I have fallen in love. It’s crazy — I know. But that is the only explanation I have. Smitten by a renewed vitality and an overwhelming feeling of exuberance, I yearn to spend as much time as possible with my new love interest. Grammi is okay with this. In fact, she has fallen in love too. You see…this love is not a person. It is not a thing. It is a place — a very, very special place.
Encompassing nearly one-million acres, Olympic National Park is unique and diverse with three distinct ecosystems. From wild coastal beaches to snow-capped mountains, from steaming hot springs to icy-cold lakes, from lush rainforest to subalpine meadows, it is the epitome of contrasting environment. How can anyone not fall in love with it?
We entered the Olympic Peninsula on the iconic scenic Highway 101, also called the Pacific Coast Highway, driving through dense forest and passing small towns along the way. We have three nights reserved at Forks 101 RV Park. After looking long and hard for campsites for our visit to Olympic National Park, this is all we found. We have no reservations beyond this point.
If you are a fan of the Twilight Saga, you already know about Forks, Washington. Author Stephenie Meyer, when researching a setting for her book, Twilight, looked for a place that received a lot of rain. With a total rainfall of around 110 inches annually and without ever visiting, she chose Forks as the location for her romantic novels about vampires and werewolves.
Grammi and I are not Twilight fans. I have not read the books nor have I seen the movies, but evidently there are a lot of people who have. After gaining popularity, the chamber of commerce, as well as the town citizenry, has embraced the Twilight Saga. Tourism increased and local businesses benefited. A museum was opened, tours were organized, and Twilight merchandise is now sold in every store. An annual festival is held every year in September. Stephenie Meyer has since visited Forks and was presented a Certificate of Appreciation by the mayor. This small logging town on the Pacific Northwest Olympic Peninsula is forever changed.
We didn’t come to see vampires though. We came to experience Mother Nature’s beauty. The first place we went was Rialto Beach, located on the Pacific Ocean. It is a rocky beach with crashing waves and giant drift logs scattered about. Offshore, sea stacks appear as castles surrounded by an ocean moat.
Just like we would when combing the beach for seashells on the gulf coast, we scoured this beach for interesting rocks. Variegated pebbles with smooth round edges of various shapes glistened in the sunlight. We soon learned that sandals were not the right footwear for this type of beach. The little pebbles were a nuisance — getting between our feet and shoe. As the sun neared the horizon, we placed our chairs on the beach, opened a bottle of wine and raised our glass to a fiery sunset. It was a gorgeous conclusion to the day.
What time is early? I ask this question because when we checked in at the campground I told the clerk we planned to go to the Hoh Rainforest and he said, “Get there early”. Later that evening, I told a couple in the camper next to us the same thing. “Get there early”, they both said in unison. Well despite all the prior advise, we struggled to get moving that morning. Maybe it had something to do with the wine the night before. I’m not sure. What I am sure about is after a forty-five minute drive, we arrived at the gate to the Hoh Rainforest at 10:00 a.m. and that wasn’t early enough.
We sat in a line of vehicles next to a sign that said: Estimated Wait Time 1½ Hours From This Point. The park was at full capacity so it was operating under the one-out, one-in rule. Some cars made a u-turn and left. Our truck doesn’t have the turning radius to make such a move on the narrow road so we were stuck for the duration. Besides, I was not going to be deterred. Little by little we inched forward and made it pass the gate just after 11:00 a.m. Not too bad considering the initial estimate. A couple of trips around the parking lot and we finally found a spot at the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center.
Hiking and backpacking are the primary activities from the visitor center. There are two short loop trails and a longer out-and-back trail. The Hoh River Trail is the longer out-and-back trail going 18.5 miles to Blue Glacier where there are views of Mount Olympus. It is a favored trail for overnight backpackers. Of course the trail can be hiked as far as one desires before turning back — making it a day hike.
Grammi and I slowly meandered through the two shorter loop trails gazing in amazement. The Hall of Mosses Trail (0.8 miles) and Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles) weave through old growth forest. They are heavily traveled which may be a good thing considering the spooky jungle-like setting. Ferns and lichens thrive under a canopy of the moss ladened trees.
Signage on the trails provide educational information. We learned that the Hoh Rainforest is a temperate rainforest. Temperate rainforest have cooler climates than tropical rainforest. We also learned how fallen trees become nurse trees providing nutrients to new trees. This causes the trees to grow in a line.
The trail opens for a view of the Hoh River with mountains in the background, then turns back under the trees. After our hike, we found a secluded picnic table to rest and have lunch. It was an eerie quiet place.
The next morning we did better about getting out early and drove to Second Beach near La Push. The 0.7 mile trail through the forest to the beach has its ups and downs before switch-backing down to where we were greeted with a dramatic scene. The wild and rugged Pacific beach was a sight I shall not soon forget. We lingered for a couple of hours watching the waves roll in and the eagles soar. We admired the sea stacks and listened to the wind whistle through the holes in the rocks. It was surreal.
That afternoon we drove to La Push — a small native American village on the Quillayute River. It is where you can find First Beach — less secluded with easier access than Second Beach. The Quileute Tribe has lived in this area for many years. We saw one restaurant but didn’t give it a try. Other than the beach, we didn’t find much to see or do there.
Our time in Olympic National Park is not over. In fact it is just beginning. It is true we must leave Forks, but we have recently found other places to stay. Our love affair will continue for a few more days. Yes…it is exciting. I look forward to sharing our adventures. I hope you will check back to see where we go next.
Until then — Happy days and safe travels.