An April 2005 trip
to Olympic National Park by snuffelupagus
Quote: The Plan: After living in Washington for 7 years, I decided it was about time to visit the Olympic Peninsula. So my boyfriend and I decided a 5-day trip at the end of April was in order. How could we have gone so long without visiting (rainy Northwest style) paradise?!?
What a wonderful place the Olympic Peninsula is in spring! Although it is still the off-season for tourists, the weather is just right for leisurely drives and semi-active hiking. There was not a single place we went that could be deemed crowded. Using Port Angles as our base camp, we took two mini-trips each day, which worked out perfectly for two couch potatoes like ourselves.
We took the Washington State Ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend. Since were not in a hurry, we stopped in La Conner for breakfast before making our way to Whidbey Island for the ferry. Since it was a clear and sunny day, we also took detours in Port Townsend to Fort Worden State Park and around the Sequim Scenic Loop. Door-to-door, it was a relaxing, well-spent 6-hour trip.
You definitely want to bring comfortable walking shoes. Even though it is possible to just drive around and look at the beautiful mountains, lakes, and ocean shores, you aren’t doing justice to the Olympic Peninsula or your vacation if you don’t walk around! There are several short easy hikes to Marymere and Madison Falls as well as loop trails at both Hurricane Ridge and Hoh Rainforest. There is also plenty of backcountry hiking to be had, but I get exhausted just thinking about it.
The most amazing thing about the Olympic Peninsula is the variety of climates in such a relatively small piece of land. During just the 13-mile drive from Hwy 101 to the entrance of the Hoh Rainforest, you’ll experience two or three different climate changes. What amounts to a sunny day in Port Angeles, can equal a cold and windy (but clear) day at the top of Hurricane Ridge. As long as you dress like an onion, the weather can be a pleasant and surprising part of your experience.
Upon review, my boyfriend and I could not think of anything we liked more than everything else. Each day brought new adventure. And the variety of the Olympic Peninsula meant that we were able to spend the morning in a rainforest or on top or a mountain and the afternoon lakeside or at the ocean.
The Olympic Peninsula affords you the chance to be as lazy or active as you want while enjoying one of this country's natural beauties.
First of all, the Weather Channel consistently reported that current and future conditions were rainy. However, we only had rain on our second-to-last day. So check with your innkeeper before you arrive to find out what actual conditions are.
Second, it is worth it to get an Olympic National Park single-visit permit which gives you unlimited entry for up to 7 days. This gives you the flexibility to go into the park whenever the mood suites you or when you happen along one of the entrances and just decide to go in.
Third, bring along your Safeway Club Card or consider applying for one in Port Angeles. They had a lot of sales when we were there, and you get .03 off the price of gas at their station.
Lastly, make sure you fill up your tank before heading out along Hwy 101. All the gas stations outside of Port Angles were at least .10 more expensive. We had spent over at Safeway, so when we filled up, we got .06 off the .67 price for Premium.
You absolutely need a vehicle to get around. If you’re a member of AAA, order their Olympic Peninsula map which was the most used planning item on our trip. I also used their online TripTiks to plan our trip, but I didn’t really need it because things are easy to find once you get there.
Also, if you are traveling in a mobile home or RV or are just a slowpoke, please remember that it is illegal to impede the flow of traffic. There are pullouts and lanes for slow-moving vehicles, please use them. We were usually the slow-pokes because we weren’t in a hurry, but on a two-lane highway, one car can impede both visitors and commercial vehicles.
Hotel | "The Five Seasuns"
We stayed at The Five Seasuns just above downtown Port Angeles. If for no other reason, you should stay here for the chance to have Dutch Babies for breakfast. But there are other reasons to make this your base for exploring.
There are only five rooms, each named after a different season of the year. We stayed in Indian Summer, and I think it was definitely the best decision we could have made.
The four other rooms are located in the main house, but Indian Summer is a separate suite above the garage. Although it looks exactly like the pictures on their website, we were greatly surprised by the layout when we first walked in the door. To the left is the sitting area you see on their website. To the right is a little open space with a recliner and two large windows that look out over the house down toward the water. In front of the open space is a little kitchenette that they do not advertise. I asked January why, and she said she didn’t want people to think that they could make five-course meals there. But for preparing and storing your snacks and sandwiches, it was an added convenience that I appreciated. To the left of the kitchen is the separate bedroom, shown on their website. My boyfriend said that it was the best he had ever slept on on any of our vacations. But be forewarned that it is a rather small room. I am 4’11" and had to watch my head as I went around the corner to the right side of the bed. Then the bathroom had a shower stall with awesome water pressure, which was nice for waking up in the morning, but also for relaxing at the end of the day.
The main house has the typical floral motif that you’ve come to expect at a B&B. It is not to my taste, but a couple of other guests were quite taken with the décor. They also have an impeccable garden with a couple of sitting areas that were perfect spots to nibble on our afternoon fresh-baked cookies. Be careful of Max, the guard dog. He can be ferocious, as most Goldens are known to be... when you have food in your hands.
Bob and Jan have been running the inn for 9 years and are masters of the art of good hospitality. They are very knowledgeable about the area, offer informed suggestions for excursions and restaurants, but do not make you feel mollycoddled by their attention. Although we had an idea of what we wanted to see and do before we arrived, their suggestions of what to do each day based on the weather greatly improved the experience.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 9, 2005
The Five Sea Suns
1006 South Lincoln Street
Olympic Peninsula, Washington 98362
For some reason, Mexican food sounded good on our first night in Port Angles. Jan, our innkeeper, recommended the Kokopelli Grill, and we were not disappointed. It is not part of the franchise of a similar name, but it has all the usual Southwest items you would expect, in addition to several daily specials.
The tri-color tortilla chips and salsa arrived almost immediately. I enjoyed the salsa’s strong garlic and cilantro flavors, but for my boyfriend, the spice hound, it was a letdown. I ordered the steak fajitas. The plate of food was enormous, with enough left over for another meal. I am always amazed at the logic behind the vast quantity of the filling and the paltry number of tortillas that restaurants seem to give you. The meat was tender and flavorful, the rice was well-seasoned, and the vegetables and toppings were abundant. But what I remember with the most fondness is their corn salsa. I don’t know why, but I think it was my favorite part of the meal, even though it was just a little garnish. My boyfriend has one of the daily specials, some sort of ribeye steak. Although he enjoyed it and thought it was good, he said there was nothing to make it an enjoyable steak served in a Southwest cuisine restaurant, just a good plain steak.
We were entirely too full for dessert, but they had about eight items, including fried ice cream and flan.
It has been certified by the county as a 100% smoke-free establishment.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 9, 2005
203 East Front Street
Olympic Peninsula, Washington 98362
Even though we were on vacation, we decided it would be worthwhile to have breakfast at the Calico Cupboard in La Conner. This is the original of the three locations, and the other two are in Anacortes and Mount Vernon. Diabetes runs in both sides of my family, so I know this place will be the death of me. But how can I resist the freshly baked bread, homemade jellies, and crispy hash browns?
The town of La Conner is about 25 minutes off I-5 and worthy of its own travel journal, but for this trip, it was all about breakfast. Usually there is a line out the door since the place only has about 12 tables. However, it was a Friday morning, between the Tulip Festival rush and general mayhem of the summer tourist season, so we were seated immediately. My boyfriend had something without looking at the menu called Calico Grub - I call it "Heart Attack on a Plate" – that consisted primarily of bacon, eggs, and potatoes covered with cheese. For him, it was yummy, but for me, it was an incentive to get on his life insurance.
I had the Fisherman’s breakfast, which was basically the same thing except that the bacon, eggs, and hash browns are separated on the plate, so it didn’t look nearly as unhealthy. However, the only thing I am ever able to finish is the toast and strawberry jelly. Both are made fresh and super yummy! They have a diverse menu and can accommodate most special needs without sacrificing taste. They also serve lunch. While their sandwiches must be amazing, I’ve never had a chance to try them, because we usually head to the La Conner Brewing Company for lunch
There is also a bakery counter, so make sure to get a couple of cookies for the road. Snickerdoodles are my second favorite cookie in the world, and they do them better than anyone. You can also purchase their homemade jelly, along with various breads and pastries.
Parking is at a premium in La Conner, so you may need to circle around a couple of times. Luckily, are plenty of interesting shops to browse in between your parking space and Calico Cupboard.
720 South First Street
Olympic Peninsula, Washington 98257
On our way back from the Olympic Peninsula, there was no doubt we would be having a meal at the La Conner Brewing Company. The only question was whether it would be lunch, dinner, or something in between.
First, I do not drink beer. Second, I view the La Conner Brewing Company as a worthy destination in and of itself. Third, their stinky IPA is my boyfriend’s favorite beer in the universe, so we take any opportunity to go there.
It is a clean and cozy restaurant in the heart of La Conner. There is a fireplace inside and deck seating in the back to take advantage of all seasons. Like the Calico Cupboard, parking is at a premium, but we found a space right in front of the restaurant – of course, it was Tuesday afternoon off-season. As soon as we sat down and before looking at the menu, Mike orders an IPA and I order root beer. They have seven beers on tap (the IPA and the Pilsner are the most popular) and a small selection of wines and ciders. I love their root beer, but it is an adjustment if you are used to only drinking Henry Weinhard’s or Thomas Kemper.
The menu is very limited, but I think they have everything you could possibly want if you’re dining in a microbrewery. They have several appetizers that are great for sharing, a handful of soups and salads, and a large selection of sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas. Although I know I have enjoyed one of their sandwiches and their chicken quesadilla, I can’t remember when I haven’t ordered their margherita pizza, because it is my favorite thing on the menu. The pizzas are 7-inch personal pizzas, so consider ordering a few and sharing. Be prepared to order off the menu, and they do not easily accommodate special diets.
Service is friendly and efficient. However, expect to have a leisurely meal if it’s crowded because the kitchen is tiny (most of which you can see around the wood-fired oven.) All in all, it’s a rewarding experience, especially if you are walking out with a six-pack of your favorite brew.
La Conner Brewing Company
117 South First St.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington 98257
Restaurant | "Landing's Restaurant"
We were looking for a light supper, so Jan recommended Landing's Restaurant down on the water. Although my halibut and chips were deelish, there is nothing about this place that would make me recommend it unless you too are stuck in Port Angeles on a Monday night in the off-season.
Landing's Restaurant is inside the salmon-color building of the same name. Several of the tables have water views, but I wouldn’t classify it as waterfront dining like Anthony’s or The Marina in Bellingham. It has two-stories; go upstairs if you need a little alcoholic refreshment with your meal.
Since it was the off-season, you would expect it to a) not be crowded and b) not be fully staffed. There were only four other tables occupied, but there were 2 servers and a bartender on duty. It didn’t seem like a large workload to me, but service was atrocious! We were seated for a full 5 minutes before anyone even came over to acknowledge us. Then our order took at least 25 minutes to arrive – clam strips for Mike and halibut and chips for me. During our wait, I noticed two other tables asking about the delay in their food as well. Once the food arrived, I was satisfied with my meal – neither item was "greasy," and the fish was firm and tasty. Mike had ordered based on a comment in the menu that these clam strips were popular with guests from all over the world. Well, it was not the case with him; he found them rubbery and tasteless. I wasn’t able to get a refill on my drink until our server came over to bring us the check at the end of our meal. Granted, we could have been more demanding, but we also weren’t in a hurry. But the general level of service was disappointing.
On the second floor, they have live entertainment on weekend evenings starting at 8pm, so if you’re not interested, make a beeline for the door by 7:59pm, as it gets LOUD!
It has been certified by the county as a 100% smoke-free establishment. However, we saw several people lighting up while we were there.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on May 10, 2005
Smugglers Landing Restaurant & Lounge
115 East Railroad Avenue in the Landing Mall
Port Angeles, Washington 98362
This was actually our favorite dinner experience. It was nothing fancy or unique, but everything was wonderful. The service was friendly and attentive. The food was well-prepared and substantial. The menu and prices were what you would expect at most family-run Mexican restaurants. They did have a more extensive seafood selection that, given its name and location, was seemingly more reliable than if you were in Topeka, Kansas.
Their chips and salsa were much better than at Kokpelli Grill and better than some of our favorite Mexican restaurants in Bellingham. We went through two bowls of salsa before our entrées arrived. I had a beef chimichanga, which was yummy and not greasy. I’d say it was smaller than usual because I wolfed it down when I usually can’t finish half – or maybe it was just that good! I can’t remember what Mike had, but it was a combination that involved a cheese enchilada and something with fish. In any case, with extra salsa dumped on top, he was a very happy camper. It turns out that Hacienda del Mar (which has two locations) has been voted the best Mexican restaurant on the Peninsula for several years in a row. We had no reason to doubt it.
One caveat, if crucifixes and images of the Blessed Virgin bother you, you might want to sit facing the back. I only mention it because I’m Catholic and thought it was nice, but my boyfriend thought it was "weird."
They do not have a parking lot, so you need to find something on the street. Since South Lincoln is basically Highway 101, it can be very busy throughout the day, so left-side passengers should look far down the street before getting out of the car. We were lucky to find a spot in front of the restaurant, but your best bet would be the side streets before or after the restaurant.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 11, 2005
Hacienda del Mar
408 South Lincoln St.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
We celebrated our anniversary on Sunday, so I wanted to enjoy dinner at a "nice" restaurant. We pretty much had one option, Bella Italia, since Toga’s and C’est Si Bon were both closed. However, I read a good review on IgoUgo and was excited about the prospect of smoked salmon ravioli, so we didn’t see it as settling. Given the other options in Port Angeles, I would recommend this restaurant, but it was definitely not the dining destination I had expected.
First, let me admit that my judgment is clouded by the fact that the smoked salmon ravioli was not nearly as deelish as the one offered by Tulio in Seattle. I should have known better than to order something that would be compared to something incomparable.
The warm-hued decor and generous table spacing make Bella Italia a warm, cozy Italianate oasis in what is not a very pretty seaside town. They also have a small wine bar at the entrance of the restaurant. I know nothing about wines, but the list was quite extensive, and the wine bar was more crowded than the restaurant on the night we went. It was definitely a relaxed dining atmosphere.
The menu is available on their website. I recommend reviewing it, if only to better focus on the daily specials. I had the mixed greens salad and smoked salmon ravioli. Mike had the Caesar salad and salmon special. Mike has become a connoisseur of Caesar salad lately, and he especially enjoyed this one, which was well-blended and had plenty of anchovies (I think he had to request them, however). Although he said that his meal didn’t particularly seem Italian, he enjoyed the flavors and preparation of the salmon. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of my salmon. My mixed-green salad was very tasty, if a bit heavy on the dressing. Actually, everything about the smoked salmon ravioli was excellent except for the salmon, which was mushy and weak on flavor. Mike tasted it and agreed that it was neither as good as the salmon in his dish, nor the ravioli version served by Tulio. Having not finished my entrée, I definitely had room for dessert, but not much. So Mike and I split a chocolate mousse which turned out to be one of the better ones that I’ve tried.
Planner that I am, I made reservations online before we left for our vacation. They weren’t necessary, since only five or six tables were occupied. During the summer, reservations are recommended if you want to eat during peak dining hours.
Overall, I would recommend this restaurant if you are staying in Port Angeles and need a decent dining option. It has been certified by the county as a 100% smoke-free establishment.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 12, 2005
127 E 1st Street
Port Angeles, Washington 98362
What do I remember most about driving through the Olympic National Park to the Hoh Rainforest? The cows, of course!
After you turn off Highway 101, it is about 13 miles to the Hoh Rainforest visitor center. So, we are driving along, admiring the scenery and marveling at the quickly changing climates, when what should appear in the wilds of a national park? Three black cows without a care in the world. Now, I should mention that I think cows are COOL, so this incident greatly influenced my overall impression of that day’s adventures.
My boyfriend’s favorite part of the day came at Mile 6. The canopy of trees just made a serene and beautiful site. Since we encountered a total of three other vehicles on the road, we felt safe to stop and take a few pictures. But don’t worry; there are several pull-outs at the scenic spots. Example? The Big Spruce Tree. If only Jennifer Lopez could get such press.
Okay, about the actual Hoh Rainforest. It is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the world, and the natural diversity is even apparent from the road. This is primarily a trailhead of back-country hikes, but there are three short hikes that can be done in a day. Our favorite was the Hall of Moses, which is actually the Hall of Mosses. I know nothing about botany, but the visual impact alone was startling. However, there were description markers for people more intellectually adventurous than I. This three-quarter-mile loop is mostly level and easily managed by most people.
There is also a picnic area and campground in the same style as parks all around the US. So the sandwiches we packed in our room were enjoyed amongst the trees and mosses of the rainforest.
Attraction | "Marymere Falls"
This is a very easy and pleasant 1.5-mile round-trip hike. The parking is on the north side of Highway 101, and then you walk through a tunnel under the road onto a fairly level trail to Marymere Falls..
Having been to several falls in the US and Canada, I don’t find anything spectacular about Marymere. It is not something I would make time to see. However, it is a worthwhile stop if you have limited mobility or small children, or are interested in a short visit to something scenic. For us, we were coming back from the Hoh Rainforest and it was on our way. It was there, so we went, and it was a pleasant hour well spent.
Marymere Falls/Marymere Falls Trail
Olympic National Park, Washington
Call this Marymere Falls Light. It is only a 1/4-mile roundtrip trail that is paved, making it wheelchair-accessible. Strangely enough, it was one of our favorite stops because it was a spur-of-the-moment "Turn here!" adventure.
The hike to Sol Duc Falls was the best hike of our trip, primarily because the falls were so beautiful, but also because it is a nice easy hike that makes you feel like you’re really in the outdoors being active. It is a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike on a clear, fairly even path. The initial steps down are the hardest because the steps are spaced so widely apart. There are a couple of longer hikes that use the same trailhead. Or you can take the Lover’s Lane trail from the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, which is 6 miles round-trip.
Although rainfall is below average so far this year, the falls had enough force to create quite a show. The end of the trail is a bridge crossing over the chasm at the bottom of the falls. I get vertigo very easily, so I had to hold on to the railing as I crossed. From this vantage point, it’s amazing to see the bottom of the falls, water crashing against the rocks, surrounded by the loud rushing sounds of the water. Don’t worry. It’s not really scary, and not really that far down. It’s just the sensation I got because usually I’m looking at water falls from the bottom at a reasonable distance.
I have seen the Sol Duc Falls described as one of the most beautiful falls in Washington. I highly recommend the trip. Unlike Marymere and Madison Falls, where you just kind of wander through the wilderness, arrive at the falls, oh and ah, and then head back, the Sol Duc Falls trail is a real walk through the woods with amazing scenery from start to finish. Definitely make time to stop by.
Side Note: If you are an Aaron Elkins fan and have read A Dark Place, there is a spot about halfway down the trail where you cross a stream coming from a steep incline. It’s here that I can image the scene when Gideon gets jumped by something or someone from the densely wooded hillside. It's creepy and cool at the same time. I took a couple of pictures, but the rain made the photos all splotchy.
If it’s a sunny day, I can think of no better place to while away the entire day than the Salt Creek Recreation Area on the northern shore of Washington, along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With tidepools, a playground, mountain trails, and an old World War II defense station, Salt Creek has enough for an active day, and an open field next to the playground for a lazy one.
This is a first-come, first served campground that would be very hectic if it was full. However, on the day that we were there, only five of the campsites were occupied. So we felt like we had the run of the place. There are a couple of locations for day-use parking and several picnic tables scattered in various parts of the park. We basically went from one part of the park to another with little snack breaks in between.
First we hiked over to the two WWII bunkers. It’s actually not a hike, just a walk on the paved roads. Having been to restored WWII sites in the Philippines and in Europe, I can’t say I was too impressed with the deteriorating bunkers as a historical site. But it was a place to reflect on how lucky we are as Americans to be protected by two enormous moats.
Next up was a jaunt among the tidepools. For all the activity the this park has, I’m surprised by how rickety the stairway is down to the water. It is not easily accessible and parents should make sure their children have a firm grip on the rails. I consider myself a fairly healthy person, but I felt like an old lady unsure of my footing as we walked down. Once down on the rocks, you should also watch your footing and be aware of the tide. But it is a great opportunity to look at the little details of marine life – hermit crabs, sea stars, and bubble kelp. It wasn’t until a few minutes into our expedition that I realized we were surrounded by baby sea anemonemonees! Okay, I don’t really know that they were babies, but there were sea anemones in almost every crack and crevice available. This is a marine life sanctuary so please observe, don’t disturb.
After a brief picnic of baby carrots (for me), wasabi Funyuns (for Mike), cheese and crackers, the final part of our day was spent on the Cove Trail just inside the entrance to the park. According to the sign at the trailhead, there were two trails – 2 miles to the Cove and then another 2 miles to Striped Peak lookout. We didn’t even make it to the cove. Yes, we are couch-potatoes, but we are not that lazy. What did me in was the incline; due to physical restrictions, my lower back cannot take the strain of steep inclines. So after 1.5 miles, I had to cry uncle and stop at the spot overlooking the cove. Mike hiked on for a little bit, and I encouraged him to go at least to the cove so I could take a picture of him. However, after only a couple hundred feet he came to a very narrow part of the trail that was basically on the side of a cliff, and he decided he had had enough too. The cove looked like a beautiful hideaway, so I still recommend the hike if you’re physically able.
To get there you head west from Port Angeles on Hwy. 101 and then turn off right on to Hwy. 112 toward Neah Bay. Then you’ll turn right on Camp Hayden Road (there is a convenience store on the corner) and travel about 3 miles. The directions say you turn right into the park, but you really go straight after a bend in the road. The sign wasn’t very noticeable to us so we drove past into the Crescent Beach area. So if you are driving along beachfront, you’ve gone too far. However, don’t worry about trying to turn around, just keep driving in a square through the town of Joyce and you’re back to the spot where you should be turning right but are really driving straight.