“Every so often, I feel like a condensed version of a Jack London novel. I answer the call of the wild, but I can only get away for a weekend.”
Those of us lucky enough to live in the Puget Sound region know that are spoiled. Within a few hours drive, we can be sleeping at a volcano, relaxing on the wilderness coast, set up on majestic mountain or slumping deep in the rainforest. Often, I find myself needing to get away from it all, longing for a nature-filled oasis of wonder and beauty. While summertime camping trips tend to lead many of us to the beaches and mountains, the off season destinations are more often than not to the beautiful rainforests, with campgrounds ready for backpackers and car campers alike.
Residents of Washington State are spoiled with beauty and probably more spoiled than anywhere else in the nation. Washingtonians have access to the most incredible scenery in America, just 90 drive minutes away from nearly every major city. To the north, south, west and east, we have no shortage of jaw-dropping destinations. Even often over-looked Eastern Washington is full of amazing places to see, explore and discover. Yet, when most people think of Washington State, they think of the westside: the wet side, the green side… You know, the side with the mountains.
Raindrops are falling once again around Olympic National Park. The endlessly glorious summer ended long ago, and amazing warm, blue skies are a thing of the past. The days are growing short, like baby boomers, while the sun hides behind gray clouds, giving us a mere shadow of its potential. The rain is here for awhile, hopefully, and we should be rejoicing. Our life force, the blood of Cascadia, is water. The rain has arrived, and I want it to dump buckets and buckets on the region, giving us the shimmering green we all know and love. This is the Evergreen State. We live in the land of rainforests, wilderness coasts and snowy mountains dotted with glaciers. Without rain, we are nothing.
There are more classic hikes around Washington State than can be listed, though many authors try. It seems like early every road, from the gravel ones in the forest service to the paved ones in the National Parks, leads to a trail that is incredibly, jaw-dropping and beautiful. Around every bend, and in every corner of the state, the classic hikes in the Pacific Northwest are timeless. Many hikes lead to incredible views, and the hike to Summit Lake Trail above the Carbon River by Mount Rainier is one of the greatest.
There are hikes serious hikers are afraid to admit they enjoy.
Maybe it is ego, or maybe it is the expectation that each time they go out, they need to crush 15+ miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but talk with hikers tends to be about their most epic hike. Comparing where you have hiked helps establish a supposed hierarchy of experts, which I have no problem with. Imagine if you know someone and they are sharing with you these incredible peaks, difficult climbs and remote destinations you only daydreamed about visiting. Now imagine in the same breath you hear that last weekend, they only hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. You might raise an eyebrow.
The naming of Olympic National Park’s Maiden Peak is under debate, but the most likely story of why the area is called as such comes from the book Gods and Goblins. In the book, it is said that Maiden Lake and Maiden Peak got named in the summer of 1913, when a bunch of young men and women from around the PNW decided to make it their summer camping destination. For a few weeks, the group camped along the shores of the lake where they were rumored to often skinny dip. According to the oral history of the region, one of the “maidens” hooked up with a local, and the region was forever named for her, including the 6,432ft Maiden Peak.
The region in and around Olympic National Park is known throughout the world as being a wet, damp, and sometimes dreary place. With an average rainfall in some locations of over 14 feet, it is easy to see why we have that reputation. During the summer months, especially in the last couple of years, the rainforests, beaches and ridges of Olympic National Park and forest have been ridiculously dry, with forest fires and other drought symptoms starting to plague this normally lush environment. As temperatures start to increase around the Pacific Northwest, I felt it was time to share a few of my favorite places to stay cool on the hot summer days in and around Olympic National Park. From the rainforests, to the beaches and even some rad little waterfalls, cooling off in the hot summer heat is perfect in and around Olympic National Park.
There is a mountain peak on the Olympic Peninsula and it has been staring at me, beckoning me for many years on clear skies from almost every corner of the Puget Sound. That peak is a beautiful mountain with great exposure and it sits right next to one of the most hiked mountains in the Pacific Northwest. That mountain is called Mount Washington. At 6255ft. it’s the couple-hundred-feet-taller bigger sibling of the well-loved Mount Ellinor. Mount Ellinor gets all the hype and traffic, Mount Washington deserves equal, if not more praise.
People love wildflowers. Actually, that is an understatement. People go crazy for wildflowers each and every summer, flocking to the high-alpine meadows around Mount Rainier, hoping for a chance to witness every colorful petal. Each summer, visitors from around the world for a chance to see, smell, and take in the gorgeousness of the flowery fields. Mount Rainier National Park is often viewed as the best place in the world for wildflowers, and after spending a summer day here, you will agree.
The Staircase region of Olympic National Park is full of surprises, be it the stunning mountain views at Flapjack Lakes and Gladys Divide, the serene sounds and sights along the Skokomish River, or the solitude and splendor of Wagonwheel Lake and Cub Peak. Up high in the Staircase region, mountain goats roam the rocky peaks, while the rare marmot tans itself on the exposed rocks in the sun. Down below in the Skokomish River Valley, elk and deer graze, while a few black bear and cougar hide from view. The Skokomish is magical, wild, and just one of the hundreds of fantastic places to experience Olympic. Yet, it holds even more secrets for those willing to hike a bit further, and climb a bit higher. One such place is Black and White Lakes.
The state of Oregon has many amazing and beautiful places, and yet, has just one National Park. Down in the south central Cascades, an ancient volcanic lake sits, waiting for your discovery. Widely recognized, yet rarely visited, Crater Lake National Park is a crown jewel in the National Park Service, offering visitors a wide variety of experiences, views and destinations within the park boundaries. Surrounded by beauty in every direction, visiting Crater Lake is an experience everyone should have, which is why I am encouraging a road trip this year. In 2014, Crater Lake National Park saw just 837,409 visitors. In 2015, we will push them over one million!
Port Angeles is an amazing small town on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula. Home to just under 20,000 residents, this port city offers stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island, and gives those willing to drive a few miles the chance to have the best scenery in America. Just 17 miles and 5,000 feet in elevation from this sleepy town, visitors from all over the world flock to see the stunning panoramic views from Hurricane Ridge. With the rainforest, wild coastlands, awesome views while skiing and snowboarding and some of the most remote wilderness a short trip away, Port Angeles is one of the best small towns in America.
We all know and love Mount Rainier, but few people outside of the hiking community take the time to explore the trails surrounding Washington State’s second-most visited National Park. In 2014, 1.3 million people visited Mount Rainier National Park, with 225,887 entering through the eastern side at the Nisqually Entrance. While the majority of those people had an amazing time at Mount Rainier, nearly all of them missed out on a chance to see a gorgeous lake just miles from the base of this iconic volcano.
Mount Rainier Park tends to get overlooked by everyone, which is a funny thing to say about a volcano rising over 14,409 feet above sea level. Mount Rainier is one of the most visible and iconic mountains in North America, and is located 54 miles from the city of Seattle, which sits just above sea level. Each year, Mount Rainier has tens of millions of eyes gaze upon the glaciated summit during the sunny days, when locals say “the Mountain is out.” Everyone who lives near the mountain knows its shape by memory, and yet, few travel to this National Park and mountain.
Olympic National Park is constantly one of America’s most-visited National Parks, yet few take the time to explore more than a mile or so off trail. With 611 miles of trails in the park, and nearly one million acres of wilderness to explore, backpacking in Olympic National Park gets you up close and personal to one of the worlds last remain wild areas. From rugged, glaciated peaks, to isolated set-stacks on rugged coastlines, the only American rainforests, high alpine lakes and amazing waterfalls, the trails in the backcountry of Olympic lead to some of the best destinations in the world.
The National Parks of the West, specifically the parks of that are in Montana and Washington State, offer some of the most wild and diverse landscapes in the world. Full of wonder and awe, the five National Parks in these states give visitors experiences they can’t find anywhere else in the world. Whether in Yellowstone or the North Cascades, Glacier, Rainier or Olympic, your trip to these National Parks will give you a five senses all the adventure they can handle.
I have lived here in the Pacific Northwest for fifteen years, and a lot has changed. When I arrived in Seattle in late 2000, the outdoor culture already existed. Of course mountains were climbed, trails hiked, islands kayaked, and gear was purchased, something that had occurred in the city since its inception during the Alaskan Gold Rush.
Located in the shadow of Mount Rainier, two trails give those looking to challenge their fear of heights the ultimate experience. One, located in Mount Rainier National Park, gives hikes a chance to test their merit against a towering, swaying suspension bridge along one of the 11 rivers and major creeks flowing from the iconic and glaciated volcano. The other, to the south of the park, gives those who dare a chance to explore an old lookout tower on a rocky, exposed cliff with breathtaking panoramic views. Both are perfect for visitors who are heading into Mount Rainier National Park‘s east entrance, which leads to Longmire and Paradise.