Labor day weekend is upon us, and while some of us already have travel plans (weddings, weddings, SO MANY weddings), some of you might still be hunting for something to do. Have no fear: I travel for you so you know the best places to go, things to see, and extremely nerdy tours that I will admit to going on so that you won’t have to. A couple of weekends ago my high school buddy and I hit the road around the Olympic Peninsula, my very first visit to one of the most beautiful parts of my (temporary?) adopted state. Whether you’re a Washington local looking for a weekend away, or compiling your travel bucket list, it’s worth a visit to the Olympic Peninsula with its old growth forests, rugged coast, and vampire stomping grounds.
Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park covers a variety of landscapes, but some of the best of the park comes from its alpine heights. Most specifically, a trip to the park should include the drive up Hurricane Ridge. We braved the steep wind in an old Honda on a hot August day. Going up and up and up, we slowly took to the top of the mountain. From the parking lot alone you can see out across a valley, level with the tops of other mountain peaks. In August, purple wildflowers bloom fiercely across the hillside, the smell of which is sweet and tantalizing and attracts a ton of bees. Luckily for the bee-fearing among us, they care about the flowers and couldn’t give a damn about you. A hike to the top of the Ridge gives you views of the mountains on all sides. We chose a clear, hot summer day which meant we could see as far as Victoria, British Columbia from our perch. Other highlights of our first day in the Park included Lake Crescent, a massive and picturesque place with a beautiful turn-of-the-century lodge, and the nearby Marymere Falls which plunges down a rock wall deep in the old growth forest. True to the image we have of National Parks, animals are out in abundance. We didn’t see the mountain goats, though we did see a number of signs warning us not to leave sweaty clothing around because animals in the Park are desperate for salt, but there were deer in abundance.
The best thing about the Pacific Northwest is the ability to go from the mountains to the ocean in one day. On the Olympic Peninsula, this trip is almost instantaneous. Leaving Hurricane Ridge, you land immediately at sea level in Port Angeles. Maybe you’ll stop for a bowl of mushroom ravioli at Bella Italia, or just wander along their docks. Or maybe you prefer a closer look at the sea. The beaches here are sandy and windy, with sharp cliffs found all along the coast. Collections of rocks pop up everywhere, meaning tide pools are easy to find at low tide. We found a place to play with the sea stars and anemones, but found that the tide tables were a little dubious. If you prefer looking at the ocean to playing in it, it’s worth the drive to Cape Flattery. The most northwestern point in the contiguous United States, Cape Flattery is accessed by hiking a series of boardwalks and staircases that seem to be assembled from the scraps left by the logging economy. Because of the underground caves being carved by the water, particularly strong waves can make it feel like the whole bluff is moving. We were lucky enough to visit on a bright, sunny day with a bit of fog in the distance which meant interesting views and deep blue water. Just under the surface, you can see the kelp forest swaying with the tides.
Forks, Washington (Home of some vampires or something, I really wouldn’t know…)
So… yes, I read the Twilight books. In my defense, I read really fast and I don’t like to feel left out when it comes to matters of pop culture. I am also a terribly cheesy person, which means I couldn’t just pass through Forks, home of chaste Vampires, shape-shifting natives, and Bella Swan, they type of girl the boys of One Direction would go wild for (she has no self confidence and that’s hot)! My friend and I hopped aboard a Twilight tour bus with a group of people who out-aged us by at least 20 years (we’d expected youth all atwitter), and took in such sites as Forks High School (where Bella and Ed first met!), and the treaty line which keeps the cold ones off tribal land. Not only was it outrageously silly, it was incredibly fun. Our tour guide was great about mixing rumor, jokes, and stories. Forks is riding the Twilight train as long as they can — the city, which used to see approximately 4500 visitors a year, has hosted over 180,000 since the books took off. We had really hoped to find some tweens willing to debate the legitimacy of K-Stew and RPatz relationship, but were sadly disappointed. What you won’t be disappointed by? South North Gardens, Forks’ very own Chinese food restaurant. From the look of it, you’d want to stay far away, but at the urging of multiple locals we gave it a try and it was seriously tasty.
The Hoh Rainforest
Technically the Hoh is part of the National Park, but it was such a distance from the other parts we visited, and I was so camera happy there, I’m including it in its own review. We took two short hikes through the rainforest. The first, known as the hall of mosses, takes you through the type of forest you image Snow White got lost in and Red Riding Hood skipped through. Moss hangs heavily on the branches of huge maple trees, and fallen Sitka Spruce play nurse log to half a dozen new trees. The second path takes you along the banks of the Hoh river, running cold and fast with glacier runoff. The mark of the Roosevelt elk is everywhere, with fern fronds nibbled down to nothing and patches of ground trampled. On an August day, the forest feels wide open and harmless, but I can see how winter’s shadows would bring a ominous spookiness to the woods. On the way out, you can stop for a moment at the Big Spruce Tree, which is far more fun to visit then the Big Cedar Tree. However, that could be less about the tree, and more about our car’s desire to act like a bee trap (seriously, three bees in the car at once!?).
In no way are these the only highlights of the Peninsula. I’ve heard raves about Lake Ozette, and the Sol Duc Hot Springs is the likely site of my next vacation with my love. The great thing about the Peninsula is that beauty isn’t hard to find. Roads are easy to navigate, and the park is well loved, so a driving trip is a fun choice. Campgrounds seemed pretty small, but I wouldn’t care if it meant hanging out on the banks of Lake Crescent (where you can also rent cabins).
We bought the Park’s annual pass, so I am sure we’ll make another trip out that way. Have you been? What is your favorite place? Still on your list of “places to go?” What are you most excited to see?
Megan should probably look into her fear of bees. It seems to be becoming an obsession. It’s all the buzz!