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!

Our Vanlife Experience – Month #2

Howdy family and friends! Our last four weeks in the van have come and gone! We started off our second month of vanlife exploring the Channel Islands on the coast of California. We hiked through the woods of Los Padres National Forest, sunk our feet in the desert sands of Mojave National Preserve, then, worked our way East, stopping in Nevada for a visit to  Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead in Nevada before meeting  our family for spring break in the Grand Canyon. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy spring break with our family right before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. We are happy to report that we are safe, healthy and currently hiding out in the stunning desert mountains near Death Valley.

Sunset view at our Death Valley campsite

Now more than ever, we are grateful to have a home on wheels and that Alan has a job so he can continue to work remotely.  We are also thankful for our friends and family that continue to check in on us. Currently, we do not have any plans to cut our adventure short and will continue to travel the western US as long as we can.

Since we are pretty much self-contained, the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected us a whole lot. We are a little bummed that COVID-19 has closed Yosemite National Park, all the Planet Fitness locations we were working out and showering at, and the Canadian border but we are choosing to focus on the good. There are still many parks and public lands we will be able to visit. We will also be challenging ourselves to do longer and more difficult hikes to avoid the crowds. We were also able to order a solar shower last week and it will arrive this week. This is the longest we have gone without a shower. Hurry up, Amazon! We were tentatively planning to visit Canada later this summer, so there is still a chance we may be able to explore Banff if the virus dissipates by then. Overall, we hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during this unprecedented pandemic.

A snapshot of our planning map

Aside from the pandemic, lots of good stuff has happened over the past month. We’ve had constant great weather, all the nature we can handle, and had some fun in the sun on the coast of California! We also enjoyed a week in Flagstaff with our family and hope to plan more trips with family soon.

Torrey Pines State Preserve in California

How about the budget you ask? Don’t ask, we blew it again. Not as bad as month #1 but still not where we would like to be. I guess you could say the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we will likely make our budget goal on month #3 since we are not eating out and staying as far away from public facilities as possible.

I suppose we could try eating less pizza…

Favorites of the month

Ashby’s favorite destination of the month: Grand Canyon National Park. Total WOW factor and seriously jaw dropping! No picture will EVER do it justice, you must see it for yourself. Alan and I had a backpacking trip planned so we could hike into the canyon but unfortunately snowy weather and COVID-19 got in the way. We look forward to making our way back to this magical place.

The Grand Canyon

Alan’s favorite destination of the month: Mojave National Preserve. The vast desert landscape containing many unique features and formations evokes feelings of isolation and solitude.

Kelso Dunes

See ya!

We hope everyone continues to stay home and healthy so that we can get back to normal soon! Thanks for reading!