Storming the Olympics

Crossing the muddy banks of the Wishkah River, we entered a nirvana of natural wonders on the Olympic Peninsula of Western Washington. Simply known locally as the “Olympics”, the Olympic Peninsula is the northwesternmost and wettest place in the 48 contiguous United States.

Olympic Peninsula Model, Olympic National Park Visitor Center, Port Angeles, WA

Like the Pacific storms that lash the peninsula, the track of our visit began along the wild and tempestuous coastline, ascended inland into lush old-growth rain forests, and culminated in the lofty peaks of the Olympic Mountains.

Ochre Sea Stars and Giant Green Anemones, Tide Pools, Kalaloch Beach 4

Early each morning, during the full moon low tides, we set out from our initial base in the logging town of Forks for the nearby Pacific beaches. On the uncovered rocky points at Kalaloch Beach 4 and Second Beach near La Push, we found a myriad of tide pools teeming with giant green anemones and multi-colored ochre sea stars.

Sea Stacks at Low Tide, Second Beach near La Push

Standing prominently offshore, sea stacks cleaved from the mainland by wave erosion were also accessible during the receded tide. We explored several of these steep rocky islets, ever wary of the rising sea level and the prospect of becoming marooned.

Drift Logs, Ruby Beach

Back up along the wrack line, colossal drift logs unable to escape the Pacific currents lay high and dry like thousands of crestfallen castaways. Most of these sun-bleached logs originated as ancient giants carried by raging rivers from the rainforests of the peninsula’s western foothills.

Hoh River in the Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Like the storm clouds that blow inland with the rapidly rising topography, we drifted into the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula. We visited both the luxuriant Quinault Rainforest and celebrated Hoh Rainforest, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.

Quinault Rainforest on a Sunny Day

Hiking the rainforest’s sodden trails, we observed a lush primeval canopy filled with coniferous and deciduous trees. Below, ferns thrived in the shaded undergrowth, and mosses and lichens carpeted the forest floor. Along the way, we paused to admire monumental Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock trees, some over 300 feet tall.

Klahhane Ridge Trail, Olympic National Park

While Pacific storms annually drop over 12 feet of rain in the rainforests, the saturated air continues to rise overland, and releases another 30 feet of snowfall in the Olympic Mountains. To access this high country, we drove up to Hurricane Ridge inside the Olympic National Park.

Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

From the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, we hiked to the top of Hurricane Hill and out along the Klahhane Ridge Trail. From these panoramic vistas, we counted hundreds of mountain glaciers, including those adorning Mount Olympus, the highest point on the Olympic Peninsula.

Dancing Sea Stars, Second Beach near La Push

Whether falling as heavy snow in the high mountains or as profuse rain in the foothill rainforests, soaking Pacific weather systems shape the peninsula’s varied landscapes and distinctive ecosystems. From the exposed beaches and verdant rainforests to the soaring mountain highlands, we encountered a nirvana of natural wonders while storming the Olympics.

Perfunctory National Park Pic

Feature Photo: Wishkah River Bridge in Aberdeen, Washington, “Gateway to the Olympics” and hometown of the late Curt Cobain, founder of the grunge rock band Nirvana.

14 thoughts on “Storming the Olympics

    • Hi Neil, We are almost half-way through our two month road trip. So far, we have executed our plan pretty smoothly. The natural beauty of Western Washington has exceeded our expectations. As you say, the scenery is spectacular and diverse. One day we are peering into brilliant tide pools and the next we are looking up at towering trees. It’s enough to give a guy a sore neck. Take good care.

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    • Thanks, Marty! Since we are still on the road, I am regrettably slow to reply to your amusing comment. I hope you have your nose bleed under control by now. Hurricane Ridge is the best place for the general public to view Mt. Olympus and the rest of the Olympic Mountain Range. I suppose one could get closer by making a long trek through the dense forests and over the mountain glaciers. On this trip; however, we are just hitting the highlights. There is so much to see and do in western Washington. ~Joe

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  1. I had no idea Washington was so beautiful! We were hoping to visit Washington and Oregon just before the pandemic struck, but now I realize that it is going to be a huge priority for us moving forward. Thanks for sharing your trip and photos!

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    • I am happy that you enjoyed the photos and commentary, Ann. With the pandemic and your family’s health issues, it has been especially hard for you to travel. I really hope that you and your husband can soon realize your plans to visit the Pacific Northwest. It is a wonderful destination for such a nature lover as yourself. For now, I am pleased that you can appreciate the beauty of western Washington, albeit secondhand. Take good care. ~Joe

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    • Thanks, Anonymous! It is delightful to receive such a kind and generous comment from a mystery reader. The Olympic National Park is huge, but the highlights can be visited easily in a few days. Hurricane Ridge and the Hoh Rainforest are the top two attractions, but the beaches are nearby and spectacular at low tide. Thanks for adding the park to your list and for checking in on us. ~Joe & Es

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    • Thanks, Phil & Michaela! You make an insightful connection between the weird and interesting plants and fungi of the rainforest and the blooms of the giant green anemones of the tide pools. It seems a copious volume of rainfall is the common denominator. I was surprised to learn that the rainforest supports hundreds of species living in the tree canopy, on the forest floor, and in the nutrient-rich soils. We have thoroughly enjoyed our trip and have gained a better appreciation of the marvels of nature along the way. Happy, safe and memorable travels to you!

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    • It is wonderful to hear from you on the blog, Jim. Yesterday, Esther and I hiked to the rim of the Mt. St. Helens crater. It was 4,500 feet of elevation gain over only 4 miles of boulders and loose volcanic ash. It was a miserable hike but worth every painful step. Today, we are finishing up in Washington and heading to Silver Lake to visit with Don and Connie for a couple of days. We are looking forward to seeing them and their new home. We are super excited to have the chance to see you this Sunday. Thanks for getting everyone together. Joe

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    • I am glad you made it home safely, Janis. This trip was the first time I have visited the Olympic Peninsula. As you know from your own visits in the past, the landscapes are so varied and beautiful. I’m sure you found many similarly wonderful places in Vancouver on your recent blogger get-together there. Have a fantastic fall in sunny Southern California!

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