Washington’s Olympic National Park: Alaska south for our family

It’s been 10 years since AK Dad and I left the Olympic Peninsula town of Port Angeles for our next chapter of Life, Unscripted; but every time I return to this lush, green haven of outdoor recreation I am reminded of why I love it so.

Hooray for SEA-ANC!

Thanks to jetBlue and their new service to Seattle from Anchorage, we were able to hop aboard a roomy Airbus and zoom our family to Seattle for a long weekend of hiking, relaxing, and exploring one of the best-kept secrets of Washington state tourism. A mere two hours from Seattle or Edmonds (just north of the Emerald City), the Olympic Peninsula stretches out from Puget Sound to the Pacific Coast, with enormous Olympic National Park in the middle. No roads dissect this park; visitors must drive around its perimeter and punch through to various sections with Native American names like SolDuc, Elwah, and Quinault.

At 922,650 acres, Olympic NP is best explored over several days, but for this trip we focused on the accessible areas of Hurricane Ridge, the Elwah River Valley, and SolDuc Hot Springs with our youngster.

Well, howdy! AK Kid and I perched on the top of Hurricane Ridge.

Hurricane Ridge is reached via a 17-mile stretch of road; find the Ridge Road from Port Angeles and the park’s visitor center off Race Street. Plan for multiple pull outs along the way, deer nibbling on shoots of green grass, and delightful hiking for any age. Paved pathways and guided hikes abound in the summer, and snowshoe hikes are held on weekends in winter. We hiked the still-closed Hurricane Hill Road about two miles to a beautiful (but still snowy) overlook, enjoying sweeping views of the Olympic mountains in the background, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. Do stop in the Ridge’s visitor center for a snack, maps, and a great video about the park.

An old tree makes a pretty good bouncy toy along the Elwah River.

 

New life appears along the former bottom of Lake Mills.

The Elwah River Valley is a fascinating spectacle of mother nature’s ability to adapt, mostly in part to the removal of two dams constructed 100 years previously. Removed in 2011, the water now rushes through two former lakes; Mills and Aldwell, and it’s truly a lesson in conservation, hydrology, and Biology. We touched rocks that had been underwater for years; stood upon stumps of burned-out trees cut for the dam project prior to WWI, and found new life rising from the sandy soil. Hopefully, salmon will return to this river and life will again be as it should. Follow the project, too, HERE.

Care for a soak? Sol Duc Hotsprings resort is a great way to relax.

Boiling Sol Duc Falls is a great hike from the resort's day use area parking lot.

Sol Duc Hotsprings is a favorite spot of locals for the low-key atmosphere and soothing hot pools. Featuring three small pools and one big swimming space, Sol Duc is the perfect location to unwind after a busy day of hiking or fishing. AK Kid splashed around as we grownups loosened muscles tightened up after a hike to lovely Sol Duc Falls – an incredible 2 mile-RT hike from the nearby day use area. Anyone can pay to use the hotsprings, showers, and restaurant; just expect crowds on a summer afternoon. Hint: Go first thing in the  morning or last thing in the evening (open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily in the summer).

"SHHHHH! A Snowshoe Hare!"

Deer are frequent visitors to the Hurricane Ridge road area, so be a watchful driver.

A star among Olympic National Park's wildlife: the slug.

If the activities don’t rouse your kids, perhaps the sheer volume of scenery will; enormous trees, abundant and interesting wildlife, and so many shades of green a leprechaun would be jealous.

After a winter of gray and beige, I’m returning home with a full palette of colors in my mind, and I love it.

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