Pacific Northwest Adventure – Washington & Oregon – Mt. Rainier & The Olympic Peninsula – Part Two
"In love with the misty mornings of the PNW." – Author Unknown
It has been again way too long since I've written. Thinking about the fact that we were on vacation in September and I am now finally posting this in November makes me shudder. Alas, it's better to be later than planned than to never do something at all, right?
As the infamous Ferris Bueller once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." I will just say that I've been making sure to stop and look around. Yes, I've had this post typed out since I posted the first half of the trip. However, I've been busy living – and all I can hope is that anyone reading this can relate and appreciate that.
Now, without further adieu, on to the second half of our trip!
Day Four –
We woke up bright and early once again, ready to tackle the Skyline Trail. According to AllTrails, this is the top rated trail in all of Washington. Of course, it was definitely on my bucket list knowing that. We timed it perfectly so we would get to the trailhead right as the sun was coming up.
As we headed back into the park toward the Skyline Trail, the elevation continued to climb. As the elevation climbed, we watched the temperature on the car drop. By the time we got to the trailhead, it was just above freezing. The rain that we had been dealing with the entire drive there had slowly turned to a slush and then to a snow.
We packed on as many layers as we had (which meant just hoodies and rain jackets – because we were not prepared for snow or freezing temperatures), and we made the agreement to each other that we would try out the hike and if either of us got too cold we would turn around. We threw our hydration packs over our shoulders and set out.
As we made our way to the start of the trail, we watched as the first bits of snow started sticking to the pavement (the first part of the trail is, in fact, paved). As we watched the beautiful reds and oranges of the fall colors around us slowly turn to white, two deer came running across the trail just ten feet in front of us. After they crossed, they stood just off the trail and watched us as we walked by.
We continued on our way, and so did the snow. The “slowly turned to white” nature around us was quickly completely covered in a wet layer of snow – with no signs of slowing down. We went up and down hills as the visibility grew worse and worse and the snow seemed to come down harder and harder.
Along the trail, we saw a few more deer, some wild-looking (and LOUD) birds, and a lot of snow. We made our way to a “Glacier Lookout,” but couldn’t see anything. By this time, the snow had gotten to be over three or so inches. We were no longer on the paved trail, but continued along the path that was marked by large rocks on each side.
As we got to a point where we had over four inches of snow, I looked at my watch. We had gotten less than a mile and a half over thirty minutes. We couldn’t see where we were going, and the trail visibility was also dwindling ahead of us. I told Zac, “At this rate, if the snow stays the way it is, we will have twelve more inches of snow before we get back to the end of the trail.”
With the visibility getting worse and worse, we decided to throw in the towel. I was worried we would get off the trail and get lost with the lack of visibility. Even following our own tracks wouldn’t do much good because by the time we got back to the start, our tracks were completely filled in and gone.
I was happy we were able to hit part of the top trail in Washington, but sad that we had to turn around. However, I’m confident we made the right choice – between being underdressed and not being able to see, the last 4 miles of that hike would have been miserable.
We made our way back to the trailhead before the visitor center right at the trailhead was even open. We shook all of the excess snow off of our hats, shoulders, backpacks, and shoes that we could and got into the car to warm up.
Along the drive out of Mount Rainier and to our next destination, we were on the hunt for coffee. We found the cutest drive-thru coffee shop, Rise and Grind Espresso, so we decided to stop. As we drove up and chose our orders, an adorable French Bulldog jumped up into the window to say hello. He sniffed at us from inside the drive-thru, must have approved, then popped back down out of sight. Their coffee was as good as their dog was friendly!
Coffee in hand(s), we made our way to check out Dan Klennert's Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park. This Sculpture Park was the absolute coolest free (donations requested, but not required) excursion we have ever come across on our travels. We stopped by when it was rainy and still fairly early, so we didn’t get a chance to stop and say hello to Dan, but we did get to look at all of his outdoor artwork (and sign his guestbook). His park is an absolute must-see on any trip to Mount Rainier.
What do most people do after a trek through the snow, coffee, and an adventure at a Sculpture Park? Probably not go to hike inside a cave – but that’s what we did! From snow in the morning to nice, toasty temperatures in the afternoon, after the Sculpture Park, we made our way toward Ape Caves.
The caves were quite a bit out of the way toward our next destination (our Airbnb), but we collectively decided that it was something we wanted to make sure to do. With a quick stop at a Dollar General to grab the only flashlight they had in stock (just one – they only had one singular flashlight), we made our way to the caves.
A cheap $2.00 reservation, a few good flashlights (or, in our case, one semi-okay flashlight), and good shoes are all that are required to enter the caves. There is a shorter, “Upper Cave” hike or a longer, “Lower Cave” hike to choose from. The Lower Cave has some more rock navigation and climbing sections than the Upper Cave, so the Upper Cave is recommended for those that want an easier, less rugged hiking experience.
We, of course, wanted to go all in with the Lower Cave. The hike took us just under two hours for roughly three miles (I don’t know for sure the distance because my Garmin couldn’t pick up my actual signal while underground). Once we completed the Cave hike, we made our way back along an easy trail above ground to the parking lot at our starting point.
After our hike, we were ready to make our way to our next Airbnb. We headed toward our next stop, the Quaint Tiny House In The Trees. This stop was yet another beautiful place to stay, with another great host/hostess. We had a short hike behind their house down a paved path to our tiny home. We had our own kitchenette (fridge, coffee pot, sink), full bathroom, and a cute living space – everything we needed to get us through the night to our next stop.
Day Five –
The next morning, yet again, we were up and ready to go before the crack of dawn. We were ready to make our way to one of the Portland area’s top waterfalls, Latourell Falls. This day was another good example of how I had grossly overestimated how much time we would have (and how far apart all of the hikes would actually be). I had it in my head that we would be able to hit at least a few waterfall hikes, but we ended up picking just the one.
Although not the top hike in Oregon, Latourell Falls did make a name for itself in the top ten, according to AllTrails. It did not disappoint. The weather was actually not rainy for us while we were out, which was also a nice change from what we had been experiencing. The hike was a not-so-gradual incline all the way up and out toward the falls before then lowering back down to the base. Although more difficult than I had anticipated for a 2.5 mile hike, it was definitely worth putting in a little work. The falls were gorgeous (as they all always are), and the trees all around were starting to change their colors, with leaves as big as my face falling to the ground.
After Latourell Falls, we started gradually making our way up toward Olympic National Park. Along the way, after we had eaten a good lunch and were tired from the food and constant driving, we made a stop at Millersylvania State Park. We went for a quick hike to stretch our legs and wake up. The park had a giant lake to admire and miles of really well-maintained trails for hiking.
Finally, we ended up continuing on toward our next Airbnb, the Studio with water view across from National Park. The location was absolutely wonderful. It was only about a 3 minute drive from one of the entrances to Olympic National Park, and was literally across the street from an entrance to one of Olympic National Park’s hiking trails.
By the time we had gotten to our adorable studio (another wonderful choice via Airbnb, I must say!), we were pretty tired from the day of driving and mini hikes. We lounged in the Airbnb for a short while, checking out all of the details about the park and Port Angeles area the hosts had provided us. Soon, we got pretty hungry, grabbed a fast dinner, then headed back to the Airbnb for some TV time.
Day Six –
Our final full day in Washington was earmarked for adventures in Olympic National Park. We started the day off with an early drive (again in the dark) into the park. We made it to the top of a large pass as the sun came up and had the opportunity to take in all of the views around us. We didn’t stay long, as the higher altitude at the pass made it very cool. I also spotted not only warnings of local bears, but also warnings of local mountain lions atop the pass. With all of that in mind, we ended up doing no hiking there. Instead, we turned back around, drove back through the park, and were ready to make our way around the Olympic Peninsula.
We started our trek around the Peninsula with coffees from Port Angeles and were on our way. Our first stop was near Lake Crescent. It was still early, so the sun was still somewhat low, reflecting off the water in a calming and beautiful way. Now for a grim side note – did anyone know that the lake has a pretty dark past, including an unfortunately murdered woman’s body being found many years ago? I won’t get into details, but if anyone wants to learn more, more details about this can be found here or here.
Anyway, after we took in the sights of the lake and drove past the eerily named “Lady of the Lake Lane” (an ode to the woman who was found in the lake), we continued on our way. My hope, prior to my injury, was that we would also knock the Mount Storm King hike off of our bucket list that day – and get a chance to see Lake Crescent from above. However, the hike is said to have insane elevation gain, require trekking poles (which we left at home), and be very dangerous if muddy and wet (which it definitely was while we were there). With these things in mind, we kept on driving past the trailhead.
Next, we continued driving around the Peninsula. We stopped at the “Welcome to Forks” sign to cater to my inner Twilight-lover from years ago. I was hopeful to have some time to explore Forks, but was instantly disappointed in the town. I had previously (prior to the trip) researched and found that none of the movies were filmed in Forks – they were actually almost all filmed near Portland. When we drove through the real Forks, we found that it was an older, smaller town than anticipated. It had its charm, of course, but there didn’t seem to be much to do for tourists (besides a few shops that had “Welcome, Twilighters!” signs proudly posted on their windows).
Then, we headed out to visit the Hoh Rainforest. The visitor center and hiking trails are quite a drive off of the main road, but well worth the detour. Walking through the rainforest felt like we were in another world – not only from what we are used to at home, but also from what we had seen just earlier that same day.
After the rainforest, we drove a bit further to be right on the beaches of the peninsula. We grabbed lunch, then decided to go for a very short walk to visit The Tree of Life. Once we took in the beauty that was The Tree of Life, we were finally ready to complete our drive around the peninsula and head back toward Seattle.
With this having been our final full day, we were on our way to our last hotel – just a short drive from the Seattle Airport to make the morning of our flight as simple and easy as possible. However, when we realized that the Seattle REI was the largest REI store in the United States, we decided we had to make a stop before heading to the hotel for the evening.
I know not everyone gets as excited about an outdoor recreation store as we do, but I was absolutely blown away before we even had the car parked. The store took up an entire city block and was three stories high. As we headed toward the front doors, we also realized that they even had outdoor mountain biking and hiking trails to test out mountain bikes and hiking boots. Their REI Outlet and Re/Supply areas were massive, and they had more outdoor recreation clothing and products than one could even dream about. We, of course, made some purchases before we left (if only we had more room in our suitcases, we would have most likely purchased more as well).
Day Seven –
Our alarms went off way too early the following day, ready to head to the airport for our flight(s) back home. We chugged some caffeine, and somehow managed to get to the airport before 4AM for our 6AM flight. With a few naps, a few layovers, and a scare where one of our flights had no pilot for a while, we finally made it back home to the pups.
In addition to everything we were able to accomplish while in the Pacific Northwest, there is simply so much more to do as well. As I mentioned before, I had planned out way too many hikes, and we did not have enough time to do anywhere close to all of them I planned. I had found the trails based on the top 10 trails in both the state of Washington and the state of Oregon, and wanted to make sure to share those lists for others:
Lastly, I wanted to share that we found out about the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park after we were already there. The trail is a 93-mile loop trail that encompasses much of the park. We saw many hikers, even this late into the season, through-hiking the trail. To through-hike and camp, for visibility, it does require permits and registration. We did get the opportunity to walk along part of the trail, and just from that portion, I know it is an absolutely gorgeous adventure.