Land of Diversity ~ Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Snow-capped mountains, temperate rain forests, fog-shrouded beaches, and wild coastline – this is the Olympic Peninsula.

Over 3600 square miles of land in western Washington, largely unmapped until 1898, encompass the Olympic Peninsula.  Although not an island, it is technically bordered by water on all sides: to the north, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or the Salish Sea as it is known by the locals, separates the US from Canada; on the east the Puget Sound extends nearly 100 miles; the vast Pacific Ocean crashes into the rugged west coastline, creating dramatic tree-topped sea stacks; and the only fresh water barrier is the Chehalis River on the south.

The Olympic mountain range dominates the center of the peninsula, the second largest range in Washington behind the Cascades.  This is not a tall mountain range, Mt. Olympus being the tallest at just under 8,000’, but can still boast about 266 glaciers crowning their peaks.  The most prominent of these glaciers, eight of them, cover 10 square miles of slopes on Mt. Olympus.

The Olympic peninsula contains many salmon-bearing rivers, several natural lakes, many state parks, and one national park, Olympic, where we focused our explorations.

The Wild Olympics Campaign is underway to protect additional wilderness areas within the peninsula, protect salmon under the Wild and Scenic River Act, and provide Olympic National Park a way to acquire additional land near the park from willing sellers.

Olympic National Park protects one of the largest stretches of wilderness coastline in the lower 48 states, over 70 miles.  Rough seas have resulted in treacherous shoreline, no doubt helping to preserve this remote and pristine coast.  Eight American Indian tribes continue to call small fishing villages along this coastline home, working to keep their ancestral traditions alive.  Today the coast appears much as it did when their ancestors paddled cedar canoes past rocky coves and beaches.

Even today severe weather and currents have doomed many a ship that has challenged this remorseless shoreline.  Lives have been lost and thousands of gallons of spilled oil have devastated immaculate beaches, killing sea birds and disrupting delicate ecosystems.

We planned a month here to soak in the beauty of the national park and surrounded headland, absorbing as much history of the area as possible, with the added bonus of meeting several sets of friends along the way.

Our first week on the coast proved to be a laid back time.  With a holiday and the potential for crazy busy campgrounds, we booked a reservation at Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park, ensuring we had a place to call home for the 4th holiday.  Although our Arctic Fox is small in stature, our campsite was an unlevel tight fit.  Adjacent sites were close together as well, but we were happy to be here so quickly set up and headed to the beach to walk in the fog and shake off some road dust.

Terry being enveloped by the fog

When we returned to camp our neighbor had his rap music cranked up and felt the need to berate his wife and children in front of the rest of the campground.  Surprisingly the kids were much better behaved.  As this continued throughout the day we made it our mission the next morning to find a suitable campground for the holiday weekend. South Beach was our answer.  Though nothing more than a gravel parking lot, we had a beachfront site where we enjoyed brisk ocean breezes, long walks on fog-shrouded beaches, lovely sunsets, and easy access to day trips.

We explored the Lake Quinault area, where the 1926 historic Lake Quinault Lodge stands.  This area is often called the Valley of the Rain Forest Giants, being home to some of the largest and most impressive trees, such as the largest Sitka spruce tree in the world (how do they know this?).

We had read much about the Hoh River Rain Forest, which is purported to be one of the best examples of a temperate rain forest in the world, so this became another of our scheduled day treks.  We hiked the Hoh River Trail, winding through a forest of spike moss-laden trees.  It doesn’t harm the trees but can weigh as much as four times that of the trees own foliage.  We both agreed that this rain forest looked very dry, likely the result of this year’s drought.

Beyond this we were content to walk miles of driftwood-strewn beaches for the week and our fireworks were compliments of Mother Nature. 🙂

This was our fireworks display on the 4th, at South Beach.
This was our fireworks display on the 4th, at South Beach.

Next Up:  Moody beaches and tide pools

42 thoughts on “Land of Diversity ~ Olympic Peninsula, Washington

  • I am happy you got to see so much of this area. Wish we had known you were in the area sooner we could have met up elsewhere. Celene had a good report from the Dr. that did this last surgery. Healing well which is good. That process won’t hold back whatever has to be done next.

    • I wish I had thought to suggest we meet up sooner as well Ardythe, now that I know how close you are to so much we visited. So very glad to hear that Celene got a good report from the doctor. I will keep her in my prayers. Thanks again for such a wonderful time. 🙂

  • Oh, man…when we were at Hoh in 1996, it was dripping wet. We had a picnic on our tailgate in our rain gear and were loving it. People thought we were nuts, but we weren’t the ones without the proper gear!

    Enjoy your time in the Olympics, LuAnn!


  • My favorite kind of fireworks! It’s sad when ignorant people ruin the enjoyment for others. We had a great hike at Starved Rock SP but saw our fair share of stupidity 😦 Looks like you ended up with a terrific site with a view and that tree and driftwood…. wow!

    • It’s my kind of fireworks as well Ingrid. Although South Beach was just a parking lot it was much nicer than the spot we had at Kalaloch. I haven’t been to Starved Rock since my senior year in high school! Although your time in the midwest, although I know you could do without the humidity.

  • Wow, beautiful long coastline! Wonderful to have month there to enjoy. Love the “firework”, great shot, LuAnn 🙂

  • We enjoyed our stay at South Beach. It was a great location for exploring the area. We were disappointed in the rain forest. It was very hot and dry when we were there last summer, too. But, oh, that coastline!

    • I remember reading about you two being at South Beach. We really enjoyed our time there, allowing ourselves to be rather lazy, taking long walks on the beach. Hoh was disappointing for us, really dry. Many of the forested hikes we have done in the area seemed more like rain forest than Hoh. But the coastline can’t be beat!

  • So beautiful LuAnn. Fourteen years ago I hiked the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island. Your photos take me back to that first big adventure of mine. The fog, the massive trees and roots, the endless sand.

    • Thanks Sue! Vancouver Island is another place we want to spend some time exploring. So much to see in our beautiful countries.

  • This area has been on my wish list for a very long time. We had hoped to make it up there this fall, but we still seem to be juggling real estate issues. It looks so lovely. Can’t wait to get up and see it for myself.

  • Gorgeous photos, LuAnn!! So glad you included Terry on the tree trunk for size perspective. That is one large tree! Love the photo of Terry shrouded in the fog:) Thanks for explaining the area. I am thinking we may need to spend next summer in Oregon and Washington. A few years ago we spent the summer in the city areas of both states, but I think it may be time to do the coast:) I think Colorado might be better in September and October.

    We were wondering how you were fairing with driving your home everywhere and hooking up and unhooking, but now I see how you are handling it! Leave the home there!

    You must be getting ready to head to Lopez Island for your month with Eric and Laurel. Have a wonderful time!! Looking forward to hearing all about it:)

    • Thanks Pam! I would highly recommend the Oregon and Washington coast next summer. We have loved them both. And Colorado in the fall is spectacular. All those golden aspen! Our little home comes with us at times or can stay behind, depending on how level the site is. Yes, this morning we head over to Lopez Island on the ferry. Hopefully when we get settled I will have more time to get caught up on my blog postings. Enjoy the rest of your time back east with your family, then get back out to the west! 🙂

  • Your photos are fabulous. The fog photo of Terry is absolutely gorgeous.

    We didn’t get to visit Olympic Peninsula when we were out that way a few years back. Thanks so much for doing such an wonderful job of capturing the area. Breath taking for sure!

    • Thanks Marsha! Well, you will just have to come to the Northwest some day to explore. There is such diversity in this corner of the country.

  • We loved the diversity of Olympic National Park! You certainly captured the beauty and mood of the fern-laden trails, the gorgeous rocky creeks, and the foggy beaches. Terry is dwarfed by that enormous spruce! It’s such a unique area of the country — I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures. (Actually, you can tell me in person, hehe.) 🙂

  • Your pictures bring back memories of our camping on the Olympic Peninsula. The forests were almost too dense and wet for our tenting, so we camped along a high escarpment above the ocean and explored from there. Lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks below each evening.

    • That sounds like the perfect place to tent camp Gale. What a wonderful part of the country to explore. Wish I would have discovered the west earlier in life.

  • I hate ignorant neighbours, if people want to listen to loud music, earphones are the way forward, spare the rest of us, still I am glad you found a place with a good view. I love the variation of the landscape you travel through, it really does help me appreciate what natural beauty we have.

  • Great Pictures! Since we are no longer in a hurry to be somewhere next year, we will copy your trip to this beautiful peninsula. With your little home, you can be anywhere you want in short notice just to avoid those obnoxious campers.

  • The coast line looks fabulous ! I’ve been in the region before, but I had to chose between going to the olympic peninsula or mount rainier.. and I chose mount rainier. It was a tough choice!

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