We were going to Crater Lake National Park. This was it, finally. We made the plan in the spring, knowing good and well Oregon might be on fire come the end of August, but still. We’d spent four years talking about visiting Crater Lake together and this was our year, dammit. Fuck the historical data, we were doing it.
But then it was August and, sure enough, Oregon was on fire.
By the middle of the month we were checking the webcams overlooking Crater Lake daily, texting each other sad-face emoji updates as a smoky haze hid the lake from view.
“We knew this might happen,” we said, because we did. We knew.
A few days before my flight to Oregon I asked a bunch of national park-loving strangers on Facebook what we should do, if we should still go to Crater Lake or alter our plans and go north, to Washington.
“Go north,” they said. “It’s smoky at Crater Lake every day, so go to the coast, go to Olympic, go to North Cascades, just don’t go to the lake.”
So we went north.
I asked her which she would prefer, Olympic or Mount Rainier National Park.
“Olympic,” she said. “I’ve never been.”
I flew to Portland a few days later. Then we went to Olympic National Park.
DAY 1 || FRIDAY
There are a bunch of campsites within Olympic National Park, but only two accept advance reservations and they were both booked. I was worried the campsite would be full, that we’d have to spend a bunch of time hopping from campsite to campsite trying to find a place to sleep for the next two nights.
When we got to the Heart O’ the Hills campsite around 1 p.m., we had options. Enough options that we spent 15 minutes driving from loop to loop rating our favorite picks before finally claiming a site and setting up camp.
We marveled at our luck then went back into Port Angeles, about 25 minutes from our campsite, to pick up some last minute supplies, eat a snack and do some light recreational shopping. We were back at camp as the sun started to set, made a fire, roasted some sausages and called it a night.
DAY 2 || SATURDAY
I am not great at adjusting to time zones, or, put differently, I am real good at waking up crazy early when I’m exploring parks on the West Coast. I just want to go, which is great and fine when I’m alone and scampering in the wilderness. It is less great when I have a travel companion who wakes up at a reasonable time and recognizes the simple pleasure of laying in a warm bed listening to the sounds of the forest at first light.
I tried to make myself useful. I got myself ready, started a fire and made breakfast, organized the disaster we’d made inside our rental car, but mostly I was a ball of anxious energy ready to go and do and see.
This is a thing I struggle with when I visit parks, the overwhelming need to not waste a single precious moment. I can’t stop, won’t stop, and while it allows me to see and do a lot of really incredible things, sometimes it doesn’t allow me to enjoy doing those things. Slowing down is hard for me and sometimes I just don’t have the time to do it. But when I do take more time, when I explore more intentionally, when I allow myself to linger at the top of a mountain I’ve just climbed, or just sit and be still, it’s given me some truly magical moments.
After leaving camp, we started our morning at the Hoh Rain Forest, hiking both the well-trafficked Hall of Mosses Trail (0.8 mi.) followed by the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 mi.). We stopped for BLTs on the way out and headed for the coast, to La Push and Second Beach.
We caught an epic sunset after grabbing a few beers at the Lake Crescent Lodge then headed back to Port Angeles for dinner at Next Door Gastropub. After dinner, we called it a day, headed back to camp and slipped easily into a solid sleep.
DAY 3 || SUNDAY
Having done so much the day before, I woke up decidedly ungrumpy. We packed up the campsite and headed west, stopping only for coffee and breakfast snacks before going straight to the Sol Duc Falls trailhead (1.6 mi.).
We stopped talking once we got to the falls, both of us scampering in our own directions, thankful when the big crowd of hikers left. We didn’t need words to tell each other that yes, this is good, this is right, this is the thing we both love, this is our favorite sort of church.
Our one regret was forgetting to pack trail beers, which we lamented as we sat on rocks beside the Sol Duc River.
“What were we thinking, not bringing the beers,” she asked.
“Maybe because it’s not even 10 a.m.,” I said. “Although we did pass that sign for a wine tasting on the way here, so it’s not like I haven’t already considered drinking today.”
By the time we got back to the car, we were determined to make up for our mistake. We grabbed a few beers and walked the Ancient Groves Nature Trail (0.6 mi.) to a secluded spot overlooking the river and just sat for a while, enjoying the sounds of the forest and our frosty beverages.
Our final stop in Olympic National Park was to the Kalaloch Lodge for lunch, along with a quick and final peek at the coast before heading back to Portland.
ABOUT OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Olympic National Park is located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Within the park’s 1,441 square miles are old-growth forests, the peaks of the Olympic mountains and 73 miles of Pacific coastline. There are three ecosystems within the park and the United Nations declared Olympic both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site.
There are a host of plants and animals that are found no where else on earth there, including the Olympic mud minnow and the Olympic marmot. There are mountain goats, but they’re not native and are a bit of nuisance, sometimes licking the salty legs of sweaty hikers, or chewing on their gear.
The park is wet and the western slopes of the park’s mountains boast the wettest climate in the lower 48. Mount Olympus, standing at 7,980 feet, gets an annual 200 inches of precipitation.
President Grover Cleveland first designated the park as the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897 to address rising concerns about the disappearing forests in the area. Then, in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt designated part of the reserve as the Mount Olympus National Monument to protect the habitat of the Roosevelt Elk. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt visited the area and signed an act designating Olympic National Park. Later, in 1953, the Pacific coast was added to the park.
The park entrance fee for Olympic National Park is $30 per private, individual vehicle. Or, you can get an annual parks pass for $80 (or for free if you're a member of the military). The park is open 24-hours a day, year-round, although some roads are closed seasonally. Check the park website for alerts on road closures or other hazards.