Olympic National Park is massive. It covers over a million acres, most of which is designated wilderness, and occupies the majority of the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic mountains rise tall in the center of the peninsula, with glacier-capped Mount Olympus near the center. The valleys are home to old growth forest, with some of the western regions classified as proper rain forests due to the near-daily rains that fall throughout the year, resulting in a rich temperate jungle. The park also covers miles and miles of rugged beaches, where the thick redwood forest runs right up to the Pacific Ocean. It is a lot to see! No roads run through the park, only around the perimeter near the coast, with various spur roads heading inland to certain valleys.
We started our visit to the park from Port Angeles, and drove up the Hurricane Ridge Road to take in the views, followed by a nice and strenuous hike up to the Klahane Ridge. There had been large forest fires burning on Vancouver Island and the smoke had blown in over the Olympics, causing for some hazy views, but we still enjoyed the hike up. From the top of the Klahane ridge, one can see right down to the water at the northern edge of the peninsula, the Straits of Juan de Fuca. On a clear day I’m told you can see in to Canada.
After our hike and spending a day puttering around the town of Port Angeles, we mosied on over to Lake Crescent, where we rented a canoe from the resort lodge we found there for a little afternoon paddle. We canoed across the lake to go exploring in an abandoned train tunnel that had been cut through the mountain side a hundred years ago. Afterward, we found a quiet patch of beach for a swim and a nap.
An interlude on camping in Washington. It is great, copious and cheap. Washington state sells a permit called the Discover Pass that is used for access to all sorts of state lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources, State Parks or Fish & Wildlife. Thirty bucks gets you a pass for the year, and there are hundreds of designated sites in the state where camping is free as long as you have the discover pass. Yes, please! Sleeping in a Walmart parking lot gets old fast. After picking up the windshield tag in a general store, we didn’t have to pay for another campsite (with one exception near Seattle) for the rest of our 2 week stay in Washington.
Moving right along. Our next stop was Lake Ozette, near the north western corner of the Olympic Peninsula. We weren’t there for the lake, but that’s where the road happens to end and the trail begins. There is a great hike there called the Ozette Triangle which we were keen to explore. From the ranger station at the lake, at one vertex of the triangle, two equidistant trails run through the forest to the coast, at which point one walks along the beach until you pick up the other forest trail and take it back to the station. Each side of the triangle hike is roughly three miles.
We made our way through the forest, gaping at the enormity of the ancient redwoods all around us. The ground was squishy and there was a great variety of fungus growing all around on the living and dead trees and in the soil. The air was moist and cool and carried both the slightly sweet smell of decay and the tinge of salt from the nearby sea. The local slug population is also quite numerous and varied. The largest yellow Banana slugs have the patterning of a jaundiced Holstein cow and are about the size of a stout jalapeno pepper. It really is a treat for the senses.
All at once the trees ended, and we stumbled right out onto a stony beach. Anyone hiking the Ozette Triangle must consult the local tides tables, as the beach leg can only be traversed at low tide. The upper portion of the beach is crammed with driftwood, not of the normal campfire log variety, but entire downed redwood trees, ancient and petrified, with trunks a hundred feet long and taller than you, blocking foot traffic when the tide comes in. We wisely arrived at the beach just before the tide reached its lowest point.
The passable portion of the beach is a mix of packed sand and softball sized stones forming wide shallow tide pools full of tiny crabs and mussels. Here and there large rock outcroppings burst up with wet vertical walls. A thick fog had rolled in, closing in the view to just beyond the waves a few hundred feet out across the flat beach. I’ve never seen a ghostly pirate ship, but if I had, I would have wished it to apparate right there, as the setting was just Hollywood perfect for something spooky to come silently out of the sea.
We marched along the beach, stopping to admire the crustaceans and sea shells, as well as a couple of forest deer that had come to the beach’s edge to munch on the shrubbery. Rachel got to practice her whip snapping form with some specimens of bullwhip kelp that had washed ashore.
The beach trail ends at Sand Point, where a butte rises sharply where two edges of the land converge, providing panoramic views over two beaches, the forest inland and the ocean beyond. We headed back toward the ranger station through the forest once more.
Thanks for stopping by!
Dan & Rachel