Olympic National Park is a million acres in the Olympic Peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. The park is unique in that it is actually three parks in one. First, there is the temperate rain forest in the Hoh and Quinault regions. Second, the Pacific Coast at Kalaloch, Mora, and Ozette. Finally the mountains, highlighted by Hurricane Ridge. These three regions are tied together by the lakes, lowlands, and rivers of Elwa, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc, and Ozette.
We took our daughter, Elisabeth, and our three granddaughters, Katrina, Sierra, and Clarissa on a road trip to explore all three of these regions.
We drove about 110 miles to our first stop, the Quinault River Inn on the shore of Lake Quinault. Elisabeth had done some preliminary research and we had a rough plan. After setting up, we drove to the Quinault Ranger Station to get some detailed advice. We got Junior Ranger workbooks for the girls and headed out from the Ranger Station on a short hike into the rain forest. The rain forest was a different environment than I have hiked in before. The amount of fallen trees and the moss that covered nearly everything was impressive. The girls were checking off things in their workbooks and drawing sketches as we followed the trail. We passed by a waterfall that they felt had to be explored in detail. The trees were HUGE! The amount of rainfall in this region causes trees to grow like they were on steroids. The heavy rainfall also accelerates the decay and growth of moss and various fungi.
After this hike we took a short drive to see the world’s largest spruce tree. This tree is 191 feet tall and almost 59 feet in circumference. From there we drove to a nearby waterfall and climbed around the rocks at the base of the falls. It was great fun that brought out the kid in all of us.
Many RV parks don’t allow ground fires, but the Quinault River Inn had a community fire pit with a rack of split wood. For dinner on our first night, we gathered around the fire for pizza made in our cast iron pie-irons and S’mores, the girls’ favorite campground dessert. The evening was cool, but comfortable in sweatshirts and it was a great end to our first day.
The next day we hiked a nature trail that gave the girls many opportunities to complete portions of their Junior Ranger workbooks. We saw huge trees that had fallen due to wind or disease, one was so big we could walk the length of it. After lunch we hiked another trail to a homestead. Two families had occupied this homestead for over forty years. We could see where and how they lived as we read the trail guide. There was a big contrast between the old forest and the second growth trees that were taking over a portion of the land that had been cleared for the homestead.
The next day we drove to the Quilette Oceanside Resort, an operation of the Quilette Indian Tribe. This RV park is right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and is part of the coast area covered by the National Park. The girls loved the beach and wanted to go swimming right away. We walked the length of the beach and through the campground, and then they were off for the water. I’m not sure they were prepared for water that cold, but that didn’t stop them.
The next morning we woke to a thick fog, so we took time to make pancakes for breakfast. The girls always enjoy helping Pat in the kitchen. The fog cleared a bit and we walked out on the breakwater, and then back to the beach. The weather was strange. While the girls were playing in the water and sand, the adults relaxed in the sun, although the beach was surrounded by fog. After a break for lunch we were back on the beach again. The girls enjoyed playing in the sand and climbing on the large trees that had washed up on the beach. They always seem to enjoy burying themselves in the sand, but this time they took it to new heights, or should I say depths?
We had a fire pit at our campsite and treated everyone to apple pie, made in our pie-irons. Another special treat!
Friday morning we drove to Port Angeles to visit the mountains of the Olympic National Forest. Along the way we drove along the shore of Lake Crescent and stopped to enjoy a view of the lake.
After setting up camp at the KOA campground, we drove to the National Park Wilderness Information Center to get more information on hiking and Ranger-led activities so the girls could finish their last requirement in their Junior Ranger workbooks. We got some great advice, checked out the displays, then headed to the Port Angeles Visitor Center. There we picked up some maps, bought a few postcards and went up in the Observation Tower that gave us a great view of the harbor area.
That night, at the campground, the girls were able to take a short wagon ride and see a movie with the rest of the campground. You can generally count on KOA campgrounds to have activities on the weekends.
We got an early start the next morning and drove into the park for a Ranger-led hike in the Heart of the Hills campground. The Ranger, Kyle, was a kindergarten teacher during the school year and did a great job relating to the kids. Even though the hike was geared to young kids, the adults learned a lot about the woods and its creatures.
From there we drove to Hurricane Ridge to hike to Hurricane Hill. The trail was only 1.3 miles one way, but we climbed 650 feet in elevation over that distance. I didn’t think the girls would be excited about the hike, but they moved out quickly. As we started out we spotted a black tail deer right next to the trail, so close you could almost reach out and touch it. The deer are obviously very comfortable with people here! In a little over an hour we reached the summit of Hurricane Hill. Talk about an amazing view – awesome! If we thought the deer were friendly, the chipmunks were more so. As we were eating there were chipmunks scampering all around us, hoping for a handout.
The hike back to the truck was a lot faster. We stopped at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to get the girls’ Junior Ranger Badges and we found Kyle, the Ranger from the morning, there to complete the process. He complimented them on doing such a thorough job and swore them in as Junior Rangers for Olympic National Park. Whoever dreamed up the Junior Ranger Program should get a raise. It’s a wonderful way to encourage kids to learn about the National Parks. After a full day of hiking we relaxed at the swimming pool and the hot tub – a great way to end the day.
Sunday morning we headed back to the Tacoma area and Camp Murray. It was 410 miles all the way around the peninsula, but a wonderful trip. We saw a lot, learned a lot more, and did it all with our daughter and our granddaughters, what a great time!