An August 2006 trip
to Washington by creekland
Quote: Washington State - a place we only nicked the corner of on our first western trip, so this time it was a major part of our journey - and again - the National Parks were our highlights. This was the last state with my mom and nephew.
Attraction | "Ohanapecosh Campground (Mt. Rainier NP)"
This is a highly sought after campground, so reservations are recommended. That said, we made ours shortly before we left on our trip for a Friday night stay and didn't have any problems. Folks next to us were last minute campers. However, the campground was mostly full and we were there in late August, so I don't recommend waiting till last minute if you know you want to stay there in peak tourist season.
Beware that you are in an active "Lahar Hazard Zone." That means if you hear the sound of a freight train, you have minutes to make it to heights 160' higher up... or you'll have a front row seat for the downflow of glacier melt from a restless volcano. Warning signs abound, and you camp here at your own risk (you're quite honestly not likely to make it 160' up in time). We rather enjoyed the extra thrill... (especially since we were right next to the creek) albeit from probably a relatively small risk for any given night.
As an additional bonus, there's a visitor center right here with a short interpretive trail behind it. Buy or borrow a guidebook and set out for a half mile walk seeing some of the woods and old park building/spa sights. Plants, animals, and volcanic conditions (hot water, etc.) are explained quite well. There's also a cross-section of a huge Douglas Fir - showing its size at various times in history. Quite impressive.
Rangers give talks/slide shows at night in the amphitheater (which our boys enjoyed quite a bit) and there are guided hikes at times. Check at the visitor center for a schedule when you are there. A very short drive away is the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail - another easy hike well worth the effort (see separate journal entry).
This campground is kept well-cleaned by volunteers and rangers alike - though I felt sorry for them out picking up other's trash and cigarette butts off the ground - something that SHOULDN'T have to be done. I did appreciate the cleanliness though.
Overall we really enjoyed the experience and would easily camp here again.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 18, 2006
Ohanapecosh Campground (Mt. Rainier National Park)
Southeastern Corner of Park
Mt Rainier National Park, WA 98304
Attraction | "Grove of the Patriarchs (Mt Rainier NP)"
This is a genuinely easy hike for such a spectacular witness to one of nature's gems. The round trip is just 1 1/2 miles with little or no elevation change - and remember - you've come to the park to see the sights, right? The hike is not wheelchair accessible, but for all others - from young kids to those older and wiser and all in between, the view of the huge trees on the island is superb. You do have to walk across a suspension bridge to get there. This is often a big hit for the young or young at heart!
To get to the trailhead, drive to the southeastern corner of the park only 1/4 mile from the Steven's Canyon entrance station. Go early to try to avoid crowds and have a more peaceful hike. There are flush toilets at the trailhead. Then set out. The first 1/2 mile is along the river - a nice peaceful stroll. Then you reach the suspension bridge and access to the island. It's a loop around the island, then the return trip to your car along the same path.
On the island are the gems. These trees are huge, both in height and diameter. Douglas Firs, Western Hemlocks, and Western Red Cedars are the main attractions. You can see them, you can touch them, you can sense their age (in excess of 1000 years - well before all "modern" history we learn about such as Columbus and his trip to our "New World"). Where some ancient giants have fallen, you can see their huge root system and marvel at it - as well as have some good photo ops. Some signs are around to explain what you are looking at - and remember - this probably won't last forever. What nature has built, nature could take away. Nature does replace, of course, but who among us has the 1000+ years to wait?
I can't emphasize enough the ease of this hike so don't look at the distance and be put off. My 12 year old son had a fever this day - yet he wanted to go see the giants and said it was well worth it. My Mom (you guess her age) had no difficulty either. One could walk a mile and a half as easily in a mall - but without the incredible view at the other end.
Grove of the Patriarchs
Mount Rainier National Park
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Attraction | "Kalaloch Campground (Olympic NP)"
Let's start with the name. Most folks see Kalaloch and pronounce it "cal - a - lock." Wrong... it's pronounced "clay-lock." Huh, you say? Us too. They tell us it derives from an Indian name, but no one could get more specific. We think it's one of those names locals use to tell the difference between natives and tourists...
This campground is large (175 sites) and varied. We made our reservations the first day you could - on the 5th, five months in advance - in the first hours - and were able to snag an oceanside site. Most are back in the woods - and surprisingly, you can't hear the ocean. Some are along the highway - and get to listen to the big logging trucks as their nighttime serenade. We suggest oceanside if you can get them (or closer to it, but in the woods if ocean noises keep you awake at night).
There are flush toilets but no showers. Aside from a very small store and a mediocre restaurant nearby at Kalaloch Lodge, there's nothing for miles - literally - so be sure to bring all food and "stuff" with you.
Kalaloch's "gem" (besides its isolation) is the beach. Access is down a set of stairs and over, yes, over, several feet of driftwood. Then it's sand. While swimming here is both frigid and discouraged, playing on the beach is not. There's a small creek that enters the ocean that's available for playing in (or around). Kite flying is very popular - as is fishing - and of course, beach walking. Beach fires are allowed using the driftwood (carried away from the large mass you walked over). It's very peaceful and very relaxing.
Kids love to play on and around the driftwood. Ours made forts, houses, secret hiding spots, and who knows what else. They were happily occupied for hours. Hubby and I got miles of walking and musing in. One does have to wonder about that mass of driftwood. How much would there be if they didn't allow burning? What stories would those trees tell if they could? How long do they float before they reach the shore? Some of those large tree/logs have undoubtedly seen generations of vacationers - at least - we think so.
As a last note, don't enjoy it so much here that you miss Ruby Beach a few miles farther north. It's a short drive, and a totally different looking beach - WELL worth the visit. There's also hikes, ranger talks, and a visitor center close by. The bulletin board lists daily schedules.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit - even though the first night was engulfed in sea fog - which CAN happen and erases your view, but not the sound.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 22, 2006
Kalaloch Campground at Olympic National Park
On bluff overlooking Pacific
To back up... when planning this trip, we looked at where we would be (Glacier National Park) and our semi-final destination (Washington Coast at Olympic National Park) - then looked in between. Aha, a huge lake bordering Cascades National Park... then to the Internet and research. We found we had the option of driving through the upper road of Cascades National Park or driving to Chelan (the town) and taking a day trip on a ferry the length of the lake (50+ miles through mountains) to the little village of Stehekin. Chelan is on the border of the park, Stehekin is in it (and has a visitor center, etc.). Being the water lovers we are, we opted for Chelan.
The trip there from Glacier was long (10+ hours) but varied in terrain and was very pretty in areas. When we cut across Idaho we saw our first - and only - moose on the trip - out in a pond eating. If one had time, this could be divided into two days with more time spent meandering on the way... 10+ hours in the car was long for all of us. There is no direct highway route to shorten the length much.
As we reached Washington and saw "The Evergreen State" on signs, everyone remarked that one really has to use their imagination to see anything green. Most of this area of Washington is dry scrub from what we saw. We took back roads (our custom), and even took small back roads to take a more direct route. In some fields there are neat "piles" of black rocks that go on for miles - an interesting sight. Other fields are farmed.
Ah, but I digress... back to Chelan. Accommodations for 7 were a little hard to come by with trying to make reservations just two months in advance. Having camped in Glacier and planning to camp afterwards, we wanted an inexpensive motel for a couple of nights... inexpensive ended up costing us in excess of $200 a night - at the Parkway Motel - a place where the "free wi-fi" didn't work (had to go into town and park outside a business, leaching), and a place where, if you rented just half of a total room, you had merely a paper thin door between you and the next guests - meaning my mom involuntarily stayed up to the wee hours listening to the group next to her - and with listening - she could repeat their conversations word for word. This was one of the cheaper places... you can get very expensive and waterfront if you desire, but plan to make reservations early.
To be fair to the Parkway, if you rented the whole room (as we did with my nephew), the place wasn't half bad and noise wasn't an issue. It also had 2 bathrooms - and a decent kitchen - a big plus which makes me inclined to recommend it if one takes the whole room. However, they wouldn't let us put 7 people in a room designed for 6. We didn't know ahead of time, but it would have been easy to sneak a youngun in instead of renting the other (small) half unit - saving money and the hassle of excess noise. Of course, I never told you that...
Chelan itself is a tourist town complete with mini-golf, shopping, and crowds (but not big city crowds - just typical tourist town crowds). The ferry leaves from a nearby dock (drive to it - free parking).
There are no roads to Stehekin. You either go by boat or float plane. Most tourists take the Lady of the Lake Ferry. On our visit, there were two options - one two hours, the other four (one way). By combining the two hour ferry there with the four hour one back (around $60 per person), you get the longest time possible there without spending the night. That time, however, is a mere 3 hours... You can spend as little as one hour if you want the 2 hour ferry both ways.
You don't really see the forested majestic scenery until about halfway there - and then - the end of August - there wasn't nearly as much snowcap on the mountains as in their photographs. Nevertheless, it's still very pretty on the Stehekin end - and pretty sparse on the Chelan end. The Lake itself is the third deepest freshwater lake in the US - and according to the ferry company, has the deepest gorge in the US (measuring from top of mountains to the bottom of the lake). An interesting tidbit for us trivia folks...
The "nature" claim to fame in Stehekin for a short visit is a trip to Rainbow Falls - via bus (or you can rent a bike) - for an extra fee ($7) per person. The falls ARE neat - tall (300+ feet), wonderful noise, beautiful view. However, with the tour you have a very short time there and with a decent sized crowd. All too soon you hear the "Everyone back on the bus" order (sigh). The bus trip there is short - a couple of miles at most (on an old school bus) - and is narrated, but pending where you sit on the bus, it can be hard to understand the speaker. I heard noises, but had trouble figuring out what the words were. Hubby heard it all and easily.
Since we had the 3 hour time, we opted to get off at the Bakery on the trip back and buy/eat our lunch there. That was a superv decision. They had a nice offering of soups, sandwiches, salads, and baked sweets. Following the relaxing tasty lunch, we had about a mile walk along the lake to go back to the dock - and from there - had time to explore the Visitor Center's exhibits and a small "local made" gift shop. This section of time was my favorite - the time from leaving that bus to getting back on the ferry. The walk was easy, very peaceful, very pretty, and relaxing.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the ferry ride back (for me). Four hours is a long time... when you've already seen the same sights on the way in. Add to that some children that were obviously bored (not mine, but other younger kids who were not amused with a long boat ride or the scenery). Some people slept. Others read or played cards. I counted landmarks as they went by - trying to remember them in reverse order... Hubby - our TRUE water person - spent the time outdoors and rather loved it all. My Mom - a non water person - was totally bored. I was in the middle. I much preferred the two hour ride there, but I can't imagine having just one hour of time in Stehekin.
Looking back on our trip (with all of us), we'd have changed our minds and chosen the driving option through the North Cascades - considering the time we had. Travelers we met in Olympic told us they had gone that route and it was, indeed, beautiful. It also would have saved us approx $900 between lodging and ferry costs, etc.
If we were doing Stehekin again, I'd have looked more closely into staying there for at least one night to allow for hiking and/or simply enjoying the peacefulness of it all (instead of staying in Chelan). Three hours there was too short of a time for 6 hours on a ferry (for most of us). There are camping and a couple of lodging options there. You would have to enjoy nature though as there's nothing else there for amusement. This would have been great for hubby, myself and our boys (I possibly would have had rave reviews of the whole area instead of "so-so"), but my mom felt she'd have been really bored - so know which "type" of person you are before planning.
For Chelan, the town, it seems to be a lake vacation destination for the northwest. Considering the other (large) lake options close by (few or none), I can understand the need to want to be around a decent sized body of water.
If you're from the east, there are plenty of other options and prettier places to go to for a lake destination (such as Lake Champlain) rather than make the long trip out west just for this lake (my opinion). For us, since we were already on a western trip, it was nice to see, but in hindsight, we'd have modified our plans as detailed above.
Mt Rainier towers more than 14,400 feet - the tallest point in Washington State - at least - for now - it's another of earth's ongoing projects that someday will drastically change. The question is, WHEN? Try to see her as she is now. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
We added Mount Rainier as more or less of an afterthought. We were coming up on a weekend - every "lengthy-time" traveler's bane, esp if you have a crowd allergy! It's far less crowded at practically any tourist destination during the week, but you can't just "skip over" a weekend when you're out for two months... so where DO you spend it? For us, looking at a map at home, we opted to camp at Mt Rainier for Friday night and mosey on towards Olympic on Saturday. We'd see the mountain (we thought), then spend the time on the road - more or less killing time. It really worked out rather well...
Ohanapecosh Campground, while crowded, wasn't overly noisy, and had a great setting (see separate journal entry). We were limited in our hiking at this point - mainly due to my middle son coming down with a low grade fever, so while we wistfully looked at a few more trails than we did, we didn't miss them due to lack of time. (One could spend more time here hiking more trails.) The Grove of the Patriarchs - the one major trail we did do - was a very easy one - even for my middle son. (It was great for it's viewing of tall, old firs and cedars - see separate journal entry).
The downfall to the park is its roads... They BADLY need upkeep in places and will probably keep many a tire alignment place in business. We had to go rather slow to try to help soften the bounces on my middle son's aching head... the rest of us weren't exactly enjoying that part either. If there were one thing I could change about Rainier - the roads would be it! Since there are only two major roads and no real way to bypass them, I'm not quite sure how quickly repair will come. A couple of areas were under construction while we were there - but many, many more needed it.
Mt Rainier is also a close destination to a major portion of Washington's population, so expect a crowd. Parking lots fill early - especially on weekends - so expect longer hikes to reach places like visitor centers. The "plus" side to the proximity is that Seattle/Tacoma, etc., have a great mountain backdrop for a view! Visit Seattle and you'll see what I mean... This gorgeous mountain is visible for miles - literally.
The Friday of our arrival was my son's worst day for the fever, so we pretty much set up camp and stayed put. The other three boys, hubby and I did the short interpretive trail at the Visitor Center at Ohanapecosh. They have a written guide to the trail - it takes you past some of the old building (spa) sites as well as gives you info on the woods (see more in Ohanapecosh Campground journal). That night the boys all did the Ranger Program in the amphitheater while we adults chilled and relaxed.
Saturday morning we were up fairly early to pack up - then set off to do the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (must do early to avoid crowds). Afterwards we simply drove to all ends of the park. We stopped at the Visitor Center at Sunrise for lunch and an awesome view of the mountains - as well as seeing the exhibits. It's VERY informative inside and highly recommended for its educational value as well as its view. The drive up to it has some spectacular mountain and valley scenery. Let someone drive who isn't afraid of heights and will keep their eyes on the road! The first step would be a dozy (in many places).
Then we retraced the drive back south and cut east to head to Paradise. That area is currently under construction and was incredibly packed - even for the shuttle buses. Our crowd allergies kicked in - so we just admired the view there and added it as a "must see" section next time we visit. The view is of the "other" side of the mountain - all views are awe-inspiring.
Besides the mountain itself, one sees mountain waterfalls, creeks - from glacial melt and run-off (learn the difference at the visitor center), and miles of old growth forest - the type not seen elsewhere - literally - as pretty much all others have been cut or burned. Rainier and Olympic have much of the last remaining old growth forests. When the volcano rumbles to life, many of these will be gone forever as far as our lifetime is concerned.
Before the trip we hadn't decided on what to do Saturday night/Sunday, but seeing Rainier - and with our nephew having watched a show on Mt St Helens - we spontaneously set out to Rt 5 and down to a motel setting us up for a quick Sunday visit to Mt St Helens before heading to Olympic. We HIGHLY recommend seeing both parks - with Rainier first - AND allowing more than just half a day to see Mt St Helens! We thoroughly underestimated that park (see separate journal).
Back to Rainier... This park works for a quick visit just to admire her beautiful scenery. However, one could spend a bit more time than one night there - especially if one wants to hike more than one trail. Hikes range from short and easy - suitable for all - to several miles (and days) long. Many people also climb to the summit, however, that's not a quick decision to make! It's not an easy summit. You need special permits (and experience), etc., to do that climb. Check into it separately if you're a climber.
You do need to realize that there are places of "danger" here - including the campground we stayed at. You're visiting an active volcano that can awaken at any time. While there generally are signs of restlessness - such as earthquakes - 'tis not ALWAYS the case for things like glacial melt - so one COULD be in for the adventure of their lives (signs warn of this)... If this scares you - admire her from a distance - however, the chances are rather remote (much greater chance of being in a car accident around home)... and if one doesn't live with a LITTLE risk - does one LIVE? Enjoy!
P.S. Should add at the end that the in Nov 2006 rains/floods did some massive damage to the park in places... which hopefully will be fixed quickly. Check with www.nps.gov for current visit info. My writing is based on our pre-flood visit.
As mentioned in a couple of my other journal entries, Mt St Helens was a late addition to our trip - spontaneous really - due to having seen Mt Rainier, and of course, because it was famous. My nephew really wanted to see it (having just watched a show on TV about the 1980 eruption), so we figured, why not? This part of the trip was supposed to be for him anyway as he was a newcomer to traveling in general. We allowed ourselves half a day to drive out there, then get going to our planned (reserved) stop at Olympic NP. What was there to really see (?) (we thought), it was "just" the top blown off a mountain - and 26 years ago at that... We'd see it and be on our way...
Well, we REALLY underestimated the time we'd want. In hindsight, I'd have wanted at least one WHOLE day just to see the sights in leisure - and possibly two to do some of the longer hikes. I want to go back... and to think we almost didn't go at all!
Mt St Helens is run by the Forest Service and is jointly run in places by Washington's State Park system. Therefore, don't count on your regular National Park pass to work here. Our Golden Eagle pass worked just fine though - and saved us the $3/$6 per person entrance fee (based on one or multiple sights visited). For those not familiar, Golden Eagle passes are just $65 for the whole family for a year and allows one free access to all National Parks, Forest Service, BLM, and Fish and Wildlife sites - basically all Federal Recreational Area places. For those who travel, these are a great deal. Normal National Park passes ($50/year/family) allow one only into official National Parks - not Mt St Helens.
Anyway, we were figuring things out for this park as we went along - having done no research on it at home... We found three visitor centers on Rt 504 - and all have different things in them. We briefly stopped at Silver Lake - the main state center and one that is generally always open. They appeared to have several personal stories of survivors and victims along with geological exhibits, etc.
Being short on time and wondering what was closer, we then went to Coldwater Ridge and read more. On the way you enter the "blast zone" a really eerie feeling... You can see the mountain - and crater - well. You can see the downed trees - as well as regrowth from planted forested areas. You can see lakes that didn't exist prior to 1980 - and the debris in the creek that is left over. It's incredible. Coldwater Creek also has a slide video presentation on regrowth in the area. As you approach Mt St Helens, all the regrowth is natural - towards the way out, much of it is planted for wood production (as it was prior to the eruption). We ate at the small (fast food type) restaurant here and enjoyed our view of the crater immensely. By the way, if you want to eat - THIS is the place. There's no food service closer.
Then it was on to the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center - so named for the scientist who gave his life monitoring the volcano on "D-day" so to speak. He has the famous last words, "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!" This place is the closest you can get via car - and can sometimes be closed if they believe more action from the mountain is imminent. I believe it also closes in winter. Check locally for details. It's crowded, but well worth the visit. Inside they have a great video presentation you should watch - and more info on survivors and victims as well as the volcano itself. You can spend hours inside if you like exhibits (as we do).
Outside everyone continues to gaze on in awe. The sheer destruction of this eruption is amazing - it took more than 1300' off her height and turned a magnificent "Rainier-like" picture of woods and dense life into moonscape - with just a few plants struggling back as they can. Glaciers melted and debris piled up to heights of 500' in places. You can still see the debris - and if one allows enough time, you can hike to a bit of it too. It made us wonder about the Lahar warnings in Rainer to get to 160' in height. What good would 160' in height have done if 500+' of debris were left from a smaller mountain?! (See journal on Ohanapecosh campground for more info.)
Outside one can also hike along the valley/ridge rim as far as you like (well, there probably IS an end, but on a short visit, you won't find it). Don't go off the path, rangers aren't afraid to chew you out for destroying those plants brave enough to return (either brave or they have no clue what happened to the earlier plants that grew there!). We hiked a little just because we HAD to. We didn't want to leave.
Along this rim we were taking photos when, inside the crater, there was a large rock slide! We didn't realize what we were looking at at the time as there were always puffs of steam there, but this one produced a large "instant" cloud. The ranger stationed outside informed the crowd of what we were looking at. Checking our photos afterwards, yes! We caught it in the background. One has to wonder though, when the rumblings might get a bit TOO dangerous for comfort - and the blast zone edge is a few miles down the road yet. It's an eerie feeling. Everyone this close to the volcano when she blew didn't live to tell about it - nor some farther away.
One can't help but revisit Mt. Rainier mentally... all those information signs about how she, too, is a volcanic mountain building up inside. All those beautiful forests and glaciers, valleys, campgrounds, rivers, streams, tall trees, wildlife - all with a ticking bomb inside - and one man can't control - even if he tried. Mt. Rainier is also roughly 5000' taller than Mt. St Helens was... an interesting thought... and more than enough reason to see both as they are for a great testament to our planet's fury when she gets in the mood.
As an aside for those who might be planning a trip... there are state run campgrounds here, but other lodging is limited to a few motels along Rt 5. Food is quite limited as well. Restrooms are at all the visitor centers.
Olympic National Park has three totally different areas within it. The section we were mainly after was the 50+ miles of coastline on the Pacific - or at least the section of it that Kalaloch campground was near. My nephew had never seen the Pacific Ocean - so it was our goal to get there before he and my mom had to travel back home. We made our reservations the first day - the first hours of that day that one could - just so we'd have an oceanside campsite - and yes, it was worth it. (See Kalaloch Campground journal entry for more on that.)
The afternoon we arrived had a great display of sea fog... something else my nephew had never seen... so I'm not sure it was a good "first impression" for him. The fog erased all traces of the ocean from our view. So much for our great campsite (sigh). It also let a seeping cold crawl through our bodies... a GREAT reminder that it's always best to be prepared for all weather conditions. We survived, and were thankful for a fire circle and later, our warm sleeping bags. We hoped to wake up to bright sunshine - but that was not to be.
Our "plan" here was to simply relax and let the boys play on the beach for a good part of this - their last non-traveling day of vacation together. Don't misunderstand - the Pacific in the northwest is COLD. One doesn't go swimming - at least - not without wetsuits/dry suits, or in general, a good tolerance for the frigid. In this area, swimming can also be dangerous due to riptides. However, my boys long ago figured out how to amuse themselves on a beach simply by playing in the sand or with creeks that enter into the ocean. They make up all sorts of games, build dams, etc, and we were eager to have them include my nephew. My mom and I had planned on enjoying a good book with a nice view. The cold dampness of the sea fog got to us all, so we needed Plan B.
With some discussion, Plan B ended up with us going to a Ranger's beach talk at the nearby Kalaloch lodge. While some of what was said was interesting, the ranger talks here (we did two) were incredibly disappointing . To all who have been there - water is NOT magnetic! One ranger told her audience it was - and reinforced it quite a few times. Though her other info was quite interesting at times, this was incorrect. I'm a science person myself - but I ran it by the Chem teachers at school just to double check my facts... It takes a LOT to get ANY magnetic response from water. Water IS cohesive... but for more on that, google it. I really dislike it when our national park rangers teach incorrect info...
So... we're planning as we go here... how about a hot lunch at the Kalaloch lodge to warm up? That sounded good... we all voted for it. Don't. The food was overpriced and mediocre at best. It also wasn't warm inside. While there were positives about the ranger talk, I honestly can't think of any about lunch. Even the waitress didn't seem friendly - more "matter of fact" type. Oh well.
Plan C. We're here and it's our last day. Let's drive around and see what we can see. The "magnetic water" ranger had mentioned some sea caves at Ruby Beach. To nature lovers, caves are always interesting... and sea fog SHOULDN'T block their view, so off we went (drive to it).
Ruby Beach was REALLY neat - in any weather. There's no sand here, instead, it's all varying sizes of water-smoothed rocks - some of which are red. The ocean "rattles" these as waves come in and out. Stop and listen and you'll hear a true "rock band." Offshore, there are "stacks" (huge rocks left standing after the ground around them eroded). By walking along the beach we also found the sea caves, small, but fun to explore - all in all - a fun place to visit. The best thing? The sun came out! It had finally burned through that section of fog - and did it turn pretty! The ocean sparkled; everyone's spirits perked up. We walked and enjoyed the ocean view now as well as the beach and stacks. Farther off shore, there were even islands to be seen!
At some point we decided we should return to our campsite and let the boys enjoy their time playing on that beach. Kalaloch's beach is sand - and driftwood - not just driftwood, but DRIFTWOOD - pieces, branches, and whole tree logs - and TONS of them. To even reach the sand, you have to walk over them from our beach entrance. The boys loved it. It added to their game as they made pretend forts, houses, and hiding places - exactly what brothers and cousins SHOULD have free time to do. Many campers built fires right on the beach - and this is fine. One would think after a while, the driftwood would be all used up, yet it isn't. Then one starts to thinking about how much driftwood there would be WITHOUT the fires. Miles? (see campground journal entry for more).
So in the end, the boys had a blast. We adults had our time to gaze on the ocean and stroll along her for miles admiring nature and feeling a little bittersweet that this part of our vacation was coming to an end. Overall, we were all pleased to have a snippet of what the Olympic coast can be like with the sun - yet the sea fog was a good "nature" event for us too.
The day we left we drove around the park heading towards the ferries to Seattle (the airport they would leave from). A short section of beach can be seen, but the view on this drive is mostly of trees. There are lots of logging trucks - only the edge is National Park. One can visit the temperate rainforest along the way, but we opted not to due to time constraints. On another visit, we'll check it out.
Instead, when we got there, we opted for Hurricane Ridge and a view of this section of the Cascade Mountains - including the North American version of Mt Olympus. The drive up is gorgeous. Stop at the overlooks for some grand vistas - one in particular gives a spectacular view of the Sound - and parts of Canada. Keep a lookout for deer... like deer anywhere they seem to prefer the center of the road and act as if they've never seen a car before. We think it's a game the teenaged deer play... sort of akin to the human game of "chicken" or "truth or dare."
The top was both pretty and interesting. The sea fog of before was instead a cloud bank which obstructed our view of Mt. Olympus herself, but it was still neat to see the clouds move in the valley, and there were still gorgeous wildflowers for our visual pleasure. The Visitor Center had a REALLY nice video to watch along with some other educational information.
Be prepared for all sorts of weather. At the bottom of Hurricane Ridge it was 74 degrees - at the top, they had 48 - and dropping quickly. As we left, a light snow was falling. A sign in the center said 2 - 6 inches were predicted. The day before they had had 84 degrees at the top! One can never tell I suppose.
Overall in Olympic, people come to hike, fish, chill out on the beaches, and enjoy the mountain scenery. It seems less crowded than other national parks (but that may be because we were there at the very end of the season). There are tall trees that rival some in Mt Ranier NP. Both of these parks contain some of the last known old growth forests in the US. Much of it is a temperate rainforest - the only one in the US (Hawaii's are tropical, not temperate), so one needs to be prepared for the possibility of wet. As far as nature goes, we enjoyed her here - even with our initial disappointment. When the sun shines, this place glistens. When it doesn't she's still rugged in her beauty. Be flexible - and enjoy!
East Berlin, Pennsylvania