Olympic National Park

Having some time on my hands has left me a little bit antsy for traveling - this is the longest stretch I’ve had in awhile without any travel - so I decided to take a little road trip into Washington State while Justine was away this week. The Olympic peninsula - the most western portion of Washington State - has a huge National Park that I’ve been wanting to visit. While not an ideal winter location, it did seem like a worthwhile trip for me to take - i could scout it out, and Justine and I could come back in the summer to do more exploring.

Trumpeter Swans

Justine had to head to the airport early Tuesday morning, so I dropped her off, and continued my drive south to the border. With the early start, there was no issue with traffic, or a wait at the border. I was more worried about getting to my first destination, before the sun came up!

Early morning.

My first stop was an area of farmland along the water, just east of Mount Vernon Washington. One of my book indicated this was a good spot for seeing birds of prey this time of the year. While the birds of prey did not show up, I did find a good sot that had some nice views off over the mountains, just as the sun started to come up. There were loads of trumpeter swans in the area, which made up for the lack of raptors.

Trumpeter swans, on a beautiful, clear morning.

After spending a bit of time taking some bird pictures, I continued my drive. I headed west towards Anacortes, and onto Whidby Island. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the views were quite nice. At the south end of the island, I had to take a ferry to Port Townsend, and the mainland. It was a short ferry ride (maybe 20 minutes), with amazing views of the Olympic Mountain range behind Port Townsend.

The bridge over Deception Pass

Heading across on the ferry to Port Townsend.

From Port Townsend, I worked my way west, through some small towns, towards Port Angeles, by destination for the first night. At the town of Sequim, I stopped at the Olympic Game Park. This was a huge mistake - the place is horrible, and I would not recommend anyone visit. 

I was into Port Angeles by about lunch time, so I stopped and had something to eat. The town was quite a bit bigger than I expected. After lunch, I headed into the park to do some exploring. One of the things that the park is know for, is its’ waterfalls. As I like taking pictures of waterfalls, I had scouted out a series of them that I wanted to see. I thought I could get three of them in before it got dark. 

My first stop was at the Storm King Visitor Centre. The Marymere Falls were on a short hiking trail, that lead through some amazing rain forest. I don’t think that any of it was true old growth, but there were some big trees to be found. It was only about a 30 minute hike to the falls, and it was well worth it. Marymere Falls drops about 90 feet, and there was a lot of water running through it this time of year.

Marymere Falls

After this short stop, it was off down highway 101 past Crescent Lake, to the next two waterfalls I wanted to see. It was a pretty serious drive - longer than I had expected, but also through some very nice scenery. It took me along the coast in one spot, with some great views.

There are a lot of big trees in this part of the world.

The second waterfall was a small one called Hoko Falls. You actually had to walk down a pretty steep path to get to the waterfall. It wasn’t the biggest one ever, but it had a number of different facets to it that offered different looks.

Hoko Falls

The third waterfall, and last one of the day was Beaver Falls. There are two tiers to the waterfall, with the upper one being much more accessible than the lower, larger (and more impressive) portion. I tried hiking down to get the full view of the lower portion, but it was just a bit too far, a bit too steep and I didn’t want to risk it while on my own. And it was almost dark. Still, Beaver Falls was pretty nice, and I think a couple of the pics tuned out OK.

Beaver Falls

By the time I got through taking some pictures, it was almost dark and I headed back to Port Angeles. I did come across a herd of elk on the drive back, but it was too dark for any pictures. It had been a longday already, so I called it a night and just relaxed for the evening. 

Crescent Lake looked like it had great potential for a morning sunrise shot, so I was up and on the road in time to make the half hour trip back to the lake. Sadly, the weather did not cooperate, and by the time the sun came up, the clouds had poured in muting the sunrise. Then the rain came, and I got dumped on for most of the day. Not exactly what I was looking for. 

The drive itself was pretty nice. Periods of nice, old forest, interspersed with interesting little towns, and sadly, periods of clear cut. I don’t get how you can preserve an old growth rain forest, yet still allow the huge, horrible swaths of clear cutting.

As I started to make my way south, I came across a sign for the “Big Cedar”, which took me down some logging roads, deep into the heart of the forest. As it turned out, the sign indicated that it was the world's largest western red cedar, at 178’ tall, and 19.4’ in diameter. It’s a big tree.

After my brief detour, I kept heading south. The rain finally began to lighten up a bit (it had been raining so hard at the “Big Cedar” that I hadn’t even gotten out of my truck)  as the road took a detour down the coast for a short while.

It is a seriously big tree.

It's hard to get a sense of scale.

The views were dramatic; similar to the Oregon coast, a short way south, as you’d expect. There was some wind, so the waves were crashing pretty heavily on the beaches. 

Ruby Beach.

I made a stop at Ruby Beach, and hiked down the short path from the parking lot at the top of the trail, down to the beach. There was not a soul around, and I enjoyed just sitting there, watching the waves crash on the beach. And of course took some pictures. Sadly the dull, grey day didn’t do the scene justice,  but that just means I’ll have to go back again.

Another view of Ruby Beach.

After my bit of beachcombing, it was back on the road south. After a little while, the road turned back east, and I took a little side trip along the Upper Hoh Road, into the Hoh Rainforest. The road followed a river for a while, that there were lots of people out fly fishing in the cold, fast-moving water. There were lots of little waterfalls along the road, and a deer took a run at me at one point. I drove into the forest for about an hour, before back tracking and making my way back to the main road. 

West coast rain forest.

My next stop, around lunch time was a small town called Quinault. It a cool little town, sitting on the edge of Lake Quinault, with a couple of small resorts making the main part of the town. It was really quaint, and I enjoyed lunch in the restaurant of one of the resorts. There were four waterfalls I wanted to see in the area - two right on the main road, and two that required a bit of hiking.

The hikes were great, and made this stretch of the trip my favourite. In addition to the waterfalls there were quite a number of bald eagles around, and the river added to the scenery. I also got to see the world's largest Sitka Spruce - another giant tree in the area. Even bigger than the cedar. 

After leaving Quinault, it was the long drive back to the “mainland”. Sadly, by the time I got back to the interesting stretch of highway, it was dark and I didn’t get to see the amazing scenery along the sound. Next time....

A herd of elk.