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!

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!

Sawtooth National Forest

One of the destinations we were most excited about visiting in Idaho was the Sawtooth Mountains. We planned a three day backpacking trip into the mountains to see the Baron Lakes and were blown away by the beauty we came across.

To get to the trailhead, we could either take a water taxi across Redfish Lake or hike 4 miles around the lake. Since we are lazy hikers, we decided to take the boat across. The hike to the Baron Lakes is a 15.3 mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 3,533 feet. We decided to split up the climb into two days and hike back down the third day. Doing this, allowed us to camp and enjoy Alpine Lake on Day 1 and the Baron Lakes on Day 2.

Redfish Creek

The first few miles of the trail followed Redfish Creek and we could hear the sounds of flowing water as we hiked through the beautiful forest. On the last mile and a half to Alpine Lake camp, the trail became steep and climbed about 900 feet in elevation. This section of the trail was tough but the stunning views made up for it. We saw so many pretty wildflowers and the mountains surrounding us left us in complete awe!

Alpine Lake

Once we made it to Alpine Lake, we set up camp and simply soaked in the scenery. Of course not everything can go perfectly on a backpacking trip, after resting our feet for a while we walked down to the lake to filter our water for dinner and the next day of hiking. We discovered that our water filter was not working very well and ultimately broke after multiple frustrating attempts of using it. We decided we would have to drink unfiltered water straight from a nearby waterfall and just hoped we wouldn’t get sick. Alan sacrificed himself and took the first sips of unfiltered water to see if it was good and I am happy to report we did not get sick.

Right before the water filter bag broke!
Preparing dinner lakeside
Exclusive sneak peak inside of our tent!

The next morning we packed up our camp and headed toward the Baron Lakes a couple of steep miles away. On the way there we came across a nice pond and more wildflowers. After climbing multiple switchbacks, we finally got our first glimpse of Upper and Middle Baron Lakes and stopped for a quick snack before heading down to the lakes.

Upper and Middle Baron Lakes

We set up camp in between Upper and Middle Baron Lakes in a perfectly secluded spot. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon by Upper Baron Lake occasionally dipping out feet in the ice cold waters. Alan even decided to brave the frigid water for a quick rinse. Burrr!

Alan basking in the sun by Upper Baron Lake

On our last morning of the trip, we packed up and began our 7 mile hike back out. After about 10 minutes into our hike, Alan realized he forgot his cellphone back at the campsite! He ran back to get it and we were both glad he realized his phone was missing sooner rather than later. At the end of our hike we were both daydreaming of the delicious pizza we had a few days earlier at Papa Brunee’s in Stanley, Idaho, so of course we had to return and eat some more!

Alan and his two personal pizzas – because why the hell not?
My own small pizza – because it’s my business!

Takeaways

We would totally do this trip all over again! I am not joking when I say there were amazing views the entirety of this trail. Next time, we will hike all the way up to the Baron Lakes on day one and set up camp by Middle Baron Lake since it is much larger and the mountains behind it are spectacular.

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Click here for more photos of our backpacking trip to Baron Lakes!

Summertime Fun

No one told us it would be so hot in Idaho! We thought we left the high 90 degree weather in Texas. Idaho sure fooled us! We left City of Rocks desperately craving some water fun. On our way to the Sawtooth Mountains we made a stop at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Murphy, Idaho. We were able to find a free campsite on the Snake River nestled in this beautiful canyon. There were just a few people in the area so it felt like we had this gorgeous place to ourselves!

Can’t get any better than this!

We had such a great time soaking up the sun on the Snake River we made it a point to find more spots like this! The next day we drove into Boise to prepare for our upcoming backpacking trip. We drove out of Boise and headed east on the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route. Along this drive, we found another amazing free campsite on the Payette River. Besides a family on the other side of the river, we also had this magical place all to ourselves. Alan set up our tent’s rain cover for shade and we used the river to keep the beer cold.

This water was very cold!

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

City of Rocks National Reserve

Our second destination in Idaho was the mountainous high desert reserve known as the “City of Rocks”. As the name implies, this landscape is filled with granite peaks and unique rock formations. Naturally, this park is a hot spot for world class rock climbing. We spent three nights parked on some BLM land just outside the park. Having already been in southern Idaho, we were aware of how surprisingly hot it was here so we did our best to stay in the shade (nothing two Texans couldn’t handle though).

Loop Trail Hike

Having researched AllTrails, we found a 7 mile loop comprised of multiple trails within the park. After eating breakfast, we headed for the trailhead stopping for a scenic overlook along the way. The trail started near a formation called “Parking Lot Rock” and there were already many climbers scaling its large walls. The loop led us through the unique rock formations then we climbed to a ridge that overlooked the bulk of the park. Along the way we mistook a cow laying down for a bear that gave a moment of fright then a good laugh.

Although the trail was relatively short, we took our time, stopping for overlooks and to catch our breath along the way. That evening we returned to our dispersed site, showered, ate dinner, then bedded down for the night.

Large Pockets Formed in Granite

Bouldering

Given this area is a “climbing mecca” and I was itching to break in our new crash pad, we spent our second day at the park hopping from boulder to boulder with the help of Mountain Project, an online climbing guide. We had a great time hanging out near to boulder attempting previously established “problems” (bouldering routes) and making up some of our own.

Takeaways

This was an awesome location we would like to return to with improved rock-climbing ability. We would also most likely plan our trip during a cooler season having now experienced the surprisingly warm southern Idaho summer. See you later!

-Alan

Craters of the Moon National Preserve

We had an amazing time in Wyoming and were excited to see what Idaho has to offer over the next couple of weeks. Our first stop in Idaho was Craters of the Moon National Preserve. After a morning hike at Grand Teton, we headed towards Idaho Falls to resupply then stopped at a BLM called “Hell’s Half Acre” which is made up volcanic rock similar to Craters of the Moon. We did not realize how warm the high desert of southern Idaho would be and it was a sudden change from the mountains of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

Scenic Loop Road

On our first day at the park, we stopped at the visitor’s center to get a park map and discuss current park conditions with the park rangers. To our dismay, we found out that due to some recent seismic activity in the area, the caves were closed to visitors.

Lava Flow

The road through the park took us on a scenic loop past many of the main features. Along the drive we saw huge lava flows, cinder cones, and volcanic craters. We decided to leave the park for the day so we could take advantage of a free campsite on some BLM land near the park.

Volcanic Crater

Tree Molds Trail

The next morning we re-entered the park to hike out to a feature called the “Tree Molds”. These impressions of tree trunks were formed when lava flowed around trees then solidified. The trail is a 2 mile round trip and was a nice morning walk.

Tree Mold

Takeaways

This park taught us a lot about volcanoes and the formations created when they occur. We were especially intrigued to find out that most of the volcanic activity took place only 2,000 years ago and that Native American tribes from the area have records of peoples that witnessed eruptions. This is definitely a cool quick stop that should not be missed by anyone traveling through the area.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is a 2 million acre geological wonderland containing hot springs, geysers, mountains, canyons, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. This park is a must visit and should be on everybody’s bucket list! We decided to spend the bulk of our time discovering the geological features the park is known for. We spent 3.5 days viewing hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. As a bonus we saw much wildlife while traveling around the park.

We spent the 3 nights of our visit in Shoshone National Forest on the east side of the park about an hour’s drive away.

Day 1

On our first day in Yellowstone, we decided to drive the Grand Loop so that we could get familiar with park and stop at all of the geothermal features noted on the park map. This drive is 142 miles and can take 4 to 7 hours. We started from the East entrance and headed South toward West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Once we parked at the basin, we walked the boardwalk loop and saw our first collection of steaming hot springs, mudpots and geysers. SO COOL! This was my first time at the park and Alan’s second so, he was recollecting memories from his first time there while I was just in awe. Because this basin sits on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, we had great views and could see the hot water of the springs flow into the cool water of the lake.

Hot Spring off of West Thumb Boardwalk

Our next stop was Upper Geyser Basin, near the most famous geyser in the park, Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the most predictable geyser and erupts approximately every 90 minutes. It was getting ready to blow when we were walking up to the viewing area. We opted out of taking pics or videos of the eruption so that we could simply take in the geyser’s natural beauty.

After watching Old Faithful, we explored Upper Geyser Basin via the Geyser Hill Loop. This area is has the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in the park. Upper Basin also has 5 out of the 6 geysers for which the park provides prediction times. We tried to catch Daisy Geyser but weren’t able to walk to it quick enough and saw the eruption from a distance. Luckily, there was plenty more to see in the area. I mean, look at this gorgeous hot spring!

Morning Glory Hot Spring

We moved on to Midway Geyser Basin, which is home to the largest geyser in the world, Excelsior and the third largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic. Grand Prismatic is one of the most strikingly beautiful features of the park with its deep blue center surrounded by bright yellow and orange streams that tail away from its edge.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Our second to last stop of the day was, Lower Geyser Basin. This basin had the most mudpots than any other area we had seen so far. Our favorite feature here was the Fountain Paint Pots, a boiling mudpot that had created multiple “pots” over time.

Fountain Paint Pots

Since it was getting late and we had a long drive back to our campsite, we headed out of the park with a final stop at Gibbon Falls. While driving out, we spotted many bison near the Hayden Valley area. We took the photo below from a safe distance and inside the van. A few days after leaving the park, we learned about a 72 year old woman being gored by a bison for getting entirely too close for a photo. Talk about scary!

American bison

Day 2

After entering the park on the East side again, we headed north so we could complete the Grand Loop drive. On our way into the park, we noticed a few people on the side of the road with binoculars. I looked up the hill to see what all the fuss was about and saw a grizzly bear! Alan quickly pulled over and we grabbed our binoculars so that we could get a better look. Some locals that frequent the park informed us that this particular grizzly was more aggressive than most. A park ranger arrived shortly after and used aerial charges to scare it away. Shortly down the road there was another “bear jam”, so we pulled over and saw a grizzly mother and cub. PRETTY AMAZING!

After the bear high, we continued our drive to Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron. These formations were different than what we had seen on Day 1 and, as the name implies, were a lot smellier.

Churning Cauldron

Next we stopped at the Canyon Village area to overlook the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. This was an awesome overlook of one of parks main attractions.

Upper Falls

From Canyon Village, we drove to Mammoth Hot Springs to see the famous travertine terraces. We were a little underwhelmed however because the hot springs were not flowing and appeared to have been dry for quite some time. Regardless, we were excited to see some different formations and elk just hanging out in the village.

From here we worked our way south back towards the Grand Loop stopping to see the Artist Paint Pots. These paint pots were similar to the mudpots we saw the day before.

Artist Paint Pots

We had some extra time so we decided to try and catch some geyser eruptions at Upper Geyser Basin. Grand Geyser was predicted to erupt at around 5:50 PM with window of +/- 45 minutes. As we walked up at 6 PM, we could see that there was still a crowd gathered awaiting the eruption. By 7 PM, Grand Geyser had still not erupted! There were some people that had been waiting for 2 hours to see the eruption and the crowd was starting to dwindle down. We decided to call it quits because of the long drive back to the campsite and planned to catch as many geyser eruptions on Day 3.

Day 3

More grizzlies! Apparently the entrance that we entered the park from the past two days was the best place to spot bears. Lucky us! I decided to get creative this time and tried taking a picture of the two bears through the binoculars. Alan had his doubts but it worked! Not the best photo but definitely better than anything our phones or camera could have taken.

Male and Female Grizzly Bears

We then made our way to see Grand Prismatic for the second time via Fairy Falls trail. Fairy Falls leads you up a hill behind Grand Prismatic for an elevated overlook of the magical hot spring. It was cold and rainy day so the steam coming off the hot spring was heavier than usual. Still very beautiful!

Grand Prismatic

After viewing Grand Prismatic, we drove over to Upper Geyser Basin and committed our day to seeing as many geyser eruptions as possible. We were able to catch Daisy and Grand Geyser erupt. You can check out the videos of the geyser eruptions in the photo/video gallery, here.

Day 4

We didn’t originally plan on spending a fourth day at the park but we couldn’t leave without seeing Riverside Geyser erupt. So we headed into the park around 6:30 AM to catch the scheduled 8:30 AM eruption. It was a cold and rainy morning but we were still surprised to see that we were the only people awaiting the eruption. This geyser is unique because when it erupts it flows into the Firehole River. After this, we were able to catch the Grand Geyser eruption for a second time (just as impressive the second time) then called it good. The Tetons were calling us so we had to get moving!

Riverside Geyser

Takeaways

WOW! Yellowstone did not disappoint! We had a fantastic time exploring this park and cannot wait to return. Each day was filled with unexpected wildlife sightings and stunning geological features. This is one national park you do not want to miss!

Side note – In the future we will definitely pay to stay inside the park. Driving an hour to our campsite outside of the park was a bit of a drag at the end of a long day exploring the park. Regardless, we had an awesome time here and made lots of awesome memories!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan and Ashby

Click here for more photos of our Yellowstone NP adventure!