is a Dungeness crab and Wild American Shrimp Campeche (Campeche salsa topped with house tomatillo avocado salsa with crab meat, served with corn tortilla chips). For entrees, we decide to share the server-recommended Miso Glazed Black Cod (fresh, locally sourced and fire grilled) with the cilantro rice and asparagus—also served with a side salad with homemade dressing, I choose blue cheese) and the Santa Fe Salad with Grilled Steak (chopped romaine tossed with fire roasted corn salsa, queso fresco, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, sliced avocado, and tortilla strips served with a prickly pear vinaigrette). We also each choose to try one of the local beers they have on tap.

Photos: Miso Glazed Black Cod & Santa Fe Salad with Steak

The appetizer is absolutely delicious, the perfect balance of flavors. The shrimp are huge, and the crab meat is sweet. The entrees are equally flavorful, but the miso black cod is a stellar standout. We both think it is amazing—especially the sauce. We practically lick the plate clean and in the process, don’t save any room for dessert. We’re just too full!

As usual, we were up extremely early this morning, and as a result, we’re exhausted bright and early, too! We decide to call it a night and head back to the hotel. We will have another early start tomorrow, as well.

My alarm goes off at 5:30am, and I’ve slept well. It must be our nice low altitude! I never seem to sleep well at high altitudes, and the previous night in Mount Rainier was no exception. The hotel’s breakfast begins at 6am; so I want to be ready to eat around that time. Once dressed, we head down to have breakfast before collecting our luggage and checking out of the hotel.

When we arrive at hte parkinWhen we arrive at hte parkiWhen we arrive at hte parkWhen we arrive at hte parWhen we arrive at hte paWhen we arrive at hte pWhen we arrive at hte When we arrive at hteWhen we arrive at htWhen we arrive at hWhen we arrive at When we arrive atWhen we arrive aWhen we arrive When we arriveWhen we arrivWhen we arriWhen we arrWhen we arWhen we aWhen we When weWhen wWhen WhenWheWhWThis morning, we are headed to the Hurricane Ridge section of Olympic National Park, specifically all the way to the Visitor Center at the end of the main road in this section of the park. The entrance isn’t far from downtown Port Angeles, but the twisting mountain road gains approximately 5,200 feet in elevation and traverses 17 miles, taking us about 35 minutes to get there. Luckily, it's a scenic drive.

When we arrive at the Visitor Center's parking lot, we find that it’s extremely cold. July or not, I decide to dig out my windbreaker to put on over my fleece for our hike. The car says it is currently 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also overcast which is a huge disappointment, but it could be worse—we could be completely fogged in or dealing with some very chilly rain!

We are planning to hike part of the Klahhane Ridge Trail, technically the High Ridge Trail at the start. The full length of the Klahhane Ridge Trail is a bit more of a challenge than we’re looking for--the end of the hike requires rock scrambling and a steep climb, not our idea of fun. However, the views along the way are supposed to be amazing, so we plan to hike to a few viewpoints partway up the trail.

On a clear day, you can see straight to the Puget Sound from up here. Even with the cloud cover, we have some great views over the mountains. I can imagine that it would be even more spectacular with some sunshine.

We hike along the ridge, taking in the views. There are a few other people out hiking along the trail, but for the most part, it's still early and quiet on the ridge. We even encounter a couple watching a bear on a hillside across the mountain through their binoculars, and they let us take a look. I'm glad the bear is a safe distance away, but it's a good reminder that we are not the only thing roaming the mountains. It makes us bit more vigilant. I'm relieved that we have remembered to bring the bear spray on our hike--better to be safe than sorry!

The trail skirts the ridgeline so there aren’t extreme drop-offs, but it’s a narrow path bordered by a steep but graded surface. There are plenty of various wildflowers dotting the grasses surrounding the trail which add a splash of color to the greenery. Unlike at Rainier National Park, this area seems to be closer--if not quite there yet--to full bloom.

As we continue to hike, the fog rolls in, and it begins to drizzle—the sky actually looks substantially worse than when we departed the parking lot. We make it down about a mile or so before my husband says he’s had enough and is ready to turn around. He's not a huge fan of heights, and on the open hillside, the rain is definitely making us feel the cold more than when we set off. The steep hillside we're traversing is making me a bit dizzy, as well, so I agree, and we do an about-face.

When we get back toward the Visitor Center, we turn off to the paved Cirque Rim trail to check out that area out before our departure. The views are quite pretty from here, and the going is MUCH easier. We also spot some wildlife in the woods nearby which is a nice surprise.

Driving back down the mountainous road to exit the park, we pull off at a viewpoint for one last view of the sound from above. We keep it quick since it's still raining. However, even with the drizzle and cloud cover, it's quite beautiful.

We are headed back to sea level now to take the Bainbridge Island car ferry over to Seattle. We only got a fleeting glimpse of the city from a car on our way from the airport to our hotel the first night. Approaching from the water will give us the opportunity to take in the full Seattle skyline from the water. It's the last stop on our adventure in Washington state, so it's a bit bittersweet, but I'm excited to finally explore the city!

Part 6: Seattle & The Bainbridge Island Ferry is coming soon!

Credit for Some of the Featured Photos: Kyle Perkins


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