Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Four Family Friendly Days in Olympic National Park

View from the top of Hurricane Hill near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
Although I was born and raised in Oregon, I haven't been to the Olympic Peninsula since I was very small. So, when I was out in Portland for a week this summer, I asked Mom if we could get out of town and head north!  She and my dad are travel writers and well acquainted with the sights of Washington.  They planned a wonderful, beautiful, and tranquil four days in Olympic National Park.  Our itinerary is perfect for someone looking for a smattering of what the park has to offer including easy-moderate day hikes and a little bit of everything - beaches, rainforests, and mountains.

Here's how to recreate this adventure....

Day 1 - Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Hill hike
Activities:   Hurricane Ridge is in the Northern portion of the park.  It is easily accessible from the town of Port Angeles.  We started at the visitor center.  This alone provides magnificent views of snow-capped peaks (in August) and rolling hills of alpine gardens.  We spotted multiple deer on our drive (so watch out!)  Many hikes are accessible from this spot, but we chose to drive up the beyond the visitor center and take the "Hurricane Hill" hike.  This easy, paved trail winds 1.5 miles to the 5,757 foot summit with views of the surrounding mountains, wildflowers, bay, and even a peak at Vancouver Island.  After our hike, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car before returning to Port Angeles.
Hiking Hurricane Hill

Night Accommodations:  Port Angeles has a number of hotels, motels, and inns.  In addition, the Heart O' the Hills campground is located at the based on the Hurricane Ridge park gates and offers quiet, wooded spots to campers.

Food:  For dinner, we enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner at Kokopelli Grill in Port Angeles (try the salmon chowder!)  Make reservations because it's a popular spot.
We also had a fantastic breakfast at the First Street Haven Diner.  Great cinnamon roll!

Day 2 - Lake Crescent, Maymere Falls, and Twilight
Lake Crescent

Activities:  On Day 2, we enjoyed breakfast at the First Street Haven Diner before heading out toward the town of Forks.  Along the way, we made a few stops to get a glimpse Washington State magic.  A favorite was the stop at the Lake Crescent Lodge.  This beautiful and charming inn is located on the still shores of beautiful Lake Crescent.  The day we visited, the lake was still - fog drifted through the surrounding hills, making it a serene and peaceful spot.  From here, we were able to take a hike to Maymere Falls.  This easy 1.8 mile round trip hike takes you to a narrow cascading falls nestled between old growth Sitka spruce.

Marymere Falls
We also made as stop at Sol Duc Falls (Also spelled Soleduck) located near the well-visited Sol Duc Hot
Springs (fee to soak).  Sol Duc Falls has multiple entrance points and trails to it, but we took the most trodden route from the parking lot located at the dead end road.  This 2 mile out-and-back easy trek takes you through beautiful forests, past a haunting hiker shelter to the bridge that overlooks the three falls.

From Sol Duc, we continued to the town of Forks. This town has become famous in recent years as the setting for the popular Twilight novels.   Before retiring for the night, I insisted on seeing some of the Twilight tourist attractions, such as ... the Forks High School (with original movie sign), a replica of Bella's truck at the town visitor center, and Forks Outfitters - where Bella worked.

Sol Duc Falls
Night Accommodations:  Forks has a few hotels/motels as well as camping available at Sol Duc and nearby LaPush.  We enjoyed our stay at the Forks Motel - where we were able to get a "suite" complete with two bed rooms, bathroom, and outfitted full kitchen.  This made us able to shop for groceries in town and make our own meals.

Food:  Because Forks has such limited dining options, we purchased groceries and made all our food in our kitchen motel room at the Forks Motel.

Tide pools at 2nd Beach
Day 3 - Beaches and Rainforest

Activities:  Our second day in Forks started by making our breakfast in the motel and heading out to LaPush.  This Native-American Land and town are home to some of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen.  After consulting a guide book, we decided to explore the "Second Beach".  A short, one mile walk through the Quileute Indian Reservation and we emerged on a stunning beach pierced by large rock monoliths.  As the fog cleared, more rock giants rose from sea.  Walking along the coast for 2 miles, we explored local tide pools and gazed at the evergreen-coated cliffs.  It was spectacular.

Moss covered trees in Hoh rainforest
After our walk, we returned to the hotel for lunch, before heading back into the park.  This time, we drove to Hoh Rainforest.  We took the short but SWEET "Hall of Mosses" trail.  Although only 0.8 miles, this loop trail took over an hour due to the frequent photo stops.  I really felt as though I'd stepped back in time.

We returned to the Forks Motel, where we made dinner, but watched the clock, and around 8 pm, headed to "First Beach" in LaPush in the hopes of seeing the 8:30 pm sunset dip into the ocean.  This beach is accessed directly from the town of LaPush and no hiking is required.  I marveled at the rock islands out at sea while climbing over the driftwood-covered jetty.

Night Accommodations:  Forks Motel (see above)

Food:  Made our own in our kitchen at Forks Motel.

Massive Trees along the coast

Day 4 - One Last Beach Walk

Morning at Ruby Beach
Activities: Before heading back to Portland, we stopped along Route 101 at Ruby Beach.  Since we got there at around 9 am, we found ourselves ALONE on one of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen!  We walked the sandy shores for a mile, photographing and gaping at the immense rocks and pristine tide pools. By the time we got back to the parking lot around 11 am, the lot was full and many families were combing the beach.

We returned to Portland refreshed by the purity of the Olympic Peninsula nature scenes and already aching to return.  I highly recommend this National Park for lovers of nature, mountains, waterfalls, and beaches.  It was the perfect way to enjoy a week in the Pacific Northwest!
Morning stroll at Ruby Beach

Additional Recommendations....

Sunset at 1st Beach in LaPush
- It's waaaaaaaaaaaay cooler  (like 20 degrees) in the Olympic Peninsula than in Seattle/Portland.  I packed shorts for a mid-August summer day, but instead spent the entire time in my one pair of pants and borrowed sweatshirt.  80 in the city could be 60 in the park!

- The peninsula has poor cell phone reception.  Even Forks, a populated town had me stuck on AT&T's "extended network".  The Forks Motel offered weak complimentary wifi - just enough to check email, but not much more.  Plan accordingly.

- Get to beaches early.  Although this park did not seem very crowded for a warm August weekend, we discovered that even getting to beaches at 9 am would give us the gift of solitude.

Bella's truck from Twilight in Forks, WA