After leaving Rainier we headed south Olympic National Park. This is the only area of Washington, besides Seattle, that I have previously visited and was returning to.
We had booked a few nights in the scenic Lake Quinault Lodge. Located in the Olympic National Forest, the Lake Quinault Lodge was built in 1926 and is a grand, historic retreat of the old school variety. It boasts a magnificent lakeside setting.
The drive in was uneventful, passing over the Mighty Wishka River, where legend has it Kurt Cobain and Sasquatch once hung out under a bridge and huffed spray paint together. Or something like that. Anyway, we got there.
One of the curious observations I had was the very palpable sense that outsiders were NOT welcome in this area. This might have been blue state Washington, but we were in an area of the Olympic Peninsula where a once thriving logging industry has hit hard times, and memories of the spotted owl controversy are still fresh. Everywhere we went were Trump signs and Keep Out signs, some of them quite belligerent. It was an ominous sign of the coming election, but that was still to come. For now we were still on vacation.*
*At no time were we in any way threatened, FYI…Just More Than a feelin’, as we say in Boston.
Lake Quinault is one of the rainiest areas in the entire lower 48. Dramatic old growth temperate rain forest surrounds the lodge. On the nearby nature trail, posted signs warned of a mountain lion sighting on the trail just days earlier. Though I found the rain forest weirdly beautiful, Sylvia was less than pleased. Some people just don’t ‘do’ dark and drippy dank forests.
After an evening of dining at the lodge’s ‘wicked pricey’ dining room, we went out the next day in search of a shoreline to hike along. We found it…scenic Ruby Beach.
Ruby Beach is not a swimming beach, unless you happen to have been born with a set of flippers, But it is a walking and looking beach. In order to get to it, you first have to negotiate a forest of fallen trees. In fact the maze is so dense that it was hard to find our way through the stacked driftwood and back to the parking lot.
But once you reach the shore there’s some stunning scenery. These are sea stacks.
Lots of great tidal pools here alive with sea life. We were there at low tide, but the tide comes in quickly. One thing you have to be careful about on these beaches is being hemmed in by the incoming tide…it comes in with surprising speed, and these currents are fierce. Not to mention, the water is ice cold.
Sylvia seldom enjoys herself half as much as this.
She makes a dramatic figure.
You can get in trouble by climbing on these rocks and not paying attention to the tides, as I tried to warn my wife. To no avail.
Later we had lunch at the Kalalach Lodge, which I had considered staying at. Right on the water…had I to do it over I might have stayed there.
At any rate, it was soon time to head back to Quinault for the night. It was a fine sunset over the lake, listening to the songs of the loons.
Next day I had ambitious plans for hiking but scrapped them. It turns out we were based too far from the trailhead I had hoped to assault from…I didn’t think we had enough time for such a long hike. So instead we stuck with the tourist plan and headed up to popular Hurricane Ridge. I had been here before in 2008, but in much poorer weather. This time the views were MUCH better.
Most people who visit Olympic National Park don’t venture further than Hurricane Ridge, which is spectacular enough. Most don’t dare. The weather and terrain here are not for the faint of heart.
I still recall hiking near here ten years ago, in white out conditions, and meeting a man and his son who were near the end of a week long backpacking ‘vacation’. Both were soaked, covered in mud, completely exhausted and dispirited; I still remember how their faces fell when I told them the end of the trail was another three miles further. The Olympic back country had broken them.
Though not much higher than the Appalachians, virtually everything about the Olympics makes them a more formidable challenge. Sharper vertical relief, narrower valleys, more rain , more clouds, more mud, less sunlight. And permanent snow and glacier fields.
We took a stroll around the ridge and visited parts of it I had not seen before. The visitor center was MOBBED, an absolute nuthouse. But not far away the scene was quiet. As with many national parks, Olympic is crowded…but only as far as an average person can walk in sneakers from a car.
Some fine views down to Victoria, BC and the strait of San Juan de Fuca.
From here we could see over to Vancouver Island, the mountain lion attack capital of the world.
As a sobering reminder, on the way down the mountain we passed an accident scene only minutes old. Someone had driven their car clean off the road while distracted by the scenery. Only the wheels of the car could be seen buried in the trees below the ridge.
But after a stop in a Port Angeles fu-fu biker bar for a fu-fu burger (A flop, we both agreed) and a drive home that included — what else — a tremendous downpour, followed by a stunning rainbow, we arrived safe and sound back at the lodge. Our Washington trip was drawing to a close. There is definitely MUCH out here still to be seen…The North Cascades, the Enchantments, Mt. St. Helens (Sylvia has not seen it), The Columbia River Gorge to name but a few. We will return, with lessons learned!
Had I to do it over I would have spent more time on Olympic’s Northern (and drier) side. But we learned something! Next time we got back it MAY be to attack the Seven Lakes basin, or the Enchantments Traverse, or the Summerland Side of Rainier. Who knows? Only time will tell.
Oh yeah. Might as well throw in one picture from Seattle. Just to prove we were there.