Olympic National Park, three parks in one
Traveling to Olympic National Park is like getting three parks in one. You can explore beaches on the Pacific Ocean. You can hike through giant moss covered trees in a rain forest. And you can climb mountain peaks and visit glaciers.
In the summer of 2015, Lagena and I spent a week exploring the park. According to Olympic National Park’s website, the three distinct ecosystems make up the park’s nearly one million acres. And with the three ecosystems, an array of wildlife resides at the park. Located a few hours from Seattle, Olympic National Park offers a great taste of the Pacific Northwest. More information about the park can viewed here.
Getting to the park
Lagena and I flew into Seattle, rented a car, and made the three-hour drive to the park. Well that was the plan, but that’s not how it worked out. A delay on the tarmac in Dallas caused our plane to land an hour late in Seattle. Then it took us about another hour and a half to get our luggage and rent the car. Oh, and we didn’t get food all day. So by the time we got out of the airport we were exhausted. We stopped for dinner at a Red Robin, and I was so tired I wanted to go to sleep in the booth.
Because you can’t fly with camping stove fuel (explosion hazard – I don’t recommend trying), we had to stop at the store in Washington to buy fuel, food, and other items we needed. Lagena and I decided to forgo our campsite reservations and get a hotel for the first night. That way we could get a good night of sleep and then go shopping for food and supplies in the morning.
We stayed in Aberdeen, Wash., hometown of Curt Cobain and the birth of Nirvana. To a ’90s girl, this was cool.
Exploring the beach
Olympic National Park offers some excellent camping on the Pacific Ocean. We chose Kalaloch Campground because we could make reservations. These were the only camping reservations we made the entire trip. We moved campgrounds every night and would try to get to the new site early in the day. But we did not have any problems find campsites the rest of the trip. Be sure to check on the park’s website about how fast the sites fill up. In some parks, like Glacier National Park, the first-come-first-serve sites fill up before noon.
After Lagena and I set up camp, we searched for food, not wanting to start on the mountain meals just yet. We ate lunch in the Kalaloch Lodge, which is beautiful! We dined with a view of the Pacific Ocean. I had a salmon BLT on raisin toast, and it was amazing. I never thought to combine those flavors, but it was so good. And I am not a fan of salmon, but when you are in the Pacific Northwest, you have to eat salmon.
After lunch we walked along the beaches. Olympic National Park is home to many beaches. Lagena and I drove north on highway 101 and stopped along the way at the park’s beaches. As the day went on, the tide came in. In the late afternoon we saw sea otters feeding. Sea otters are one of my favorite wild animals, so I was very please to see them.
Ruby Beach was my favorite because it has several sea stacks (tall islands away from the beach). The next morning on the way to our next campsite, Lagena and I stopped back at Ruby Beach to see it at low tide.
I highly advise taking in at least one beach at low tide. The wildlife in the tide pools is definitely something to see in person. I also enjoyed walking to one of the sea stacks that was far out in the water the day before. For more information on tides and tide predictions click here.
On our second night in the park, we traveled to the Hoh Campground. We got a nice, but not level, campsite right along the Hoh River. I enjoyed listening to the rushing water that night.
After we set up camp, we explored the Hoh Rainforest by way of the Hoh River Trail. The entire trail is about 20 miles and climbs up to the Blue Glacier, but we chose to stay in the valley for a shorter hike. (We planned to hike to another glacier later in the week.)
The trail follows the Hoh River and takes hikers through towering moss-covered trees. This was my first taste of how big the trees can be in the Pacific Northwest. I also loved that everything was so green. It was neat to see the log jams along the river as they eventually make their way to the sea.
For our third night in the park, we continued our stay in the Hoh Rainforest and camped at the Sol Duc Campground. We hiked to Sol Duc Falls, which my favorite of waterfalls I’ve visited. It’s not big and grandeur, but the way the water cuts narrow slots into the rock and is surrounded by lush greenery is really beautiful.
We still had several hours of daylight left, so we drove back to the beach. On the Quilete Reservation at La Push, we walked along the beach before eating dinner on the reservation. It also was very good.
We left the plush rain forest and valleys for the highlands. For our fourth night, we set up camp at the Heart O’ the Hills Campground, which is along the road to Hurricane Ridge and on the north side of the park. We could definitely tell we were in a dryer climate because the forest was sparser and there is no moss. After we set up camp, we drove to the visitor center and lookout at Hurricane Ridge.
At the visitor center we could see the glaciers and snow-covered peaks of the mountains in the distance. We could definitely feel the temperature change as it was much cooler at the high elevations. From Hurricane Ridge you can see sweeping views of Olympic National Park.
We hiked a short day hike along the Klahhane Ridge Trail. We simply hiked three miles out and back along the trail. It is a very lovely trail that is a stark contrast from the Hoh Rainforest.
The vegetation is thin and dotted with smaller evergreens. We were also up in the clouds and loved watching the fog roll in and out.
We continued our clockwise drive around the park and spent the next three days in the backcountry along the Dosewallips River. For a more detailed post about the backpacking trip see my West Fork Dosewallips River Trail post.
The Dosewallips River is located on the east side of Olympic National Park. On the first day of our backpacking trip, we hiked to Big Timber backcountry site. The second day, we hiked to see Anderson Glacier and back to Big Timber. We then hiked back to our car on the third day.
I really loved hiking deep into the Olympic Mountains. The narrow valleys and towering mountains are something you can’t capture in photographs.
The east side of the park is also different from the Hoh Rainforest, and I enjoyed seeing that.
After our three-day epic hike, Lagena and I drove back to Seattle. We got a hotel near the airport. We unloaded the car, took a long shower, and had a good night sleep in a bed. Our last day in Washington we spent exploring Seattle.
After dropping the rental car off near the airport, we took the train into downtown. We decided to go up in the Space Needle, but when we got there, the lines were extremely long, and we only had one day so we skipped it.
We walked to Pike Place Fish Market, where we ate lunch. After the market we walked along the waterfront before attempting to find our way back to our hotel.
A word of advice – learn public transit before you go. We got a little lost and then got on the wrong bus. But with GPS we got off close to our hotel and walked about a mile back.
Olympic National Park is not a destination that was on my list for a long time. I didn’t really consider it until a few years ago, but I’m so glad I did. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to get a chance to go back.