At 14,000 acres, this national monument might be relatively small but it is loaded with many paleontological and geological wonders. John Day Fossil Beds is located in eastern Oregon near the towns of Mitchell and is comprised of three separate units each with their own unique features. This was our first time in eastern Oregon and we were surprised at how quickly the landscape and temperatures changed from the densely wooded coast and 75 degrees to mountainous desert grasslands in the east and 100 degrees (yikes!).
The first unit we explored was Painted Hills, named so for the large hills with stratifications in the soil making stripes of red, tan, orange, and black in the hillside. We hiked up an adjacent hill via the Carroll Rim Trail and had amazing views of the Painted Hills below. We then explored an area called Painted Cove that has small hills of deep red, yellow, and lavender claystone hills.
This area of the national monument is the largest of the three units and is named after a large rock formation near the visitor center. Our favorite feature of this unit was an area called Blue Basin, a small canyon walls of blue green claystone. There are also many preserved fossil replicas along the trail though the canyon of various ancient specimens found in the area.
We visited the Clarno Unit on our way out of the monument. This area features palisades made of volcanic ash and mud flows formed 45 million years ago. The trail along the palisades contains many fossils embedded in the rock and lead us to an overlook of a natural bridge at the top of the palisade cliffs.
John Day Fossil Beds is a fun and educational park where you can embrace your inner paleontologist. We enjoyed our visit and would not mind a return trip in the future. I especially enjoyed being back in the desert for a bit after the forests of coastal Washington and Oregon.
We hadn’t realized how many volcanoes there are in the pacific northwest and soon learned that this area belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire which contains 75% of the worlds active or dormant volcanoes, After exploring Olympic National Park, we headed south toward Mount Rainier and what would become a volcanic tour of the northwest. We spent the most time at Rainier but also visited Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Newberry Volcanic National Monument.
Mount Rainier National Park
Our first day in Mount Rainier National Park, we hiked the Pinnacle Peak Saddle trail. The trail was a short and sweet with a total distance of 2.4 miles and an elevation gain of 1000 ft. The hike was packed with colorful wildflowers and when we reached the “saddle” we had amazing views of Mt. Rainier on one side and Mt. Adams on the other.
The next day we hiked to Pebble Creek via the Skyline Trail. This hike ended up being around 8 miles with 2500 ft. in elevation gain. When we reached Pebble Creek we felt as if we were so close to the top of the mountain. The glacier views from this point were unbelievable and we could even hear ice falls on the mountain that sounded like thunder.
The best part about this park is that you can be anywhere in the park and still get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier. On our last day at the park, we drove up to the Sunrise area on north end of the mountain. After parking we hiked up to Mount Fremont lookout for spectacular view once again. It was not easy to leave this majestic mountain!
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Just before crossing into the Oregon border, we made quick stop at Mount St. Helens to hike the nature trail near the visitor center. Although the hike was short, we learned so much about the vicious eruption that took place only 40 years ago! The destruction left behind is still very evident and it was interesting to see how the plant and animal life has made its way back.
Mount Hood National Forest
On our way east across Oregon, we stopped for a couple of nights in Mount Hood National Forest. Mount Hood is another stratovolcano that dominates horizon and can easily be seen from Portland. We hiked the Bald Mountain and Muddy Fork trail which was a little under 6 miles and gained 1200 ft. in elevation. The trail wound through the forest and eventually went downhill into a valley at the base of Mount Hood. This made for a nice lunch spot!
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
While we were near Bend, OR, we visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument located in Deschutes National Forest. Our first stop was the Lava Lands area to check out a cinder cone and a large lava flow below it. While we were there we stopped by the visitor center to bird for a bit and saw a Cooper’s Hawk (or maybe a Sharp-shinned Hawk). We then headed to the Newberry Caldera to see Paulina Falls, Paulina Peak and the Big Obsidian Flow. The Big Obsidian Flow was especially unique because it was completely made up of black volcanic glass. So beautiful!
The many volcanoes of the northwest are not only beautiful part of the natural landscape, but allow for a glimpse into the past and provide some education about the earth’s formation. All of the volcanoes we visited are still active and you can not help but wonder when they will erupt again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.