Wind-swept coast, old-growth forest, glacier-covered peaks make Olympic National Park a special place!
Our mid-March coastal destination was the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. We took the Washington State ferry from Edmonds (we are housesitting for a month here), across to Kingston, then headed west towards the first piece of the national park, Hurricane Ridge and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, just above Port Angeles.
Our planned full-day’s journey would then continue west to Neah Bay and Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the continental, contiguous United States. The Olympic shore is popular in winter and spring, with forest, coast and mountains combining to create a spectacular wilderness park. Waves crashing along wild beaches, rivers meeting the surf and, twice daily, intertidal animals and fish weather pounding surf and high winds. Bears, coyotes, sea otters, eagles and gray whales are frequent visitors.
The park protects the largest old-growth forest in this part of the US, with trees 200 to 1000 years old. Rainfall averages from 40 to 240 inches annually, from sea-level to the highest peak. Mount Olympus towers 7,980 feet, below, glaciers carve U-shaped valleys and brilliant wildflowers cover sub-alpine meadows in the spring.
At Port Angeles we stopped first at the Park’s Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, and found the road, due to snows and high winds, was closed and predicted to remain shut-down for the next several days. Hence, we scratched the Hurricane Ridge journey, saving it for another trip and headed down the hill for a quick tour of the old port city and lunch beside the ferry terminal.
Our route took us west to Port Gamble, a well-kept small port town with a delightful general store/combination museum, old church and several block long historic district; it’s worth a stop to tour the general store and museum and grab a snack.
We continued along the Straights of Juan de Fuca, and stopped above Clallum Bay for a scenic view of the coast stretching westward. It’s a view of old-growth forest along this rugged coast, cut by wild rivers like the Elwha crashing into the sea.
A considerable portion of Hwy. 112 continues right along the water and we soon came to Sail and Seal Rocks, a quarter mile off shore near the mouth of Snow Creek. Here is one of the best gray whale watching viewpoints – though we saw no evidence today.
We eventually reached Neah Bay, home to the Makah Indian Reservation and stopped at the general store to buy a $10 day pass for our time at the Cape Flattery area (because the Makah tribe has sovereignty, a national parks pass does not apply). Explorer James Cook, sailing north up the wild coast in March, 1778, noted in his log: “there appeared to be a small opening which flattered us with the hopes of finding a harbour… On this account I called the point of land to the north of it Cape Flattery.”
Six miles of winding road past Neah Bay we found the Cape Flattery parking area where the drizzle of the day increased to a driving rain. We set off on the trail to the Cape, paved and wide at first, becoming a path and boardwalk through an emerald-green, boggy woodland with increasingly large puddles of standing water, beginning to look like small lakes.
After three quarters of a mile, we reached four overlooks with marvelous views of the Cape, looking both north and south through the hard rain. Trails wended down to the shore in several areas – we chose to avoid those due to slippery footing. The Cape Flattery Lighthouse, on Tatoosh Island just off the Cape, was not visible through the rain and fog of the stormy day.
I realized, with trips to the four corners of San Diego, Key West and West Quoddy Head in Maine, we had reached all four distant corners of the contiguous continental United States. Had we had time, we could have explored the park more to the south. The Lake Ozette and Cape Alava area, as well as La Push and Rialto Beach areas, are scenic and beckon a visit.
Further south is a favorite destination, the Kalaloch/Ruby Beach area. Kalaloch Lodge is right on the ocean for a delicious food or lodging; just a mile north is Kalaloch Campground, with 170 camp sites right on the ocean. Here you can walk along the gorgeous coastline for miles. In our tent camping days, we would carry a big sheet of clear plastic, to rig over our tent and picnic table, for the frequent windy, rainy days that drench the Olympic Peninsula even during summer. Historic lodging includes the Lake Quinault Lodge and the Lake Crescent Lodge.
How to get there: From Stockton, Olympic National Park is about 890 miles and 15 hours; or, fly into SeaTac Airport and rent a car.
Park lodging/camping: Lake Crescent Lodge fully reopens April 28, olympicnationalparks.com, (360) 928-3211; Kalaloch Lodge is open year-round, thekalalochodge.com, (360) 962–2271. The park usually has open campsites year-round at seven campsites, including Kalaloch Campground. Camping reservations can be made at several, recreation.gov, 877444–6777.
For info: For Olympic National Park, ww.nps.gov/olym/, (800) 833-6388; Cape Flattery, makah.com; Washington travel, experiencewa.com, (800) 544-1800.