A visit to the Olympic Peninsula

I’ve lived in Oregon for over 15 years now, and I realized in all my trips to Seattle, I’d never explored anything further west than Olympia, in the middle of the state. I’ve always wanted to visit Olympic National Park and I knew it’d be cold and wet in the winter, but it’s only a few hours drive and I’ve heard lots of good things before, so last week we took a family trip up to Astoria, Oregon, then over the bridge and along the coast north into the Olympic peninsula.

Here are my favorite shots from the trip. Click/tap any to see them larger.

We spent a couple nights at Kalaloch Lodge, which was a fine base to explore the region. We stayed in the old 1960s hotel building, but I wish we could have had one of the cool standalone cabins that surrounded the grounds (they’re often booked many months in advance). The hotel restaurant had pretty good food but fairly slow service. And the Lodge isn’t messing around when they say there is no WiFi, no TVs, and very little cell service. Though we surprisingly had good LTE phone connections all the way up the coast no matter how remote the roads seemed, the moment we stepped off highway 101, our phones went to 3G, EDGE, or no network, including in the hotel room.

The “tree of life” just north of the Kalaloch Campground is not to be missed, If you can catch it on a sunny day, the ground remaining underneath it just glows.

The towns that dot the 101 highway were quite tiny. The city of Forks where all the Twilight movies were filmed was remarkably small and forgettable. The area around Crescent Lake was sublime and looked like any random mountain lake in Switzerland, flanked on all sides by snow capped peaks and giant trees. Definitely check out the Marymere Falls trail there. Port Angeles had great restaurants and is worth a visit.

The lodge told us a few days before that despite the government shutdown, they would remain open and Olympic National Park would be open for most access. I called the information hotline and they said to follow their road closures page on their site, which showed a great number of roads blocked by debris from a recent storm, but unfortunately, they stopped updating the closure list at the start of the shutdown, so there was no way to know what roads were open and closed without the website updates.

We found ourselves enjoying a few beach hikes and some hiking trails to see big trees, but the big Hoh Rainforest road was closed 11 miles up from the highway with no visitors allowed (and unfortunately with no signs on the highway alerting you to it, you had to drive up into the hills to find the closed sign yourself). I was really looking forward to seeing the trails around the Hoh Rainforest but I guess I’ll try visiting again in the future.

One last bit of advice is to take the idea of a rainforest seriously. I’ve always sort of half-believed that Western Washington was one of the wettest places on earth, it seems a bit far-fetched when you think of tropical rainforests, but the area around the Hoh gets nearly a half inch of rain per day, every day on average. We had a couple days of sporadic drizzle, then our last day up there featured driving rain propelled by 20mph winds and the hikes we did that day soaked us to the core. Water resistant shells and gore-tex were no match and I would suggest buying cheap plastic/rubber slicker type pants and jackets to wear as your outer layer to have any hope of staying dry.

It was a great trip overall, and I’m kicking myself for not visiting it earlier. It’s a gorgeous section of the state that doesn’t see too many visitors and I’m definitely going to check it out next summer when hopefully everything is open again.