Part of the beauty of living in Washington State is enjoying its diverse geography.  This was in mind when my preteen and I embarked on a six day, two-park tour to visit Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park to celebrate the Centennial of the Park Service.  We wanted to see the ocean beaches and temperate rainforests of Olympic National Park, and the state’s most famous natural icon, Mt. Rainier;  rounding out our journey by also experiencing the charm of the gateway communities adjacent to these pristine public lands.

Adventure ensued when we departed Seattle via ferry en route to the Olympic Peninsula, home to Olympic National Park.   Along the way we visited the Victorian seaside community of Port Townsend, checked out totem carving at the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe’s Carving Shed, and toured the Dungeness River Audubon Center and Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim.

When we arrived in Port Angeles that afternoon we stopped at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center for a look at the webcams at Hurricane Ridge, and were pleasantly surprised to see life-size animal interpretive displays and an award winning video on Olympic National Park.  We learned there are 26 animal species endemic to the Olympic Peninsula.

I’ll admit at first I wished I’d been driving a convertible with a sexy-sounding voiceover narrating our ride up to Hurricane Ridge.  The road is narrow and winding, offering gorgeous views of the Olympics and some of its foothills and valleys, looking straight out of a car commercial.  However as deer intermittently dotted the shoulders of the road, I rethought the little convertible, and took comfort in my SUV.

At Hurricane Ridge we were greeted by more deer and ravens, and spotted a marmot down the hillside. The views of the Olympics were spectacularly enhanced by viewfinders.  We checked out the visitor center and gift shop, and took a quick stroll along a trail that allowed us to look north toward the city of Port Angeles and beyond to Victoria, British Columbia.

The night was spent in Port Angeles where we walked along the waterfront trail and dined at Bella Italia, of Twilight fame, which earned bonus points with my tween.

Day two brought more winding roads on the way to Neah Bay, Washington State’s furthest north community.  We took a hike to Shi Shi beach, one of the beautiful beaches one finds along the 73-miles of Olympic National Park coastline.  Later, we hiked to Cape Flattery the furthest northwest point one can go in Washington state.  Looking out toward Tatoosh Island we spotted puffins resting on rocks and Gray whales spouting just offshore.

A morning hike to Olympic National Park’s Marymere Falls kicked off day three. The trail starting alongside Lake Crescent Lodge is flat and traverses babbling Barnes creek most of the way, ending with a climb up a hill next to the falls that offers plenty of great photo opportunities.

We stopped in La Push and at several spots around the city of Forks to check out the Twilight scene.  John’s Beachcombing Museum just outside the city was a well-organized trove of 40-years of beachcombing treasures that included letters in bottles, hundreds of glass fishing floats, and oddities such as a collection of baby doll heads that must have fallen off a container ship somewhere in the Pacific.

The Hoh Rainforest is certainly the emerald gem of Olympic National Park.  Mosses, lichens and an overall feeling of clean dampness welcome visitors.   From the Visitor Center folks can choose four trails to explore.  The Hall of Mosses trail is certainly the most popular.  This short loop gives folks an up close look at trees thousands of years old and one of the most pristine creeks in the world.

If the Hoh is the emerald gem, then Ruby Beach compliments this theme well with its garnet-colored sand beach.  Dramatic sea stacks and ocean-carved caves flank the beach.  Low tide offers explorers access to pools of anemones and other sea life.

Set high on a bluff overlooking a wild stretch of Pacific coast, Kalaloch Lodge is a classic oceanside retreat with full access to Kalaloch beach as well as other neighboring beaches.  We had dinner and watched the sun set, ending the day in a cozy cabin overlooking the Pacific.

Hearing the road around Lake Quinault was beautiful, we opted to go ‘off road’ from highway 101 and try the 25 mile loop around lake.  About 60 percent of the trip was gravel road,  A little bumpy, but not teeth-rattlingly so. It afforded some great views of the lake and forested areas. We were advised to keep our eyes peeled as the south shore has more open area and is a popular hangout for elk.  We also checked out “Mongo the Mosssquatch” at mile post 6, just west of Merriman Falls.

Three hours from Lake Quinault we arrived in the city of Enumclaw.  Enumclaw means “loud thundering noise” in native language.  It is a rural community built on the Osceola lahar plain, which is a result of the last cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Rainier.  Enumclaw’s downtown core is dotted with cute retail shops and independently owned restaurants. The Pie Goddess, a local pie shop, won an award from the Food Network for its Butterfinger Lush pie, so we were sure to take some of that with us on our way to overnight by Crystal Mountain Resort.  We also stopped in Greenwater to check out Wapiti Woolies and the handmade hats they sell.

Crystal Mountain Resort is located just outside Mt. Rainier National Park and is home the Mt. Rainier gondola and The Summit House, Washington State’s highest restaurant.  The 10-minute ride in a cherry red cabin took us over meadows strew with paintbrush, asters and scores of other colorful indigenous plants.

It was “0-dark-30” on the morning of day five when we left the resort area early to see the sunrise at Sunrise, inside Mt. Rainier National Park.  This was definitely a bucket-list experience!   It is hard to explain the serenity of watching the normally white canvases of Mt. Rainier’s glaciers transition blue gray to pink to coral in the early morning light.

By mid-morning we had arrived at the Grove of the Patriarchs, located on the east side of Mt. Rainier. This short hike meanders along a forested path to a grove of massive trees, accessed by a suspension bridge.  Suspension bridge shenanigans earned a ‘thumbs up’ from the tween as bouncing along the bridge across a river is always tons of fun.

Next we headed up Steven’s Canyon Road to Paradise, where I again wished I were in a convertible and with an accompanying voiceover as we traversed the winding roads.  Reflection Lakes must be visited along the way, as it is one of the most photographed spots in the Park.  When the wind isn’t blowing and the mountain is out, it’s impossible to envision a more aptly named place or a more picturesque spot to be.

Paradise is the most visited area in Mt. Rainier National Park.  Its wildflower fields are among the most colorful anywhere and are easily enjoyed with a short hike along one of the many trails leaving from the parking lot.  It was on the Alta Vista trail that we spotted another marmot, perched above Edith Creek.  We also were greeted by a fat doe on the Nisqually Vista trail. A stop to look at the lobby and gift shop inside the historic Paradise Inn and a stroll through the Jackson Visitor Center rounded out our visit.

Heading down the hill to the National Park Inn for the evening, we stopped at Narada Falls for a few waterfall selfies.  The Inn has a fabulous front porch, perfect for sitting with coffee or wine and reflecting upon the mountain.   The Trail of Shadows provided a nice evening walk.

Because it was the final day of our adventure, we decided to start it with blackberry pie ala mode at Copper Creek Inn, just outside the Park.  The busy restaurant is famous for this pie so we weren’t going to miss out.

Fat from pie, we stopped down the road at the Recycled Spirits of Iron sculpture park.  The park is an impressive collection of animals, monsters, motorcycle riders and structures – all wrought from the imagination of and materials found by artist Daniel Klennert.  What could look like a giant scrap heap is actually a neatly organized idea pile, awaiting the artist’s inspiration.  Signs invited guests to try some of the plump plumbs hanging from trees around the property.

In Elbe we hopped aboard the Mt. Rainier Railroad for a nostalgic train ride to neighboring Mineral aboard a steam-powered locomotive.  A logging history museum is located at the end of the tracks where we wandered around taking in the world’s most comprehensive collection of logging steam locomotives.  I especially enjoyed looking at the “flunky” house, and was reminded yet again how thankful I was born in more modern times.

The trip wrapped up with a visit to Northwest Trek, a 725-acre wildlife park. Naturalist-guided tram tours leave hourly for a trip through the park’s free-roaming animal exhibit.  Since we had only seen the one marmot and doe inside the Park, it was a treat to be able to get up close to elk, bison, deer, big horn sheep and moose from the comfort of our covered tram.  We left the Zipwild Adventure Course located inside Northwest Trek for a future trip.

After nearly a week we had seen some of the best parts of our state’s National Parks and the quaint communities surrounding them, and were left feeling truly fortunate for the foresight of our forefathers who decided to preserve these beautiful areas.


About The Author

Julie Johnson

Julie Johnson promotes tourism in Washington State, showcasing beautiful Mt. Rainier and the majestic Olympic Peninsula, as well as the diverse state itself. Leading both media and travel trade familiarization tours, her favorite expeditions have included foraging in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range; filming an autumn sunrise at Sunrise in Mt. Rainier National Park, and building beach bonfires on the magnificent Pacific coast. Traveling by seaplane, ferry and horseback, she has led exciting adventures that have included searching for secret gnome villages; bugling for Roosevelt elk; zip lining through forest canopies, and “glamping” amid old growth timber. Her senses of adventure and curiosity frequently fluctuate between healthy and full-figured.

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