Olympic National Park – a Clockwise Tour
“Do you want to go clockwise or counter clockwise?” “Out and back” is not a good option. We are planning Tom’s inaugural trip to the Olympic Peninsula. He recently relocated from Denver to Seattle and is anxious to experience our home State’s second National Park. We decide to include a visit to the Oregon Coast first so “clockwise” it is! As a Washington native, this is my preference anyway but I don’t tell him.
70 miles of rugged Pacific Ocean coastline on the west side of the Peninsula and the spectacular Olympic Mountains bordered by temperate rain forests in the middle make up Olympic National Park. The Park occupies 922,000 acres - about 80% - of the Olympic Peninsula in the Northwest corner of the U. S. – Washington State. Mt Olympus is the highest peak in the Olympic Mountains at 7980 feet. Weather systems coming off the Pacific release moisture in The Hoh and Quinault Rainforests prior to moving over the Olympics - boy do they! The rain gauge at Lake Quinault Lodge read “fourteen feet of rain” in May of 2011.
First stop – Lake Quinault Lodge This is one of those spectacular wood frame National Park Lodges built in 1926. The huge lawn rolls down to the lake providing a truly picturesque and tranquil setting. This trip we enjoyed lunch – scallops - in the lovely Roosevelt dining room overlooking the splendor. The Lake was like glass reflecting the beautiful scene in the mid-day sun. The Lodge is only three hours from Seattle but “miles away”.
Next stop – Klaloch LodgeThe Lodge is less than an hour north of Lake Quinault. No cell phone or internet service here - a pleasant idea. Accommodations are primarily cabins. We prefer #12, a studio right on the bluff overlooking the Ocean – complete with Adirondack chairs. The Lodge itself has a restaurant with decent – not great food and a nice Ocean view.
Klaloch Beach-The beach right at the Lodge is a great walking beach. Smooth hard sand goes on for a couple of remote miles in each direction. We like to walk south one day and north the next hearing just the sound of wind, waves, and birds. The only thing as good is sitting on the bluff overlooking the beach watching the sun set behind the crashing waves.
Beach Four-Just three miles north of Klaloch Lodge, Beach Four can’t be beat at low tide. Although I am not a morning person, even I get up for this one. Rocky outcroppings create tide pools littered with sea life. Large sea stars in every shade of purple and orange are everywhere clinging to rocks and each other. Monster sea urchins abound. Each visit is as good as the last one! This beach is easily accessible down a short walk from a nice parking lot.
Ruby Beach-This is one of the most scenic beaches ever with tide pools to boot. Piles of ocean worn driftwood, sea stacks, and the Cedar Creek weaving its way along make this a regularly photographed natural beach. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a walk and the wonderful ocean air. Large smooth rocks from this beach now serve as doorstops in our house – with felt pads. Taking rocks is a definite “no no” in National Parks but there are “tons” of them. Several miles north of Klaloch Lodge, this beach can be reached down a path with a couple of minor obstacles.
Third stop - Hoh River Rain Forest Hike We had not yet developed our 58 National Park Goal prior to Tom’s inaugural Olympic Park trip. So, we “had” to go back to get our official stamp - #10! We wanted to visit the Hoh Rain Forest this trip. The hike begins at the Visitor Center and eventually ends on Mt Olympus 17 wet miles away. A nice day hike is about 8 miles out and back. The damp forest is full of giant trees - all types- dripping with moss. Rare rays of sunlight highlighted the myriad shades of green on our hike. We didn’t see a soul until we ran into two men with a manikin head. They said, “Olympic National Park is the quietest of all the Parks”. They were recording the “silence” and planned to “sell” it to recording and movie studios – seemed ironic. The quiet was so intense that it seemed to force whispering. It was wonderful to experience a real “rain forest”.
Fourth “clockwise” stop - Rialto Beach We finally made it out to this spectacular Ocean show. The beauty and strength of the Ocean is on full display along with its destructive ability. Trees behind the beach appear to have been burnt in a fire. Upon closer look, the pounding surf has been eroding the beach, killing the trees and moving inland. The campground is closed – large logs now occupy the campsites. It’s about 15 miles west of Forks - definitely worth the trip.
Fifth stop - Ozette Loop Hike Think of a triangle. The first side is a 3 mile well maintained boardwalk through forest and brush out to the beach. The second 3 miles is a challenging hike south along a spectacular and fairly remote and rocky beach – Cape Alava. This must be done at low tide. Downed trees must be climbed over, under, or around. Seaweed on all the rocks makes for slippery walking. The third 3 miles is back along another boardwalk and ends where it began at Lake Ozette State Park and Campground. We nearly missed the black and red bull’s eye marking the trail back inland. Very hardy hikers continue south for another 17 miles to Rialto Beach. We thoroughly enjoyed this hike. It’s truly one of a kind.
Sixth stop - Shi Shi Beach Hike This one is a classic. Think smooth sand and very remote. The beach itself is flat and one mile long. It’s like a remote tropical beach where you should hear “Bali Hai” but it’s the Northwest version. At the south end of the beach, magnificent sea stacks with tunnels, arches, and tide pools at low tide – Point of Arches - offer stunning views. The hike itself is very flat out to and on the beach with one little steep section getting down to the beach. The trail begins on Indian Reservation land and heads south to the beach which is on National Park land. We enjoyed this hike during a cloudy damp day.
Seventh stop – Makah Indian Museum and Cultural CenterWhile out that way – way out – we stumbled upon an unexpected surprise. Designed for the tribe by a French museum designer, it is world class. The Ozette Tribe was buried by a massive mud slide over 500 years ago. A wonderful exhibit features excavated and restored artifacts from this tragedy.
Eighth stop “clockwise” - Cape Flattery This short hike takes you to the most northwesterly tip of the lower 48. The walk is on a well maintained boardwalk out to the point. It is really something to see and hear. The trail offers views and sounds of the Ocean crashing onto the rocky bluffs below as it winds through forest and brush. Once at the point there is a full view of the turbulence created at the intersection of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A light house sits on a rocky island just off the point – can’t imagine getting there. The walk back is uphill but barely noticeable with vivid images of the point still in our minds.
The hard part is where to stay. The Northwest corner of the Peninsula is on the Makah Indian Reservation so lodging is limited. I think one of the worst places I have ever stayed is the Bayview Motel in Sekiu – only place we could find that took dogs. The motel room had a real slope to it – the doors would swing open! The Chito Beach Resort, Lost Lake Cabins or Lake Ozette campground are all other options.
Ninth stop - Sol Duc Hot Springs Not one of our favorite places, we checked out early. During May snow was still on the ground so the hiking was very limited. The cabins are fine but nothing special and not cheap. The hot, steamy, sulfur scented Hot Springs are a fun soak. Breakfast is included but they were having “start up issues” during our stay. Aramark advertises specials at the three Olympic Lodges – I’d opt for the other two and stop by for a dip in the Hot Springs.
Tenth stop - Crescent Lake LodgeOriginally a fishing lodge built in 1916; it sits right on Crescent Lake in the mid-northern area of the Peninsula. It boasts a lovely sunroom overlooking the Lake along with boats for rent. We enjoyed a casual but wonderful lunch on our last trip. Tom enjoyed the local lavender and boysenberry ice cream. This is a perfect finale – unless you go to Hurricane Ridge.
Eleventh stop - Hurricane Ridge Heading south from Port Angeles (on the northern coast) it’s hard to imagine such quick transition to the alpine world of light air, mountains and snow. The 17 mile drive takes about 45 minutes to get to 5,242 feet if the roads are clear. A bear greeted us on the road near the visitor center. Not sure I’ll ever live down the fact that I didn’t get the picture! Snowshoes would have been more useful than hiking boots. But we enjoyed a short scenic walk and a picnic on a clear day. Mt Olympus couldn’t have been more spectacular. Even Tom, being a Colorado native was impressed.
When can we go back “counter clock wise”? That was the question when it was time to head for the Ferry and go home. The Olympic National Park is truly a magical place with all its diversity and we hated to leave. It’s hard to remember that it’s only a few hours from Seattle – “clock wise” or “counter clock wise” - and we can go back to enjoy it again and again!
Check out other National Park visits on our way to reach our goal (now 61) below:
We like to give back to the National Parks through the National Park Foundation.