Olympic National Park

After our San Juan Island adventure, we kept it coastal heading south to the Olympic Peninsula. This area is located at the in the northwest corner of Washington and is home to the Olympic Mountains. We spent 9 days exploring the immense area that is Olympic National Park and the surrounding Olympic National Forest.

Hoh Rainforest

This sure is a fungi!

The Hoh Rainforest is, in our opinion, the most unique area in Olympic National Park. This area receives more rainfall annually than any other area in the country and is full of mossy trees and lush foliage. We planned a four night backpacking trip through the forest via the Hoh River Trail up to Blue Glacier at the foot of Mount Olympus then back to the Hoh Visitor Center summing up to 37 miles in distance.

Hoh River Trail

Day one of the hike was easy going as the trail does not climb much until you get close to Blue Glacier. We hiked 13 miles to our campsite at an area called Lewis Meadow. We were able to find a nice spot next to the river bed with mountain views. Unfortunately, Ashby had developed some blisters on her toes and heels that required some first aid attention. After a couple of dehydrated meals accompanied with wine, we got to work on Ashby’s aching feet. The blisters turned out to be worse than we thought and after doing what we could we decided we would see how they felt in the morning then decide whether we could continue.

Ashby’s feet post op

The next morning after breakfast and packing up camp, Ashby assessed her feet with hiking boots on and a pack on her back. She determined that if we continued forward, her blisters would only worsen making the return trip miserable (the 13 mile return to the trailhead was already daunting enough). Having made the decision cut the trip short and head back, we started for the trailhead. Six hours later, we were in the van resting our feet. The trip back was painful for Ashby and we were glad we chose to turn around.  Despite not hiking the entire trail, this was still an awesome trek through a unique ecosystem and we would love to return to see Blue Glacier.

Rialto Beach

Since Ashby’s feet required some recovery, we decided to head to the coastal region of the park and hang out for a few days. We were lucky enough to reserve 3 nights in the Mora Campground near Rialto Beach. At Rialto Beach, we hiked to a formation called “Hole in the Wall” and checked out the surrounding tide pools with their many unique marine species. Of course, since we were on the beach, we did not miss the opportunity to catch the amazing sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. These pair well with a glass of wine!

Sunset at Rialto Beach

After leaving the Rialto Beach area, we headed south along the coast stopping at some of the beaches within the southwest part of the park. After some research we found that Olympic National Park is home to some of the largest Douglas Fur and Sitka Spruce Trees in the world and decided to try and find them. Our first attempt was of mixed success in that we did not find the Douglas Fur we were looking for but, saw a group of Ruffed Grouse on the forest floor. This was exciting for us beginner birders as we had never seen birds like this before.

Ruffed Grouse

Our next “tree stop” was to a Sitka Spruce near Lake Quinault and we were able to find it with ease. This Spruce is the largest in the world towering 191 feet above the ground and is over a thousand years old. This got us pumped up to go to Redwood National Park and see the world’s tallest trees.

Big Sitka Spruce!

Staircase

The Staircase area is located on the southeast side of the park near Lake Cushman. This area is dense with large Douglas Firs and features long cascading rapids from which its namesake is derived. We were able to secure a night in the first come first served campground which made it easy to explore the area. That evening, we hiked the rapids loop trail that takes you along the Staircase Rapids then back along the opposite shore of the creek.

Staircase Cascade

The next morning, we packed up camp then headed for another trail in Olympic National Forest along an area called Big Creek. The trail is a 4.5 mile loop that begins with a thousand foot climb at the top of which we enjoyed vast views of the forest valley below. The trail continued its beauty on the way down crossing multiple flowing cascades of the creek. This was an awesome way to start our day and kickstart the endorphins!

Upper Big Creek

Takeaways

The Olympic Peninsula is an enormous preserve of diverse ecosystems from dense rainforest to coastal tide pools. We enjoyed our stay and have added many activities to the “when we return” list.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan  

Click here for more photos from our Olympic National Park adventure!

San Juan Islands, Washington

While in Washington, we decided it would be fun to experience the island life that Washington has to offer. The San Juan Islands are comprised of 400 islands and rocks, we spent four days island hopping to three of the largest islands: San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Island.

San Juan Island

We woke up at 3 AM to catch our 4:30 AM ferry ride to our first stop, Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It happened to be the only time slot available that would allow us to make the most of our island trip and, dang, were we sleepy! Since we arrived so early and nothing was open, we drove to South Beach to enjoy the morning. It was a chilly morning and it felt strange to be wearing jackets in August on the beach.

Morning coffee on South Beach

After our peaceful morning, we visited Pelindaba Lavender Farm for some smells and souvenirs. We indulged in some lavender lemon sorbet and moved on to Lime Kiln Point State Park to see if we could spot some whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck there and did not see any whales.

Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Our last and favorite stop of the day was Wescott Bay Shellfish Co.. The Wescott Bay Shellfish Co. grows oysters, clams and mussels just a few hundred feet from where you can eat them. Neither of us have had positive oyster experiences in the past but, we knew if there was a place that could change our mind, this would be it. We started off with a couple of raw and grilled oysters paired with a bottle of San Juan Vineyards Chardonnay. Our taste buds were jumping for joy after our first oysters and we quickly ordered more. We even learned to shuck them! So yeah, we are oyster people now. I would definitely return to this island just to eat more oysters!

Yummm!

The next day we returned to Friday Harbor to catch up on some work and confirm our ferry ride for 11:30 am. While awaiting our ferry we decided to indulge in some delicious fish and chips from a local place called The Bait Shop. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a photo because we ate it too quickly. Whoops…..

Orcas Island

When we arrived on Orcas Island, we drove the islands scenic byway to some of the points of interest on the west side. We had the most fun visiting Orcas Island Winery and Island Hoppin’ Brewery, mostly because we were pretty much the only ones there. Instead of going out for dinner that night, we decided to head to our campsite to enjoy some good ol’ spaghetti. Alan even got to play disc golf since there was a course at the camping resort.

Island Hoppin’ Brewery

The next morning, Alan played disc golf again before we set out to explore Eastsound (the super tiny “downtown” of Orcas Island) and Moran State Park.

Summit View from Mt. Constitution

Lopez Island

Before we knew it, it was time to get on the ferry to Lopez Island. We stayed at the Lopez Farm Campground, which ended up being our favorite of the three. There was contact-less check in, nice restrooms and a covered outdoor kitchen area.

The next morning, we learned about a local Farmer’s Market and decided to see what they had to offer. We ended up getting some wine, bread, goat cheese and pickles for our picnic that afternoon.

Van picnic at Agate Beach County Park

Takeaways

Taking a trip to the San Juan Islands was definitely a unique experience. The islands are small enough that we were able to visit all the must see spots in a day. Since we are not big shoppers however, we almost ran out of things to do. We will remember the San Juan Islands for the good food, drinks and country/island ambiance.

Click here for more photos from our San Juan Islands adventure!

North Cascades National Park

The remote high mountain peaks of the Cascade Mountains in Northern Washington are simply stunning. We quickly found that the best way to enjoy this park was from high up on a mountain pass. Needless to say, our legs were glad to see this place in the rear view mirror but our souls weren’t. We spent 4 nights under the dramatic mountains of this lesser traveled national park.

Maple Pass Trail

On our way into the park we stopped for a hike just outside the park border up to Maple Pass. This is a 9.8 mile loop with 2,300 ft of elevation gain. Following the advice from some of the reviews, we headed counterclockwise up the trail.

Lake Ann

The first couple of miles were easy going and we soon reached another trail that took us to Lake Ann. The lake is beautifully surrounded by mountains and we could even see hikers high above on the trail where we were headed. After returning to the main trail we began to climb toward the pass and had great views of Lake Ann all the way up.

Lake Ann from on high

We were pleasantly surprised when we reached Maple Pass as we both felt that the climb was not as difficult as we thought it was going to be. The view from Maple Pass was amazing and we had 360 degree views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains. After a half hour break for lunch we began our decent back to the trailhead stopping many times for views, photo ops, and wildflowers.

Cascade Mountain views!

After reaching the bottom, we took the quick detour to nearby Rainy Lake. The detour paid off as we found Rainy Lake to be yet another stunning reservoir surrounded with high mountains with a waterfall of snow-melt cascading its way into the lake.

Rainy Lake

Thunder Creek Trail

On our second day in the park, we decided to take an easier hike and after some research decided to hike down Thunder Creek from the Colonial Creek area. The trail follows Thunder Creek from Diablo Lake until a bridge crossing. From there we headed uphill towards Fourth of July Pass but turned around halfway to save our legs for the hike we had planned the next day. The water in Thunder Creek is so clear that it has a turquoise hue and was so inviting that we wished we had a kayak we could take for paddle around the beautiful water.

Thunder Creek

Cascade Pass Trail

We woke up early on day three so we could make the hour and a half drive to the trailhead for Cascade Pass. We had read that this was a must hike trail in North Cascades and that the parking lot fills early. We were then not surprised when we arrived at 9 am and cars were already lined up on the road. Having not had coffee or breakfast we decided it best to have a cup and eat a bowl of cereal before hitting the trail. The only hard thing was that the van was parked on a steep hill making it awkward to make coffee or sit down and enjoy a bowl of cereal.

Peligroso’s precarious parking

The trail is 6.5 miles out & back with 1,800 ft of elevation gain and about 2 miles of the 3 mile trek up to the pass are switchbacks through trees. Once the trail opened up, the views improved immensely and the last mile and a half were very scenic. The pass overlook was crowded with quite a few hikers eating their lunches so we decided to continue away from the pass and find a more secluded lunch spot.

Cascade Pass Overlook

After enjoying our peanut butter, banana, & honey sandwiches, we took a few snaps from the pass and headed down. Because most of the way down is just switchbacks through forest we actually jogged the last two miles and got down quite a bit faster than expected. We were again surprised by this trail as it was easier than expected taking us only three and a half hours to complete.

Trail views!

Thornton Lakes/Newhalem

The Thornton Lakes Trail looked to be an awesome hike up to a summit that passes a couple of mountain lakes on the way. The road to the trailhead is a rough single lane five mile climb. We had driven about two miles up the day before and decided to give it a try. After another early rise (with coffee this time) we headed to the road. The first three miles were not too bad but shortly after, the road got too rough to pass in our van. We had to make the decision to either park the van and hike from the spot on the road (adding 4 miles to an already difficult trail) or turn around and find some other trails to hike. We made the hard decision to turn around and find other trails for the day. Womp womp….

There are actually quite a few trails in the Newhalem area where we were camped so we decided to return to the campground and just hike out from the campsite. This was actually turned out to be pretty fun as we got to do some trail running and learn about some of the local tree species on the nature trails.

Takeaways

This park affords many opportunities to get up close and personal with the Cascade Mountains and is definitely a great backcountry destination. Upon our return we will plan a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos from our North Cascades Adventure!

Leavenworth & Alpine Lakes Wilderness

After spending time with family in Glacier NP, we continued to move west through Idaho and into the great state of Washington. We vacationed in Washington two years ago and were excited to return. Our first stop was in Leavenworth, WA, a Bavarian themed town in the Cascade Mountains. A picturesque wilderness known as The Enchantments brought us to this town and although we didn’t end up hiking to it we had a great time exploring Leavenworth.

Big mossy tree

On our first exploration day, we hiked the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail to Trout and Copper Lakes in the Alpine Lake Wilderness. This hike was 8.3 miles with an elevation gain of 2,539 feet and ended up taking us a whopping 8 hours because we kept stopping for pictures and to soak in the spectacular views. We just couldn’t get enough of the mossy trees and lush vegetation surrounding us. The flowing streams, waterfalls and alpine lakes we saw on the trail weren’t too shabby either.

Copper Lake

It was hotter than we thought it would be in Washington, so the next day we decided to explore Lake Wenatchee via kayak. While traveling through these northern states we have come to the conclusion that although it is 90+ degrees outside, the water remains in the 60’s which is still too cold for us Texans to fully enjoy. We had to settle for just dipping our legs in the water and then quickly hopping back out for warmth.

Kayaking on Lake Wenatchee

After spending some time in the sun, we decided to hit the town for some brews and brats. Alan had been craving sauerkraut and brats for quite some time now so he was excited to get his fix. Our first stop was a German restaurant called Andreas Keller, where we had we had beer, jagerschitzel and bratz. This was my second time trying German food and quite frankly I am just not impressed by it. Alan, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed every bite (and sip). We had a much better time at Leavenworth Sausage Garden which had larger beers for a much cheaper price, oh and tasty pretzels. This place was right up our alley and I would totally recommend to anyone swinging by the area.

Alan at his happiest

Takeaways

The charming town of Leavenworth and surrounding evergreen mountainous forests made for a very fun stop. I know we said we loved Colorado but I think we love Washington more! We hope to return for the challenging Enchantments hike in the future.

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Click here for more photos of our time in Leavenworth!

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is one million acres of dramatic peaks, deep valleys, pristine waterways, and dense forest. As this park shares a border with Canada, it quickly becomes easy to understand why this park is also known as “The Crown of the Continent”. We spent three nights at this park and were lucky enough to join up with our uncle Mike, aunt Sharon and cousin David that were visiting the area at the same time.

Going to the Sun Road

On our first day in the park we drove up the scenic “Going to the Sun Road”. This 50 mile stretch of road winds through the park from the Apgar Visitor Center on the west side of the park to the St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side of the park. Our family picked us up near our campsite at Fish Creek in the morning and we hit the road heading east from Apgar.

Sharon, David and Alan at Weeping Wall

We stopped at each point along the way to take in the views and read the informational boards provided. As a bonus we got to do some birding at most stops with the help of our relatives who are avid birders. We even got to see two Golden Eagles soaring high above a stop called “Lunch Creek”. This was especially exciting because this was my Aunt Sharon’s first time to spot one in the wild.

Birding near Saint Mary Lake

Because of COVID 19 precautions the park is current under some partial closures and the is closed at the Rising Sun village. Upon reaching Rising Sun we turned around to head back the way we came stopping at a few points we had missed on our way out. At an overlook near Logan Pass, we saw three Mountain Goats including a young kid (baby goat). Upon returning to Apgar, we decided to head to Whitefish for dinner before calling it a night.

The cutest baby goat

Camas Road

On our second day in the park, we decided to explore the Camas Road on the west side of the park. The road leads west from Apgar past Fish Creek and actually exits park boundaries into Flathead National Forest until reaching the village of Polebridge where you can reenter the park. Once again, we were scooped up by our family for another day of adventure.

Meadow off of Camas Road

The primary focus of this day was to focus on birding. The Camas Road is only about a 25 mile drive from Apgar to Polebridge giving us plenty of time to stop at overlooks and bird sightings. On our way out we stopped at multiple points of interest to try and spot birds but we had the best luck at creek crossings and other areas where two ecosystems met. Bird sighting highlights for the day included Red-Eyed Vireo and Common Yellowthroat.

Flathead River

After stopping for a picnic lunch and a beer in the small village of Polebridge, took a hike to try and catch a glimpse at the elusive Spruce Grouse known to common the area but had no luck. To finish the day off, we took the 6 mile drive up a gravel road to Bowman Lake. The lake is pretty large and surrounded by the mountains of the park. There is a nice gravel beach and we just had to pull off our shoes and sit down with our feet in the coldish water.

Dippin’ our feet in Bowman Lake

Lake McDonald

Because most of the hikes we wished to take we closed because of COVID precautions and most trails that were open were very crowded we opted to take a casual hike on the West side of McDonald Lake. From the trailhead, it is a short 2 mile hike to a scenic overlook of the lake called “Rocky Point”. After taking in the view we continued down the trail but turned around less than a mile later because the trail quickly became overgrown with thick shrubs.

Lake McDonald

Takeaways

We had a great time exploring this beautiful park with the Perkins family and would love to return once the park has fully reopened so that we can explore more of the park on foot. This mountain range was especially unique due to its glacier cut, u-shaped valleys that were unlike anything we had seen before.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos of our Glacier National Park adventure!