Olympic National Park (ONP) was one of the parks I was most excited for. The moment I laid eyes on the guidebook's photos, the park's careful seduction had begun. The lure of the Enchanted Valley and its moss-coated, temperate rain forests, and the rhythmic pulsing of each wave of the Pacific Ocean had me looking forward to this park before our journey had even begun.
Olympic truly boasts something for everyone - from climbs to scraggly mountain vistas and glaciers, sweeping views of Mount Olympus, hikes through old-growth, temperate rain forests among moss-cloaked trees much older than the Declaration of Independence, and vast white-to-black sand beaches punctuated by sea stacks and rocky tide pools reminding us of this region's violent volcanic heritage. During our ten-day stint, we were fortunate to sample the many flavors of this park along with plenty of sweet, local beer, beach-side campfire tacos, and the company of friends old and new! Thank you, Ben, for joining us from Washington, DC, and William, for your continued company and for introducing us to Scot, Lydia and Matt - what a delight!
If its temperate rain forest you seek, check out the Ancient Groves nature walk, Sol Duc Falls, the Hoh River Trail and/or Enchanted Valley. We did all four!
- Ancient Groves was our first taste of the temperate rain forest, and probably made the biggest impression on me. This short hike wanders through, you guessed it, an ancient grove of moss-covered giants, asserting their grandeur and wisdom high above the forest floor, which was carpeted with ferns and what looked like miniature forests growing out of fallen logs. Truly magical.
- Sol Duc Falls wandered through a similarly moss/magic-coated forest (seriously, this place reminds me of Fern Gully) to a triple waterfall! The hike is relatively easy and the falls are viewed both from a bridge over the river, and from a lookout. Both vantage points are inspiring, and water cascade over large lava-like rocks, that divide the flow into three distinct sections. Just beautiful.
- Hoh River was the next on our list, and the setting of a well-deserved Hiker's Happy Hour. This particular trail extends approximately 18 miles to the base of Mount Olympus and several affiliated glaciers, although we only hiked five miles in, for a ten-mile day hike. Similar to the Ancient Groves hike, this path took us below towering coniferous and deciduous trees, along a river, and through lush undergrowth. Our friend William backpacked this trail and made it all the way to the glacier!
- Enchanted Valley is located in the remote Quinalt region of the park, and was our last hike. Ryan and I wandered about a few miles in and mutually agreed that it was strikingly similar to the Hoh River trail, but beautiful nonetheless. Both hikes wander through temperate rain forest, although the first couple mile of Enchanted Valley more closely resemble an alpine forest.
For the beach goers (myself very much included), I recommend the following: move to the Olympic peninsula, set up a tent on one of the park's many backcountry beaches, and live happily ever after. Just kidding, I think. While at ONP, we enjoyed our fair share of the Pacific Ocean, including two backcountry trips to Rialto and Shi Shi Beaches, a day hike along Third Beach and camping at Kalaloch and South Beach.
- With our friend Ben, we wandered about one and a half miles from the Rialto Beach trail head, just beyond Hole in the Wall and set up camp right on the beach! (Camping is permitted half a mile north of the TH.) Ryan and I slept under the stars! It was whimsical to the best extent of my over-active imagination: sea breeze, tide pools, beach yoga, the sound of waves washing in and out, and an almost full moon which bathed sand, sea, and sky in its gentle glow. Wow.
- Third Beach also permits backcountry camping and is accessed via an easy .5 mile trail from the parking lot. This sprawling beach was foggy during our visit, but burned off just enough to reveal rugged sea cliffs and a cave!
- Shi Shi at sunset is a MUST! Ryan and I camped for two nights on this beach, about four miles from the parking lot/trail head. The southern end of this beach is populated by several rocky sea stacks, dramatically asserting themselves beyond the reaches of waves and high tide, which makes for the most picturesque sunsets I've ever seen. Just beyond Shi Shi, visitors can access Point of the Arches and several tide pools populated with anemones and starfish that evoke child-like curiosity and bliss. Don't forget to bring a tide-table (and know how to use it), lest you get stranded as waves roll in!
- Kalaloch offers a few campsites along the ocean, well along a sea cliff overlooking the ocean. If you're lucky, you can fall snag one of these sites for $20/night
- South Beach is down the road from Kalaloch and is mostly an RV haven, but offers many more sites along the beach. It is not the loveliest of campgrounds, but it has beach access. Get there early to snag one!
As I mentioned, Olympic lived up to my very high expectations. I could spend many more days there and I joked about wanted to sleep on the beach for the next 60 years! We more than enjoyed our time at this park, and feel so fortunate not just to have experienced so much natural beauty and diversity, but to have shared it with our friends Ben and William. Leaving Olympic was difficult, especially after being lulled to sleep by the gentle and consistent crashing of the Pacific, but the show must go on! I can confidently say that we will return.