I really should have known better. Going to one of America’s most stunning national parks in a rainforest, no less, smack dab in the middle of Covid. I didn’t plan ahead, and I certainly didn’t bother to check carefully which attractions were even open.
The only thing on my mind was…”Road trip? Heck yes, I’m going!”
So it was I found myself heading up the road from Portland, OR on the I-5 road into Washington State. Located west of Seattle on a peninsula, Olympic National Forest is America’s largest temperate rainforest, and a beast of a national park. All of this land (and the air above) is protected and there is a large indigenous population that still make their home here.
If you’ve seen any of the Twilight movies, or read the books, this is the setting of much of Bella and Edward’s adventures. The landscape is full of deep, dense forest lined with craggy beaches dotted with sea logs and the most amazing marine life. True beauty.
My First Mistake
There is so much to explore here, but for some reason I only booked one night in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. Will I ever learn? Two days is not near enough time to get even an introductory tour of the place, but as this was my second time visiting the park, I did have loose a strategy in mind.
The main road of the park circumvents the outer edges of the peninsula. Most people don’t even see the vast interior rainforest, because you need a backpacker’s permit to access it. There is nary a road inland other than the occasional park service road, which is off limits to the general public. Even if these roads were open, you would need a 4×4 off-road vehicle to tackle them.
My Second Mistake
I wanted to see the Tree of Life, a beach or two, a forest hike, and then visit the park’s main draw, Hurricane Ridge. A cursory look online at the best beach hikes and I quickly chose to do the hike from Third Beach to Strawberry Beach, which started in the tiny community of La Push.
I drove an hour and a half to the trailhead, only to discover that it was off-limits due to Covid. The parking lot was barricaded and the path to the trail closed off. If I had only checked the current conditions before my journey, I would have known this. Much of the park is on tribal land, and the indigenous people rightly closed it off to visitors due to the pandemic. And I don’t blame them.
So, I doubled back and headed to Kalaloch Beach, which thankfully was open. There lies the tree of life. A mysterious and beautiful tree that has managed to stay alive, even though its roots hover like a gargantuan ghost over a break in the sand dune it sits on. I took some great shots and even went back in the evening hours to catch the gorgeous sunset and the lights playing on the tree.
Bear Sightings, Oh My!
The next day, I soldiered on round the top of the peninsula and headed for Sol Duc Falls. This is getting deep into the rainforest, and Sol Duc Resort is a lovely retreat for those who love water, for there is a spa and a waterfall. The latter of which was on my list of places to visit.
As I left the main road and headed down the road inland, my car rounded a bend, and I spied something about to cross the road. As I approached, it looked black and on four legs, with a casual gait crossing the road, totally oblivious to my car. A black bear. It was the first time I had ever seen one not in a photo or on video. My car crawled to a stop and I simply sat there, mesmerized as the bear crossed. Who, by the way, paid no attention to me or my car whatsoever.
Sometimes unplanned trips take on a serendipity all their own.
Needless to say, it was the highlight of my trip. It even surpassed the epic hike I did later that day at Hurricane Ridge. High atop a mountain, the ridge is 17 miles south of Port Angeles and a must stop if you ever see fit to visit Olympic National Park.
And if you come here, you may also enjoy the elusive bear sighting yourself.