Monday, September 17, 2012

Exploring Western Olympic National Park: Sol Duc, Hoh Rainforest, and Rialto Beach

Sol Duc Falls (all photos by Steve Nelson)

Today's guest post is by my friend Betty, who recently spent several days camping near Sol Doc Hot Springs in Washington's Olympic National Park. This is the locale of my first week-long backpacking trip as a teen, so it's an area near and dear to me, and fabulous place to visit.

Mushrooms growing on trees. A big waterfall. Tall stately trees with moss hanging from branches. Brown pelicans and eagles overhead. Sea stars and anemones in the water.

Our recent trip to Washington's Olympic National Park offered stimuli for the senses and solace for the soul. And we also enjoyed a soak in hot spring pools with people from around the world.

We rolled into Sol Duc valley campground on Wednesday afternoon before Labor Day weekend and found a site with a decent-sized flat spot for a tent, picnic table, and fire grate. A little drizzle caused us to be blue tarp campers for a day. Fortunately, the light rain ended that night.

Some of the heaviest rainfall on the planet here on the western side of the Olympic Mountains makes the Sol Duc River valley, in the northwest edge of the park, green and lush. It’s a wonderful place to visit during the wet season (three-quarters of the year) but easier to camp during the dry summer. 

The next day we headed to the trailhead at the end of the road, where backcountry trips to Seven Lakes Basin often start. With almond butter/ jam/fresh strawberry sandwiches (fresh strawberries make an almond butter and jam sandwich quite delicious) and all the other essentials in our packs, we hiked to the main attraction, less than a mile up the trail:  Sol Duc Falls. 

We joined the admiring throng of people for a few minutes at the waterfalls, then turned right after the bridge and resumed our trek to Deer Lake, about 3  miles up the trail. The crowds dissipated and the trail turned rocky, with careful footing required. Mushrooms and tall trees with moss-covered branches entranced us on this trail that roughly follows the course of Canyon Creek. 

Deer Lake

After a lunch break at one of the backcountry camps on the way up, we reached Deer Lake, where we saw tents set up across the lake. At the alpine lakeshore, we relaxed on a log before hiking back down to cook dinner at our campsite. Our evening treat was a $3 shower at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.
On Friday, the Hoh Rain Forest, about 2 hours drive from Sol Duc, and Rialto Beach beckoned. At the small Hoh visitor center, we bought pocket guides on mushrooms and birds after enjoying the interesting exhibits and helpful staff. 
Two short nature trails (the Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail) offer easy interpretive hikes. We chose the mosses trail for many wow moments looking at big trees, some swathed in club moss. This area averages 142 inches of rain annually, which is almost four times that of Seattle.

Lots of 'shrooms in the Hoh Rainforest love all that rain.

Back on Highway 101, we headed north through Forks and then to Rialto Beach, one of the many wild Pacific Coast beaches within Olympic National Park. At Rialto, the parking lot is right next to the beach, so access is easy. Wind and temps about 10 degrees cooler than inland prompted us to throw on a couple layers before walking north along the beach. 

Sea stack at Rialto Beach
Within minutes we saw two bald eagles and flocks of big birds. After a few minutes of gazing through binoculars, we realized they were brown pelicans; seeing them was quite a treat. 

Brown pelicans off Rialto Beach

The tide was going out for another couple of hours, so we had plenty of time to check out the tide pools at Hole in the Wall, a rock formation passable only during low tide. A few parties were carrying backpacks and containers of water for a weekend of camping among the drift logs. (Fresh water is not available here.)

Sea star and anenomes Hole in the Wall tidepool

In the early evening, the clouds lifted again, and we warmed up in the waning sun that cast a dusky evening glow.  

With sunset coming soon, we enjoyed a picnic dinner of crackers, salami, goat brie, tapenade, and fruit (hmmmm) at the beach and caught the last sunlight before returning to Sol Duc for the night.

Sunset over the Pacific at Rialto Beach

On our last full day, we found it easy to stay close to camp. The short trail near our campsite offered beautiful tall trees, mushrooms, and a view of the Sol Duc River. We finally had time to soak in the Sol Duc Resort hot springs pools late in the afternoon. This popular resort was crowded over the holiday weekend, but we found a seat and relaxed. Then, back to camp, dinner, and a campfire for our last night at Sol Duc. 

When You Go 
Here is a map of Olympic National Park that shows the places described in this post. Any time of year is a good time to explore the Olympic National Park lowlands and beaches, but be prepared for plenty of rain and storms from fall through spring. September is a great time to go before the weather turns in earnest. (Like now. This week. Weather is supposed to stay sunny and dry. Hop in your car and drive west!) Click here for campground information.



Jill said...

Great blog post Betty! Makes me want to jump in my car and drive over there tonight with my tent and camping gear, binocs, and camera. Too bad I have to work all week. :(

Jan H said...

Thanks Betty and Jill! I was reliving our circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula from last summer as I read it.Great pictures too!
It's time for us all to go camping again before the rains return.