After a great week in the rain forests and coastal regions of Olympic National Park, it was time to move north to the mountains. The Olympic range is home to some of the tallest and roughest mountains in the country and we have wanted to explore them for some time. We picked an area just outside of Port Angeles as our base. The Elwha Dam RV park is located next to the old Lower Elwha Dam, which was decommissioned in 2011. The weather continued to cooperate for us. Lows in the low 50s and highs in the high 60s with predominately clear sunny skies. Perfect mountain exploring weather. We set our sights on a couple of hikes in the area as well as some seaport exploring in our hunt for fresh seafood.
We set our schedule and our plans around the weather forecast, not always the most accurate system for planning, but we really wanted to get up to the mountains on clear days. If it was foggy or cloudy in the morning, we stayed in the lowlands, if clear, we headed up to the hills. Sometimes the foggy and cloudy days cleared up in late mornings and we got a bonus day. On one of these days we explored Crescent Lake. The lake is a natural lake, over 600 feet deep, 12 miles long, running along highway 101 on the very northern end of Olympic N.P. There are some great views from pull-outs along the highway and the water is crystal clear.
We took a side trip to Marymere Falls near the Crescent Lake Lodge. There is a nice short trail with a very cool bridge and overlook of the falls. The falls themselves drop about 90 feet and were running strong when we were there.
Lunch at the Lodge was really spectacular. We found a great place to picnic right on the beach, sitting on a driftwood log with a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding hills.
Port Townsend is a quaint seaport town along the north coast of the peninsula. We had heard nice things about the town and area, so we headed out to spend a foggy day exploring. The downtown is actually two areas; Uptown which is on the cliff, and Waterfront, which is just two blocks away, but on the water level. Both areas are filled with old Victorian-style buildings hosting fun shops, restaurants and bars. We spent time checking them out and found a great wine store, Wine Sellers, a pasties shop and a French bakery. Needless to say, we supported the local economy! The town is also the host of the Port Townsend Ferry Port. More on that next week.
Port Townsend is also home to Fort Worden State Park. Originally an old coastal defense site, at the turn of the 20thCentury, it continued in use as a training base and artillery base until shortly after the war. Very neat place with originally structures. For you movie buffs, it was also the main filming location for An Officer and a Gentleman with Richard Gere and Debra Winger. You may recognize the backgrounds. The fort is also home to Port Wilson Lighthouse.
We were surprised and pleased with all the things to do right around the Elwha area. The Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway runs along Highway 112, right by our campground. The Salt Creek Recreation Area is just a couple miles away off HWY 112 and has a great beach and coast areas. We walked a cliff trail along Tongue Point with some overlooks of Crescent Beach. The tide was out the morning we visited and there were tide pools to see. It is also the home of a World War II munitions bunker you can drive through. There are beaches all along the coast, even one nice and empty enough to have a picnic lunch.
Madison Creek Falls is within the national park borders and just a few minutes’ drive from our RV park. A short hike takes you back into the rain forest area and the falls. We were there early in the morning, and the only ones there.
The Olympic Discovery Trail passes through the area and across a two-level bridge spanning the Elwha River. A new Elwha River Bridge built in 2009, replaced an old steel truss bridge. To retain the original style, they placed a separate pedestrian/bicycle bridge suspended beneath the 589-foot-long main vehicle bridge. It was very unique; we had not seen anything like it before.
Even with all these great sights and activities, the core activity for us in this area was mountains! Big ones! We had two gorgeously clear, deep blue-sky days and took advantage to head up to Hurricane Ridge at the heart of Olympic National Park. It is a main attraction, especially in this area so on the days we ventured up, our mornings started at first light to beat the rush. We were thankful we did. We did two big hikes up on the ridge both with spectacular views; Hurricane Hill Trail and Klahhane Ridge Trail.
Our first hike was the 3.7 mile out-and-back trail up to Hurricane Hill. This is the most popular trail on Hurricane Ridge with the most spectacular views of the mountains. It is so popular, they paved it. which was a huge surprise to us. It’s about a 900 foot climb up to the viewpoint, but that is deceiving as most of the climb occurs in a short half-mile span. We were reminded the hard way that the air is thinner up here. Once at the top, there are some great views of the Port Angeles and Elwha areas and you can even see across to Victoria, Canada. However, the highlights for us was the mountain views!
They were out of this world.! We could not have asked for a nicer picture postcard day. This hike was placed as one of our top five all-time prettiest hikes.
Our other hike was the 5.6 out-and-back Klahhane Ridge Trail. This was literally a steep contrast to the Hurricane Ridge hike. It follows a steep ridge line along a cliff with a very narrow trail. It was also a trail that was pretty much out of our normal comfort zone. To put it in perspective, if we had seen a video or more pictures of the actual trail, we are not sure we would have taken it. We started early in the morning in an attempt to avoid the crowds, as we heard the trail could get quite crowded and there really is only enough width for a one-person lane. The trail itself was a rollercoaster with lots of gradual ups and downs, with a couple particularly steep places with switchbacks and thankfully, lots of places to stop and rest. We made it to a junction with the Switchback Trail, which goes up to Mt Angeles. 1000 ft elevation gain in about half a mile. So, we patted ourselves on the back for making it to our goal and turned around. We did not see another hiker on the way in. The way out was a different story. There are quite a few stretches of the trail the run right along the top of the ridge and have 360 degree views of the mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the hike back was in the perfect direction to see it all. However, all out time walking was spent with our head down watching our footing on the trail. Any sightseeing along the way was only when we stopped intentionally for it! We started running into hiking groups about 1.5 miles from the end and it was pretty much a continuous flow of opposing direction hikers till we got back to the overfull parking lot. As we were unloading back at the Jeep, we decided we had really accomplished something in challenging ourselves to a hike outside our comfort zone and were so very glad we took the hike. The views were spectacular.
Each hiking day culminated in a picnic lunch at Picnic Area A. The lunch views were surreal, almost imaginary, like a painting. We sat across from the Olympic Range with a full, unobstructed view of the entire range. We even had a deer and her fawn visit us up close and personal.
In our enduring quest for good PNW seafood, we managed to find some great seafood meals in both Port Angeles and Port Townsend. In all, another wonderful week on the Olympic peninsula, just wishing we had more time to see more, guess that must wait for our next visit. Coming up, our last week on the Northwest Pacific Coast.