Temperature: widely variable, depending on the area
Visit Date: June 14
Partner in Crime: none- first solo park trip
Route taken: From Olympia north on 101 to park headquarters in Port Angeles, up to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, then west on 101, up to Sol Duc, then continued west on the 101 along the outskirts of the park, down the coast.
After spending the night at a friend's place in Seattle, I took off early enough to miss most of Seattle rush hour traffic. The weather was clear and beautiful, a distinctly different experience than my visit 10 years earlier where I decided there was more fog to be had than enjoyment, and spent the day visiting family in Seattle instead.
I pulled over after about 3 hours, mostly to stretch my legs. I had just driven over a bridge (which are still novelties to this Colorado girl), and saw a little park at the base of it. A sandhill crane was peacefully enjoying the water, unbothered by the vehicles driving overhead. There was a small pond off to the side where birds were peacefully chirping, and I spotted a beautiful black bird with vibrant orange wingtips. It is probably a good omen to start off the trip seeing beautiful birds while on my way to Olympic National Park.
Olympic is quite diverse, and is basically three parks in one: the mountains, the rainforest, and the coast. Mental Note: spend an extra day or two here exploring- you will not be satisfied with only one.
The Mountains: My first stop was the Ranger Station in Port Angeles. They have a very good display in the Visitor Center, including a junior ranger area with lots of items that kids can interact with. They have a webcam to Hurricane Ridge, which is, true to its name, often socked in. The Ranger said it had been intermittently shrouded in clouds, so I decided to take the chance that it would open up. Mental note: if you're going up Hurricane Ridge, stop at the Ranger Station first to check conditions.
The drive was a steady uphill climb with what appeared to be a steep dropoff to my left. I couldn't tell, because the air was wet with moisture, and the clouds blocked my view. Being a fan of steep mountainous roads, I wasn't complaining. My first stop was at a roadside pullout with a beautiful trickle of a stream. While I was taking pictures, the clouds opened up enough that I could see the very recent snowfall just a little higher on the mountain. Mental Note: keep your eyes open to more than what is just in front of you (or above you), or you might miss some sights.
I continued up the hill, and had to stop myself at the first spot that the clouds opened up. The steep dropoff combined with the vibrant flora and the impressive ridge line was simply stunning. It took a surprising amount of willpower to get back in the car and continue driving rather than sitting on the side of the road at that tiny pullout just admiring the view.
Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center was at the same time beautiful, welcoming, peaceful, and ready to weather any storm that came through. There was a deer peacefully grazing near a marmot- when I told the Aussie tourists nearby (who were wondering what this creature was) that the marmot is my favorite rodent, they jokingly tried to convince me that rats are loveable, too. Mental Note: rats are not as lovable as marmots.
I wandered around the visitors center, including walking the nature hike. According to the signs, the view is pretty impressive...if only the clouds hadn't descended on me at that point. Though I only got a brief glimpse of the views, I enjoyed watching different groups of people enjoying the snow, trying to climb 15 ft snowdrifts, building snowmen, and catching snowflakes in their hand. This is one of the great values of our National Parks- in the ability for us to come experience nature in its raw form, and to have it preserved for our enjoyment.
A friend had recommended the hot springs, which I said I'd visit, though I know he's significantly more excited about hot springs than I am. The drive around the peninsula is absolutely stunning- made all the more stunning with the contrast of just coming off Hurricane Ridge. Mental Note: if you're looking for a lovely day drive with lots of scenic places to pull over for picnics or kid breaks, drive the 101 around to the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center.
Turning off for the Hot Springs, I was struck by just how different this climate was from the harsh mountain of Hurricane Ridge. Here I was surrounded by massive redwoods and humidity so thick you could almost drink the air. I drove up to the historic hot springs, but rather than going in, chose instead to keep driving to make the coast before the sun dropped too low. Mental Note: staying at the lodge with the hot springs would be a nice, relaxing weekend getaway.
After driving all day, I made it to the coast about 2 hours before sunset. I had only planned for Hurricane Ridge and the Hot Springs, just assuming that any coastal stop would be gorgeous. I stopped at the first sign for the coast, and started down a path that rangers obviously had to regularly maintain in order to keep the foliage from taking over. Being tired from driving all day, I questioned if it would be worth the hike all the way down and then back up. I was not disappointed. This beach is the beach that many of the Olympic National Park pictures are taken of, and it is obvious. There were at least five other photographers setting up for sunset photos. This beach is almost indescribable- more of a picnic and read a good book kind of beach than a sand volleyball and ice cream kind of beach. I could have sat there for hours...or days.
When tide is in, it fills a large tidepool that then drains back into the ocean when the tide is out. The juxtaposition of the still water next to the crashing waves was mesmerizing. I stopped at most of the beaches farther down the coastline, but none were as starkly beautiful as Ruby Beach. Mental note: do not miss Ruby Beach, which is especially impressive given my natural predilection towards mountains over, well, any other geological feature, including beaches.
As I started driving south for Rainier, I noticed a sign indicating a redwood tree grove and decided to stop by as my last hurrah for Olympic National Park. It led to a beautiful old growth redwood tree. Mental Note: Olympic is a great place for tree lovers given the diversity of environments. Being able to walk underneath a root of the tree really gives you the sense that you have been transported to one of the mythical landscapes of your childhood stories.
Olympic was really difficult to capture in one day. It was absolutely breathtaking, and has opportunities for any type of adventurer!