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Trip Report - 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

I wanted to come back and say a big MAHALO to the DEs and Colleen for assisting with our Olympic Peninsula travel plans, and to offer a trip report in case it might be helpful to other travelers. The DEs on this forum are great resources! . . . and offer key information that can only be learned from someone who really knows this remarkable area.

One of my most heartfelt reactions to our 7 glorious days there was a feeling of profound gratitude to every single person who has played a role, over the years, in protecting this extraordinary place for generations of people to enjoy.

Another realization was that if visitors understand how quickly the weather can change, and how intensely the weather can affect one’s experience of the area, they would if possible build some flexibility into their itinerary so as to be able to take advantage of great weather when it comes.

We camped every night of the trip – sleeping in a rented Toyota Sienna van that we had outfitted for the trip by folding down the rear seats, removing the middle seats and putting a double air mattress in the back. Our cooler and box of kitchen stuff went at the back, easily accessible from the rear door, and our suitcases went just behind the front seats, easily accessible from the side doors. The van was a champ throughout the trip!

Every campsite we stayed in was outstanding, and the campgrounds were very lightly populated at this time of year (late September/early October). In one campground, we were the only campers there.

Sorry for the length of this report! But there may be a few folks who want to read it all the way through in planning their own trip.

15 replies to this topic
Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
1. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 1

From our 2-night stay at a sweet little houseboat on Lake Union in Seattle, we packed up our van and headed to the ferry terminal. We were delighted to spot an orca during the crossing to Bainbridge Island. It was overcast and chilly as we drove to Port Angeles, the sun only occasionally peeking through.

We had thought about visiting the Hurricane Ridge area first, but with all the clouds fog and drizzle it seemed like it wouldn’t be the best plan, so we proceeded west and then up the road into the beautiful Elwha Valley. Although it was mid-day, not the ideal time for spotting elk, we kept our eyes peeled as we drove slowly up the road.

What we eventually saw wasn’t elk, but the site of the Glines Canyon Dam removal project. We hadn’t heard anything about this prior to our trip, so it was a fun surprise. The narrow, towering 210-foot dam was built in 1927, and its removal began in 2011 and was completed in 2014 – it was the largest dam removal project in U.S. history.

Besides the exciting story of restoration of a natural river system, the thing that really struck us was the cool “steampunk” appearance of the parts of the dam that remain. This was an enjoyable and educational stop.

We then continued on to gorgeous Lake Crescent. One of most exceptional things about driving in the Olympic Peninsula is the heady aroma of cedar, spruce and fir that permeates the air – our windows were almost always open as we drove, to make the most of it.

We found a lovely campsite site right on the lake in the Fairholme campground, and took out our fishing poles to try our luck. No bites, but for me fishing is a spiritual exercise of sorts. One has to become still, quiet and observant; standing in silence, looking and listening to all around you, taking it all in — the way the fog tendrils wrap around the mountains, the birds soaring and calling, the surface of the pristine lake rippling in the slight breeze. All of the stress, anxieties and frustrations of day-to-day life vanish as one begins to truly sense the connectedness of the human spirit with nature – and that’s the reason, I guess, that recreational fisherpeople can spend hours by a lake or river, catch nothing, and feel completely content and happy with the way the fishing experience played out.

The sheer grandness of nature on the Olympic peninsula magnifies this effect!

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
2. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 2

There was still some ground fog in the morning, but we could see the slices of blue sky above. We debated about going back around to Hurricane Ridge, but the 45-minute roadwork delay we experienced getting to Lake Crescent they day before would mean at least an hour and half lost, so we just continued west on 101 to see where the day would take us.

What followed was the most magnificent 3-day stretch of perfect, sunny, 70+ degree weather.

Our first side trip was up the road to Sol Duc, stopping at the salmon cascades on the Sol Duc river. It wasn’t the right season for viewing the determined salmon leaping up the small waterfalls, but it was easy to imagine what a sight that would be! The Sol Duc area was pretty and the trails looked enticing, but we decided to just have a look and push on to the coast. We did drive in to check out the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, which didn’t really appeal to us.

From 101, we ended up taking the 110 to the west and explored the area around La Push. On the way, we stopped and checked out the interpretive displays Sol Duc Salmon Hatchery, and had a picnic there.

In La Push, we dropped in at the Quileute Tribal Council office and talked story with some folks about tribal projects and initiatives in the area. The tribe is continually working to find ways to balance tradition and native community needs with welcoming visitors and providing for them an enjoyable experience, and have developed some innovative approaches for achieving that goal. We were impressed with the aura of well-being in the town, and then spotted a small traditional canoe on a trailer with just that name – Well-Being • Pit ak-Ri-ti.

The beaches are outstandingly scenic, with views of the area’s iconic sea stacks. There are generous parking areas for hiking the forested trails to each of the beaches.

We fished along the Quillayute River and then camped at Mora campground, which was our only campsite of the trip not next to water, but it was serenely situated in a pretty rainforest setting with dappled sunlight.

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
3. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 3

After breakfast, the central element of which was always 100% Kona coffee brought from home, we headed out for another day of exploring, which started with another sweet fishing spot on the Sol Duc River, some short walks, a stop at the Quileute Center near 101 to view some traditional canoes, and then on to Forks to get groceries, ice, and hopefully some Internet connection to check in on things back in Hawaii. The folks at the grocery told us the only place in town to get wi-fi was at the visitor center, so we headed down the road and pulled in at the Forks Visitor Information Center. I walked in and asked about wi-fi, only peripherally noticing that there were a few things about this particular visitor center that seemed a bit unusual. I settled into the little back room, plugged in my various devices that needed charging, and got to work.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that every single person that walked into the place asked about “Twilight Tours.” I thought that was odd – why would you specifically want to tour Forks at twilight? But then I observed people asking about whether the two red trucks out front were the “ones used during the filming” and other questions that made it clear they were talking about Twilight, the books and movies, which we had never read nor seen. But wow, what a following they have! I’d say 30 people came in while I sat there, not one asking about the forest, mountains or beaches – every single inquiry was about Twilight!

When speaking with one of the friendly local ladies who staff the center, she described the effect the Twilight movies have had on the town and the general area. While we talked, more people streamed into the center, excitedly taking selfies with the life-size cardboard cutouts of characters from the movie.

Leaving Twilight tourism behind, we headed south on 101 and after a brief stop at the Bogachiel State Park, then found the campground (not previously on my radar) that had been recommended by our friend in the Forks visitor center. The Hoh Oxbow campground is about a mile and a half south of the turnoff to the Hoh Rainforest. A tiny campground with just 7 or 8 sites, we found a splendid site right on the river, well spaced from the 2 other campers that were there that night. Before dinner, fishing! And then we were able to roll out of bed early the next morning and go right down to the river to fish while watching the sun rose behind us, gradually casting wide rays of light on the west side of the river canyon.

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
4. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 4

To the Hoh Rainforest! I was excited to experience this iconic part of the Olympic National Park, and the day had dawned bright and sunny. We drove up to the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center to check it out, then over the campground to choose a site for the evening. We found an extraordinary site in a sunny clearing right on the river with a stunning view of the ring of lower mountains that surrounds the area. We decided to hike part of the Hoh River Trail that afternoon. There are several options for destinations on the trail. It’s not a loop, so it’s an out-and-back trip. For the extremely ambitious, hardy and prepared, one could hike the 18 miles (one way) to Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus. We went about 3 1/2 miles in, a little ways past the Mineral Creek Falls and Tom’s Meadow. The hike was magical, mostly flat through fragrant old growth forest dripping with moss, along the beautiful chalky blue (from the glaciers grinding rocks into dust) Hoh River with peek-a-boo sightings of glacier-capped Mt. Tom. We only saw three other hikers the whole afternoon.

When we got back to the visitor center area, it was late in the day, and seemed a nice time to add on another mile to the hike by walking the Hall of Mosses trail. A short loop with dramatic rainforest scenes at every turn, the low-angle sunlight conditions made for some stunning photography.

Back at camp, we prepared dinner while the half-moon rose over the mountains and stars filled the wide night sky.

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
5. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 5

The planned destination for this day was Lake Quinault, with lots of great opportunities to explore along the way. But the weather had turned overcast, and we drove west and then south through occasional small rain squalls, turning in at the short road to Ruby Beach and piling on some extra clothing layers with a plan to walk down and wander the beach a bit. But the wind was bitingly cold, and we satisfied ourselves with taking in the view from the overlook about halfway down the trail.

By the time we reached Kalaloch, the sky had lightened a bit and tiny patches of sun were visible. We ordered hot coffees in the store at Kalaloch Lodge, and parked facing the beach while sharing a picnic in the car. Inner warmth restored, we continued on to Lake Crescent where much-anticipated showers awaited us; none of the national park or national forest campgrounds have showers and most have no hot water in the bathrooms, either.

Reaching the lake from the north side, we first drove up the North Lake Road a little ways to see the one campground on that side of the lake. It was hard to get a glimpse of the lake itself through the dense tree cover that lines the lakeshore. We had been told that this was also a good area to view elk, so we scanned the area as we drove.

After making a u-turn, we went back long the north shore and over to the South Lake Road. There were a couple of potential campgrounds here, and one of them was the Rain Forest Village with its showers, and the Salmon House restaurant, where we planned to dine that night. On the way, we checked out Fall Creek Campground and spotted a very special campsite right on the lake. Continuing on to Rain Forest Village, we parked and walked in to see the impressive (world’s largest?) Sitka spruce tree, and stopped in at the store/village center to inquire about showers and camping. The coin-operated showers were not in the campground but right next to the store, and the campground wasn’t really a campground but rather an RV park with closely-packed spaces with hookups and no tables. Since anyone could use the showers, we decided to camp at Fall Creek instead, and went back the 2 miles or so to secure our marvelous campsite.

That accomplished, back to Rainforest Village take showers – pure bliss! Do we have more quarters?? – purchased a $10 tribal license to fish in the lake, and walked over to the Salmon House for dinner.

We were seated at a window table with an expansive view of the lake, and ordered some wine from the small but well-selected list. The cuisine at the Salmon House isn’t trendy or haute on any level; I would call it Pacific Northwest comfort food, nicely presented and served hot. The menu includes salmon prepared several different ways and many other options. We chose salmon in a dill sauce with rice pilaf and veggies, and fried oysters with baked potato, and happily ate a wonderfully satisfying dinner as the sun set over the far end of the lake, suffusing lawn, lake and sky with gradually deepening gold and red hues. It was, for us, a pretty magical evening that ended with sitting by the still lake for a bit before climbing into our van-bed of flannel sheets and down comforter.

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
6. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 6

We didn’t really have a plan for this day. If it dawned clear and sunny we thought we might head back to Hurricane Ridge. Throughout the 3 days of absolutely clear sunny weather we had thought a few times about just making the drive there to take advantage of the fantastic weather, but the memory of the very long traffic delays around Lake Crescent deterred us from that plan. The weather looked like it could go either way – clear up more, or pour rain instead, so we decided to head further up the South Shore Road, well past the end of the lake, onto a gravel road along the Hoh River all the way up to Graves Creek Campground,.

What a beautiful drive! This part of the river felt very wild and free, and we were happily surprised to spot a bald eagle circling over the river. It was a joy to watch, which we did for a while before continuing. There were a few fishermen on the river, and we stopped and spoke to a few. The road ended at the Graves Creek Campground, and we made a mental note to add this to the list of great future potential campgrounds – there was only one family camping there at the time, by the river in a very pretty forested glen.

On the way back out, we stopped at fished at a likely spot, and I lost a critical part of my spinning rig in some weeds, which ended my fishing adventure. My husband’s fly rod served him well throughout the trip, though.

By the time we left the area to head back north, with a thought to making it all the way back to the Hurricane Ridge area to camp, the clouds had grown dark and stormy and shortly after Kalaloch it began to rain, the rain coming down in sheets so violently that I almost had to stop driving. We made it through to Forks safely, though, and stopped in at the “Twilight Visitor Center” to check in on communications with the outside world. We chatted again with our friendly local camping expert, who showed us their webcam of Hurricane Ridge – all you could see were the spots of water on the camera! It was now close to 5 pm, so we took her advice to camp at Klahanie campground, a little north and west of Forks, out a forest service road.

The rain had stopped by the time we chose a site at the beautiful, completely deserted campground, and as we prepared dinner we pondered the presence of the biggest, thickest “bear box” we had ever seen. Every single campsite had one – an expensive (but apparently necessary!) project. I have to admit we were a bit on edge, listening for any kind of rustling in the trees as we ate, cleaned up and went to bed.

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
7. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Day 7

No huge bear paws against the van window last night – a relief! We breakfasted and headed out under skies that were still a bit stormy, but with a few hints that it might clear.

As we found our way up the road to Hurricane Ridge, the mist and low fog swirled around as the high clouds slowly dissipated. At the park entrance I asked the ranger on duty if there was a view up top and his answer was yes, last time he looked, there was! As we drove higher and higher we began to get glimpses of various snow and glacier-draped craggy peaks, and by the time we pulled into the huge parking lot at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center we were treated to the vista that has thrilled so many visitors to the park – that astounding arc of icy mountains that characterize the Olympic Peninsula. The majesty of this place, like so much of the Olympic Peninsula, declines to be captured by mere words.

We spent a few awe-struck hours here, hiking up to Hurricane Hill (oh my! major aerobic workout!) and along the ridge trails, where the now totally clear skies made possible a panorama of the entire region, from Port Angeles at the water’s edge and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the city of Victoria and Vancouver Island, to the San Juan Islands and the Coast Mountains of Canada. To the east, Mount Baker stood towering amidst the grand Cascades.

We were reluctant to leave; profoundly moved and inspired, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the source of those emotions. But the destination for that night was Mount Rainer, and we had several hours of driving ahead of us.

We took 101 south along the Hood Canal, and were able to briefly check out the parts of the park in that area. The campsites and trails looked very appealing, but lacked the intensity of character of the other parts of the park. At about Hoodsport, we mentally said goodbye to the Olympic Peninsula as we continued on what turned out to be a 16-day, 2,000 mile loop from Portland to Seattle to Olympic National Park, to Mount Rainer, the Yakima Valley to visit a couple of wineries, Redmond/Bend to see family, Eugene to see friends, and back to Portland.

Kona
Level Contributor
3,057 posts
50 reviews
8. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

A few more reflections

On the Tripadvisor Hawaii Island forum, we get a lot of questions from visitors who want to know what “must-sees” they should prioritize if they have just 2 days – or 3, or 4. It’s always hard to know what to tell them. Our island is about 4,000 square miles, bigger than all of Hawaii’s other islands combined, and contains 10 of the 14 different climate zones that exist on our planet. There is simply no way to get a real sense of Hawaii Island in 2 or 3 days, so we usually encourage them to set aside more time.

The DEs here have almost as tough a job. On our trip, we ran into so many people trying to see Olympic National Park in 2 days, and in reading these forums it seems that a lot of visitors are trying to set up similar trips to experience this unique park covering almost 1,500 square miles that features “must-see” attractions every few miles.

If there’s no other way you will ever be able to see the park, then by all means take advantage of a 2-day opportunity. But there’s one big caveat: in the Olympic Peninsula, it’s easy to completely and totally lose track of time. Being in the presence of such relentless grandeur and rare natural beauty heightens one’s senses and leads to almost unavoidable diversions like being utterly enthralled by the pattern of sunlight against the moss, the sounds of the river as it rushes over stones, the magnificence of the mountain peaks, the patterns of the driftwood logs on the wild beaches. Every day, we found ourselves surprised that it had already become late afternoon. It’s hard to imagine deeply and appropriately experiencing the park in a very brief visit, forcing yourself to rush along to meet a too-short timetable.

So, if you can, give it a bit more time. Give this place a chance to change you, to shift your reality and reshape your perspective. To transform your trip from a nice visit to a national park to an unforgettable inner and outer adventure. That’s what this visit did for me, and for that I am very grateful.

There’s a lot we didn’t have a chance to see – we’ll be back!

Port Angeles, WA
Destination Expert
for Olympic National Park
Level Contributor
11,768 posts
20 reviews
9. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

Please do come back! You must see Rialto Beach and Second Beach and Cape Alava and Neah Bay and 5 Mile Island and Whiskey Bend and Marymere Falls, ...... and did you get to Sol Duc Falls? You really understood what makes this park so very special, and I'm glad you had a great time.

Fremont, California
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
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33,178 posts
6,438 reviews
10. Re: Trip Report – 7 Days in the Olympic Peninsula

I very much liked all the details about your aweesome trip.

Thanks for writing.

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