I’m back today with the final installment of the “highlights” from our trip to Washington State. Our last three nights of camping were in Olympic National Park. And although it is hard to really pick, our #1 highlight of the entire trip was in Olympic. Keep reading if you want to find out what it was.
As you may or may not recall, after camping in North Cascades National Park, we headed back west towards Seattle and stayed just outside of Port Townsend. From there, we headed to the city of Port Angeles, to load up on groceries and to begin exploring Olympic.
If you are visiting Olympic National Park, most likely you will spend some time in Port Angeles. We heard there was nothing really special here, but that was not entirely true: we discovered the BEST natural foods market – Country Aire Market. I know it sounds super nerdy to be excited about a food store, but they had so many excellent products. And they also made fresh breakfast, espresso drinks and smoothies that we all loved. We actually came out of the park on our second morning just to eat here again!
Salt Creek Recreation Area
Our first stop was actually not inside the park, but just outside. Before we arrived, the owner of our camper van had given Brian several “insider” recommendations that were not on the typical visitor route. One of these was Salt Creek Recreation Area. He told us that this would be a great place to explore the tide pools.
Tide pooling was something we were all super eager to do, and Salt Creek was definitely a good place to do it. The expanse of mussel-covered rocks and the crashing sea was like a playground for the kids. We did find many sea creatures and, unfortunately for me, stumbled upon a dead sea lion carcass — ugh!
As a sidenote, if you can snag a campsite here, this would be an awesome place to camp! The oceanview campsites were so good. Of course, they were all reserved by people more “in the know”. But now you know!
Deer Park Campground on Blue Mountain
After Salt Creek, we made a short pitstop at the Olympic National Park Visitors Center in Port Angeles. Our plan was to head up to Blue Mountain and camp at Deer Park Campground, another “first come, first served” campground.
Brian shared this with the ranger at the visitors center, and she told him since there are no rangers up there nor reception, there was no way to know if we would be making the trip just to turn back around. If you remember from our experience at North Cascades National Park, this was a very real possibility.
Unbeknownst to me until we were driving up to it, this campground was near the top of a mile-high mountain, and could only be reached by driving on an 8-mile gravel single-lane road with ridiculous switchbacks. Which made it even more crucial that we not have to turn right back around.Despite the nerve-wracking drive though, the views on the way up were exquisite.
The campsite gods must have been shining down on us, because we got a primo spot with an incredible view. As an added perk, deer in the evening and early morning to greet you! I highly recommend this campground if you can stomach the drive up the mountain.
Blue Mountain Trail
Once were up at the campground, a short distance from the campground, was a trailhead to reach the peak of Blue Mountain. It was only about a half mile total, but since you had already gained 5,000+ feet elevation on the drive, the payoff was pristine 360-degree views. You could see Canada, the ocean, alpine peaks, the San Juan Islands, and even Port Townsend, where we had been whale-watching just the day before.
One of the “must-see’s” in Olympic that we chose to skip was Hurricane Ridge. This is because we heard it was super crowded and there were long traffic delays. Ugh. We feel like the ability to have these amazing views (all to ourselves!!) on Blue Mountain was a good alternative.
Lake Crescent & Lake Crescent Lodge
The following day, we came down from Deer Park campground super early and headed back to the Country-Aire Market in Port Angeles for breakfast (I told you we all loved it). Afterwards, we headed to Olympic National Park’s Lake Crescent where we planned to do some kayaking. Before we did that, we hiked to Marymere Falls. The hike took about an hour total. It was not bad, but compared to Lake Crescent, it was forgettable.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that our #1 experience of our entire trip was in Olympic, and Lake Crescent was it.
Lake Crescent is HUGE (insert Donald Trump “huge” pronunciation here). In fact, it is one of the deepest lakes in the country. The color and clarity of the water is INSANE. According to Wikipedia, the clarity is due to the fact that the water has very little nitrogen. Apparently having very little nitrogen inhibits algae. It was so cool to look deep down and see so clearly!
As planned, we went to to the little boat rental and beach area to rent kayaks. There was a little incident involving Max dropping the keys of our van into the water that could have ended really badly (considering the van was our home!!) Thankfully, the nitrogen-free water was clear enough that Brian was able to dive down and find the keys underwater.
Our afternoon kayaking and lounging on the little beach by the boat rental was super lovely. But, it was our next stop on Lake Crescent that was the highlight of the entire trip for all four of us.
Since we were close to it, we decided to go check out Lake Crescent Lodge. Brian had looked into reservations there a few months earlier, but they were all booked. When we arrived, I have to say that I was so disappointed that we hadn’t been able to stay in this historic place because it was so charming. The rooms were in both the main building, as well as little cottages surrounding it – so cute! The kicker was that the property was right on the shore of Lake Crescent with a rocky beach, adirondacks and a long dock perfect for jumping from.
Despite having spent several hours on the other side of the lake (and being late in the afternoon), the kids begged us to go swimming here. The boys could not get enough of jumping off the dock. Had it not cooled off as much as it did, I was very tempted to jump in myself. It looked so fun! After a couple hours, we had to pry them out of here.
We were all sad that we had not discovered Lake Crescent Lodge earlier in the day. My recommendation if you are visiting Olympic National Park is to reserve a room or cottage here well in advance. This would be the perfect home base for you to explore the park, especially if you are not camping. I would say 3 nights here would be ideal.
If this isn’t pure joy, I do not know what is…
The next two nights we camped at Kalaloch Beach campground (more on that below). The first morning we got up and headed out to explore the tide pools at Ruby Beach. Tidepooling is probably one of the things I was most excited about when anticipating our visit to Olympic National Park. And while we absolutely enjoyed all the cool creatures we saw at Salt Creek Recreation Park, I was kind of sad we didn’t encounter any ochre sea stars there. I was really hoping we would find one at Ruby Beach.
We arrived at Ruby Beach around 9:30ish. The small parking lot was not full yet, and the beach did not feel crowded at all at that time. To get down to the beach, there is a short path, and then a climb over driftwood lumber. Of course, our kids loved that, but take this into account if you have anyone in your party that might have trouble jumping from log to log.
Once on the actual beach, the giant sea stack out towards the ocean caught our eye. That is just not something you see in Florida beaches. A giant mass of land that juts straight up out of the ground. Being that it was low tide, we were able to walk to it. As the tide goes up, the bottom third or so is covered by the ocean, and it looks like trees are sticking out of the ocean. How cool is that?!
As we get to the base of the seasick (which apparently was in the movie Twilight), the sheer size of the sea stack is surprising. The base consists of large rocks covered in shells. Totally makes sense since they are under water a good part of the day. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something orange. Bingo – I realize that it is an ochre sea star! Actually it is two – an orange one and a purple one. I couldn’t believe it.
The boys and Brian are equally as excited to see my discovery. And then we notice. They are everywhere! Hundreds of them on the underside of most of the rocks. We spent so much time saying, “Here’s another one!” “And another!” Needless to say, if tide pooling is something you would like to do during your visit to Olympic, Ruby Beach is another slam dunk.
As we were finally heading back to leave, the crowds were noticeably larger. In fact, the parking lot was not only full, but had cars lined up out to the road. So be warned – get there early to enjoy the beach (nearly) by yourself!
Kalaloch Beach (& Campground)
Our final two camping nights were spent at Kalaloch Beach, so I definitely want to take a moment to talk about it. Kalaloch Beach is a pretty beach, and the campground overlooks the ocean. To access the beach, you just take the steps down, and you are there. People gathered in the evening by the stairs to watch the sun set into the Pacific. If you select a campsite closer to the beach, you’ll have your own personal wave sound machine while you sleep.
In addition to your expected beachy things (sand, ocean, birds), there is also something completely unique at this beach – the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life, also referred to as the Tree Root Cave, is this crazy tree that continues to live despite having no solid to ground it. If that is not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
This part of Olympic National Park has many beaches, yet is also fairly nearby the rainforests – Hoh Rainforest and Lake Quinault Rainforest. If you are looking for a good home base to explore these, then definitely consider camping at Kalaloch Beach.
Hamburger night at the campsite.
On our last full day, we also visited Lake Quinault and Lake Quinault Lodge, which we were hoping would be as awesome as Lake Crescent and Lake Crescent Lodge. They were both okay, but we were just so enchanted by Lake Crescent that it just couldn’t compare.
As we wrapped up our time in Olympic, we headed back to Seattle by continuing our counter-clockwise loop around Mount Olympus. There was actually very little to see in the 3+ hour drive back to Seattle from the south. In hindsight, it was evident why we didn’t find too much in our pre-trip research about making this a loop trip. Because it is probably not the best idea. Next time, what we would do (and recommend), is do more of an out and “back the way came” route. There were a handful of Olympic National Park sights that we missed that we could have covered this way. Anyway, you live and you learn, right? 🙂
I hope this recap of our trip highlights are helpful in your planning a visit to this incredible national park. The fact that you can experience the Pacific Ocean, mountaintops, waterfalls and rainforests in one park is pretty darn cool. Now what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip!
If you missed them, check out the North Cascades highlights post HERE and the Seattle highlights post HERE.