Exploring Olympic National Park: Mountains and Rain Forest

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There are very few national parks where you have to choose between hot springs or lake; beach or mountain or rain forest. Olympic National Park in the north-western corner of Washington is one such park. Here you can spent the day at the rain forest and then watch sea stacks glow in the sunset throwing pebbles into the on coming waves while sitting on driftwood. Or you can spend the day hiking around hurricane ridge and then unwind in the hot springs. All within 3 hours of driving distance from Seattle!

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We have visited Olympic National Park several times with friends, with parents and by ourselves. We have spent a weekend driving along its beautiful beaches watching stormy skies and waves from beach-huts in peak of winter. We have spent summer weekend in the rustic A frame cabins at Crescent lake. And of course we have made impromptu last-minute trip and stayed in one of the many motels in Port Townsend overlooking the Strait of Jaun de Fuca with sights of Victoria, Canada on clear day.

There are mainly two ways that we have taken to Olympic National Park:
1. Drive up to Edmonds and then take a car ferry to Port Townsend
2. Drive south to Olympia and then drive around north on to 101.

We have usually taken # 1.above when we visit Hurricane Ridge, Sol duc hot springs, Crescent lake and Hoh Rainforest; and taken #2. route above when visiting the coast beaches of Kalaloch and Quinault lake. It’s possible to drive down to the beach from Hoh rain forest and then drive along the coast to the beaches and then lake Quinault and then complete the loop south and reach Olympia. It really depends on how many days you have on hand! Set aside at least 4 days if you want to visit and drive around the entire loop. We have usually split the trip between the mountains/ rainforest and the beaches.

Hurricane Ridge

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Leave as early as possible and take the ferry across from Edmonds to Port Angeles. Once on the Olympic peninsula, drive up to Hurricane Ridge. You will drive past quaint villages, antique shops and lavender farms. Once at the top,on a clear sunny day it offers majestic views of the park-mountains, valleys, strait of Juan de Fuca that separates USA from Canada and wildflowers! The visitor center here has maps, snacks, restrooms etc. In winter, its offers cross-country skiing.

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This is usually our first stop on the peninsula. We love the views here though parking sometimes is hard in summer as the place is extremely popular.

Crescent Lake

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Next stop usually for us is Lake Crescent. We love this place with its A-frame cabins on waterfront. Sleeping in the loft and gazing straight out to the calm blue water of the lake is my idea of a lazy vacation. The meals at the restaurant on-site are fairly good. Kayaking and boating is an option and so is camping. On one occasion when we were visiting with my parents, some of the campers offered my parents tea at 6:00 am when they were out for a walk as the restaurant was still closed.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

Usually we end day 1 with a quick hike to the Sol duc waterfalls or a soak in the Sol duc hot springs. We have never stayed here as the resort fills up quickly but you can just visit the hot springs for a fee. They even have swim suit rental incase you have forgotten to pack one – after all who thinks about swimsuit and pacific northwest in the same sentence 😉

Hoh Rainforest

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Our typical itinerary entails driving to Forks ( of the Twilight fame) to visit the temperate Hoh Rain forest.  Moss covered trees and fallen logs add to the lush green canopy. There are short flat trails that let us enjoy the unique ecosystem without actually sweating it though I am sure there are longer trails here as well.

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Dungeness Spit

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If we have only two days on the peninsula, we drive back from Hoh rainforest to Port Angeles. Before getting on the ferry, we stop at Dungeness Spit. It’s an arch of land that shoots off into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We have always seen deer here and is usually quiet with fewer tourists.

Coffee in hand, this is the perfect place to hang out and stretch your legs before getting back on to the ferry. Mountains, forests, hot springs and lake offer a quick breather away from city life. Ferrying across helps put you in a vacation mood already. Try this even on a not so sunny Seattle weekend – it will definitely put a spring in your step and a smile on your face!

Stay tuned for next post on Olympic National Park’s beaches and coastal explorations!

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About rutujak

A travel addict, self confessed foodie and a mom trying to make SFO my home after a decade in Seattle and a stint in Hyderabad, India.

Posted on April 15, 2013, in National Parks, Travel, USA and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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