Olympic National Park has been on our bucket list for some time. It is a big area consuming most all of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State and is known for its rain forests, mountains and glaciers. It also has some wonderful coastline and beaches. We decided to split it up into two distinct areas. We spent our first week based out of a small fisherman’s inn with a couple RV spots. The Quinault River Inn is located along the Quinault river at the base of Lake Quinault. We spent a great week hiking, touring and exploring.
Our journey from Astoria started with the crossing of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, a 4.1 mile span connecting Washington and Oregon and the final section of Hwy 101 connecting Canada to Mexico.
Lake Quinault is a natural lake on the southern border of ONP surrounded by rain forest. It is a very small, idyllic, quiet resort area that was like a throwback to the past. A mercantile, post office, lodge, cabins, little fishing restaurants and gas station with tons of trails to hike. That was our plan, to spend time in the rain forests, hike and just enjoy. We hiked along the Quinault Loop Trail and several other rainforest trails, saw some wonderful waterfalls, and found some great places to sit and enjoy. The rain forests really were amazing to see.Our hike along the Quinault Loop trail included a stop at Gatton Falls, a great cascade of waterfalls with a bridge spanning their width..
The Quinault Lodge is a classic mountain lodge. Built in 1926, President Franklin Roosevelt visited here and less than a year later Olympic National Park was born. We had a great picnic lunch on the lawn overlooking the lake. The lake is a haven for fisherman with large salmon as the main draw.
The lake has a road circumnavigating it. We took it in search of some more waterfalls and a meadow known for a herd of Roosevelt Elk. These elk are the largest of the elk and were named after President Theodore Roosevelt. He was who first established the Olympic area as a protected area specifically to help save these elk. We did not see any elk, but we did find Merriman Falls and Bunch Creek Falls on our drive.We also stopped in at Maple Grove. A small grove of maple trees covered in moss in the middle of the rain forest. Very unique to our midwestern eyes and the largest maple leaves we have ever seen.
Olympic National Park in this area is not just about rainforests. There is also spectacular coastline and beaches. Along the far western coast of Washington is a strip of the national park protecting the shoreline and a series of beaches. We drove this and spent time on the overlooks and beaches on our way up to Forks and Rialto Beach. Most of the beaches have small parking areas or roadside pull-outs with a trail down the cliffs to the beach. We stopped at a couple and decided it was too steep and/or too long. But Beach 4 had a nice trail down from a larger parking area. Some great views and….we saw a couple looking through binoculars and low and behold, whales out at sea. Looked like a pod of three. Did not expect that at all!
We made a stop at Ruby Beach. It is supposed to be a reddish tint because the sand has garnet in it. We did not notice any red tint but it did have some great coastline and sea stacks. There were tons of driftwood trees all along the beach that we had to meander our way through to get out to the water.
We made a quick drive through Forks on our way to Rialto Beach and lunch. Forks is a small lumber town, made famous as the location for the Twilight movies. We did not have time to stop.
Rialto beach is a popular picnic area and the day we visited was no exception. The parking lot was packed full and there was not a parking place to be found. It was actually a rocky beach with a driftwood levy. We ended up at a nice roadside overlook instead and had a picnic looking at the mouth of the Quillayute River and La Push.
On our drive back we stopped at various beach and coast overlooks to catch a glimpse of the coastline. At one of the stops just south of Beach 3, we were lucky enough to see whales again. A pod of 3 whales out in the water eating and diving. We stayed for half-an-hour watching them before heading on back.
One of Olympic National Parks signature areas is the Hoh Rainforest. Running along the Hoh river up into the mountains, it is a 40 minute, 18 mile, winding road drive off the main highway. It is a very popular place to hike and visit so we got a sunrise start to get there before the crowds. The trail runs 16 miles up into the mountains and several glaciers await the backpackers who complete the trail. Needless to say, we did not hike that far! Our target was 5-mile island. It is, wait for it, 5-miles in. The hike was spectacular, and we were sure glad to get an early start. The ferns were everywhere, with moss hanging from trees like drapes on a window.
About halfway in we stopped at Mineral Creek Falls. This is the point most people turn around. The falls run down and across the trail and were running strong when we saw them. We could only imagine how big and strong they must be in the rainy season.
Our lunch spot at 5-mile island was a log on a small bend in the river across from the island with the mountains in the background. A truly peaceful and quiet place to rest and take it all in. The entire riverbed was rounded river rock and aspen trees. The colors in the fall must be amazing.
It was a great introduction to Olympic National Park and the rain forests. Next week will find us heading to the northern areas of the park and the mountains.