I casually tossed out the idea the night before but it registered no interest from my mother. Spending a night at Olympic outdoors? It didn’t seem likely on this trip.
We’d left Seattle that morning and concluded we’d try to get to the park and then find a place to stay. The ferry ride to Kingston was smooth, pretty, and the sun seemed to be coming up. We drove the car off the boat, feeling like we were at home here in the northwest, and set off for Port Angeles and the entrance to Olympic National Park.
My mom had never been to a national park before – even my first was the Grand Canyon a month ago. Our family took enjoyable but less adventurous, less outdoorsy vacations when we were younger – Niagara Falls and New York City, San Francisco and Monterey. Walking the dog qualified as hiking sometimes, and camping must have seemed more foreign than moving to the United States.
She seemed not to expect too much, firing off shots from her small camera every time we drove by a finger of a lake or went over a hill, a broad swath of pine-lined road ahead. I tried to make the point that these parks were national treasures, pieces of land so extraordinary that even the most capitalist of countries had decided they were worth setting aside. She just kept on clicking.
Olympic greatly exceeded her ideals, and mine were trampled over too. It’s a large park with a stunning variety of settings, from snow-capped mountain ranges to a fiercely spectacular coastline to alpine lakes and even a rainforest. A road runs along the perimeter with a few lanes leading to sights inland.
One of these was to Hurricane Ridge, with which we started. At 5,200 feet, it was said to be a stunning viewpoint across the Olympic peaks but on this day, clouds hugged the mountain and we couldn’t see the top. We kept driving anyway, up the beautiful two lane road, exposed to the side of the mountain the whole way. A creek rushed down a gap in the trees. A deer ambled up the side of the road, paying no mind to us driving by. Somewhere around then we realized that the clouds were clearing up as we got higher, and were mostly gone on the south side of the ridge.
Not long from the top, we turned into an open view of the mountains and pulled over. We walked around, took in the air, traced a trail. The range in the distance was snow-covered at the top, smaller pine-forested mountains in the foreground. Banks of clouds sat tightly over some of them, others exposed to a bright blue sky. My mom couldn’t stop grinning. It was cold up here but neither of us seemed to care; discomfort doesn’t register when the senses are so overtaken.
We continued up to the lodge and had lunch overlooking the mountain range. By now fog had started to creep across the parking lot so after a sandwich and a salad and coffee and tea we left for a hike up the famed Hurricane Ridge Trail. I was a bit nervous at this point, not wanting to push too far, pack too much into one day. But my mom showed no hesitation, no fear, either not noticing the narrow climb along the spine of a mountain or ignoring her self-doubt. We walked along patiently and slowly, stepping over piles of snow and patches of mud. We came to a point where a big bank of snow brought the trail to the edge of the cliff, a steep tumble just beyond. My mom hesitated, considered stopping, but we kept onward, focusing on the ground, moving slowly and with one foot steadily placed in front of the other. We crossed to the other side of the trail and she turned around to take a picture of what she’d just accomplished.
The road back down was a steady coast, my foot on the brake for 17 sinewy miles. My mom, riding on adrenaline, somehow agreed to giving camping a shot for the night. We drove onwards, past the serenely blue Crescent Lake and left towards Sol Duc for a hike towards the waterfall and then a night at the campground. We slept in the car for a few hours and then left for the coast at 6am.
After some wandering in a shabby town by the beach, we found the turnoff for Rialto Beach and saw a rainbow at the end of the road. I hurriedly parked and jumped out and across a mass of logs tossed ashore and took a few pictures as my mom excitedly followed. We walked around the surreal setting for a while, my mom picking up a few especially smooth and polished pebbles from the beach covered in them, me trying to capture the rainbow in its full glory. The ocean was frothy, the tide was pulling away. The clouds behind it were gray and heavy while sunshine streamed down from behind us. Trees lined the shore but where ghost-like, stripped bare by the fierce winds, only ashy limbs still left. Not a single other person was around.
Breakfast in Twilight-town (Forks, WA) followed – neither of us knew much about the werewolves and whatnot. More hiking ensued at the Hoh River Rainforest, but by now my mom was tired. She worked her way around, giving in to a slightly longer trail than she would’ve preferred. We strolled through lichen draped trees, towering pines, and still ponds. At a late lunch at the Kalaloch Lodge, I convinced my mom to taste a scallop but couldn’t get much further than a bite.
We hiked along mountain ridges, walked through rainforests, caught a rainbow on a stunning beach. My mom pushed herself to heights and hikes she’d never done, and saw sights and places she’d never seen. Olympic was my mom’s first national park, and hopefully we both (and my dad and my brother) have several more to come.
View pictures from Olympic.