December 21st – 22nd, 2011
Stunning snow-capped mountains, lakes, lowland forests, temperate rain forests and long beaches await you in the Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The significance of the area is highlighted by the fact it was declared a National Park in 1938, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. I have wanted to explore this park since I moved to Seattle and finally I recently travelled the Western side of the park, hiking along Pacific coast beaches so spectacular they take your breath away; and through dark, lush green forests that could easily have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien when he wrote about Middle Earth’s Fangorn and Mirkwood Forests and the Ents!
My first stop was at the southern end of the national park at Lake Quinault, part of the Quinault Indian Nation it is a picturesque lake surrounded by Cedar and temperate rain forest. I did some exploring along the edge of the lake and the Quinault Big Cedar Forest. On my return journey I also stopped at the southern side of the lake, it was cold and the grass and roads were frosted over which made for a nice view of the lake and the Quinault Lodge.
The beaches along the South West coast line of the Olympic Peninsula are long and wide with grey sand, often with high cliffs and many of them have small rocky islands just off the coast and rock formations in the water or right on the beach. Waves come crashing in from the ocean, sometimes bringing huge tree logs with them (warning signs tell you of the potential dangers of riptides and being killed by these huge logs if you enter the water)! These beaches attract surfers, campers, hikers and sightseers alike to take in their rugged beauty.
The first beaches you come to from the south are the massive Kalaloch beaches 1, 2, 3 and 4. Impressive scenery, but surely they really could have come up with some more inspiring names for them?
Then just a little further North is Ruby Beach (that’s better, the beach is named after the rose-coloured stones in the grey sand!) with it’s unique rock formations and Abbey Island just off the shoreline. This beach is a great place to wander about and take in the scenery.
Further north again on the Quileute Indian Reservation are the beaches of La Push: First, Second, Third and Rialto Beach, which are a fantastic place to explore and to watch the sunset from. The towns of La Push and nearby Forks are the key locations for the setting of the Twilight books and movies – please take a look at my Twilighting in Forks & La Push blog on this subject. Rialto Beach is very long and is fronted by large trees (alive and dead) and logs all along it and rock formations out in the water. I spent quite a bit of time hiking along the beach and exploring amongst the trees at this beach.
First Beach (which has the La Push township built next to it) has James Island just off the coast which with the sunset behind it makes for an impressive backdrop. A very picturesque place indeed.
Further inland, about in the centre of the western side of the Olympic National Park is the deep dark greenery of the Hoh Rain Forest growing near the Hoh River (this area gets up to 14 feet of precipitation each year!). The Hall Of Mosses and Spruce Trail provide some great short hikes – imagine tall trees covered in moss, ferns covering the ground, multiple trees growing from fallen “nurse logs” and crystal clear streams flowing through the forest. Nearby is also a giant Spruce tree. It is truly beautiful there. I had hoped to see Roosevelt Elk in the rain forest (the largest Elk in North America), but all I could manage was a squirrel and a few birds!
The weather whilst I was in the park was sunny but chilly, quite often at freezing or just a little bit warmer. It was kind of strange walking around in a rain forest and seeing frost and ice on the ground and plants, but in a way it added an extra surreal dimension to the place that I did not expect to see at all.
This journey was only along the Western side of the Olympic National Park, there were many places I did not visit on this trip, yet alone what the park has to offer in the North and the East (more lakes, mountains, forest and many waterfalls). From my apartment in Seattle I can quite clearly see the major mountains of the Olympic National Park including Mount Olympus, but ironically from that Western side I could see none of these mountains clearly even though I was literally right under Mount Olympus when in the Hoh Rain Forest (back country hikes that lead to the mountain start from the rain forest visitor centre). This is simply because there are too many trees and smaller mountains in the way…not a bad problem to have at all!
I can see that I am going to make many trips to the Olympic Peninsula in the future as it is such a beautiful place to discover. I can thoroughly recommend that you too cross it off your list someday as a must visit destination. I know for one that I want to see a lot more of it, that’s for sure!