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Olympic National Park

(Washington State)

 

Deep in the heart of Olympic National Park in the northwest corner of Washington State, I feel like I've stepped into technicolor.  Coming from a place of desert landscapes, the vivid colors of green everywhere you cast your gaze almost makes up for the gray skies.  

 

Because it's constantly damp it seems, everything is oozing with life.  Trees, shrubs, moss, bugs, slugs.  There is water cascading from everywhere and on the entire five mile hike to Olympic Hot Springs and back, the sound of rushing water trailed us.     

 

Our original intent was to drive the two or so hours to Hoh River Trail to hike through the rainforest that gets about 12 feet of rain a year.  We got derailed by the stunning Elwha River and decided to stay in the Elwha Valley instead.  Which is just as fine, because right where we reached the hot springs was a rainforest, albeit a smaller one, with moss dripping from its branches like melting wax from a candle.  There were thick carpets of moss on rocks that I bet if you slept on one, you wouldn't feel the hard surface at all.  There were fallen trees, collapsed from natural causes, taken over by moss overgrowth, its branches swarmed by micrograsses giving it the appearance of tangled tentacles of octopus huddled in a group hug.      

 

And the smell of the mountains, the river, the ancient trees, the sulfurous hot springs, of moisture oozing and leaking out of everywhere.  How could one begin to describe that?

 

I have never in my life felt like I've been swallowed by a rainforest before.  The massive trees, the even bigger mountains, made me bemuse in my smallness and insignificance.  Yet again in the wilderness, relative to the power and grace of nature, I am put in my place.

Boulder Creek Trail

5 miles out and back.  Rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, hot springs.  Bring your swimsuits! 

 

Elwha River

On August 26, 2014, the last part of Elwha Dam was taken down.  It is the biggest dam removal project in history.   Although some parts of the dam that don't obstruct the river remain, one can appreciate how the Elwha has finally run free after a century.   

 

Hurricane Ridge

Olympic National Park is predominantly wilderness.  No roads cut through its heart.  One of the rare places accessible by car is Hurricane Ridge, where there is a breathtaking panorama of the Olympic mountains and glaciers (there are supposedly 8 of them).  This seems like National Parks Service's attempt to give the masses access to the beauty of the mountains and the wilderness without requiring that they hike.  The wildflowers in the early summer supposedly will make you feel transported to paradise.  

 

There are plenty of deer grazing in the alpine meadows in plain sight (how sad!) and if you do see them, say hello, but please, stay away and definitely don't feed them.  Their survival depends on them foraging for their own natural food.  They're not built to digest your processed crap. 

Fly into Seattle/Tacoma.  From there, you can either drive, or drive and shuttle your rental car on a ferry. We went on the Memorial Day weekend and the GPS initially routed us to the get on the ferry.  The lines were a nightmare!  We drove the entire way and once we got out of Tacoma, there really weren't any slowdowns.  The drive took over two hours and was very scenic.  From Seattle, you'll basically trace a U, starting east heading west.  You'll have to go south to Tacoma head west to cross Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Bremerton, then you'll start heading northwest to Port Angeles.  Good driving directions can be found here

 

Getting there

 

 

Glamping

 

KOA Port Angeles {80 O'Brien Road, Port Angeles, WA 98362}

For the closest thing to camping without pitching your own tent, or for a short visit on a long weekend, I highly recommend getting a cabin at KOA in Port Angeles.  You will need to bring your own sleeping bags and towels, and you'll have to share bathrooms, but the grounds and facilities are very clean.  The inside is basic - a full bed and a bunk (no linens), a writing desk, a chair, electricity, wifi, and even a plug-in heater (we didn't use it).  Relative to nearby lodges and hotels, at $77/night, we thought it was a bargain.    

 

Meal Plan

 

There were a handful of decent looking restaurants in downtown Port Angeles.  Whatever you do though, don't miss Blackbird Cafe on E 8th.  They serve breakfast and lunch, and Stumptown Coffee and it will get you deliciously caffeinated for your hours of hiking!  Post-hike carbo loading calls for Bella Italia where their Pacific Salmon risotto was a winner.  Kokopelli Grill for oysters, soups and salads, and surprisingly good local Cabernet from a winery called Camaraderie!

 

Read

 

Postcards from Seattle

June 2, 2015

Chasing Waterfalls at Mount Rainier National Park

June 1, 2015

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