After living in Washington for a few years, I’ve been itching to see more of the state. We drive to Eastern Washington every other weekend to get the kids, but other than the Tulip Festival and Whidbey Island, there hasn’t been much that I’ve explored. John and I knew that the Olympic Peninsula is somewhere we had to go, because he loves rainy, dark weather and I love lush forests. We both had never been to a rainforest before and our inner geology nerds took over.
Our goal was to take a look around the “thumb” of Washington, so we drove from Olympia to Aberdeen and then up to Forks. Driving through Aberdeen was a pleasant surprise, because all we knew was that Kurt Cobain grew up there. It was actually a pretty cute town that had just seen some better days.
The drive up to the Hoh Rainforest was… pretty boring. We kept expecting for a forest to envelope the road and to see huge trees on either site of us, but mostly it just felt like were were driving through anywhere. We couldn’t spot the Olympic mountains and most of the drive took place farther from the coast than expected.
When we were officially in rainforest territory, we finally were driving parallel to the coast and in a spontaneous moment that is rare for both John and I, we pulled over, hopped out and climbed down to the beach. The most famous beaches in that part of the coast are numbered, and we think we were at Beach 2. It was exactly as I imagined, grey as far as the eye could see, foggy and chilly. John ran into the waves and played around with the drift wood like a little kid. We both felt pretty happy to have finally seen the Pacific Ocean in Washington!
Once we wiped ourselves out, we ambled back to the car and drove almost immediately into the Hoh Rainforest. The guide book recommended a burger place at the “entrance” of the rainforest, but 5 miles feels like a long time on those twisty interior roads! The Hard Rain Cafe was a funny little place, with one person running a kitchen and small gift shop. The burgers WERE good, and while John and I appreciated the eclectic decor and outdoor picnic tables, we saw one family go in, turn up their noses and loudly proclaim that they would try to find something better in Forks. For us, it was the perfect place to recoup before our hike.
It was another slow 15 miles or so until we reached the Visitor Center and we still weren’t super happy with how the rainforest looked. First, we were expecting rain and it was frustratingly sunny and warm, which only happens like THIRTY days out of the year. Second, the trees looked almost exactly like the Cascades, which I’d hiked through a million times before. John kept repeating that the Olympics are geologically different from the Cascades because the Cascades are composed of volcanic matter and the Olympics aren’t… but you really could’ve fooled us. I think we just had such a vivid idea of what the forest would look like, they were ultimately disappointed. We kept our hikes simple and took the two most popular hikes off of the Visitor Center, the Hall of Moses and the Spruce Trail. The Hall of Moses trip was less than a mile, and yes, mossy, but no more so than any hike I’ve taken through the Cascades. The most impressive part for me (and the most Lord of the Rings-ish) was the moss floating in the water and the cute mushroom at the entrance.
I think I enjoyed the Spruce trail more than the Hall of Mosses because I had zero expectations. There were a few really big fallen trees that we took pictures with and the overall terrain was very Jurassic Parks-ish with lots of ferns and a chance to walk along the water. After our hikes, we headed to our hotel in Forks. Vampire references aside, Forks is TINY, but 3,000 people make it one of the most populated towns in that area. Our hotel, the Olympic Suites Inn, really impressed us! When I made the reservation, I was surprised to hear that the fee would be $65 a night and assumed that the experience would be more “motel” than “hotel”. When we arrived, we realized our hotel was really just a woodsy apartment complex that had been made over, possibly for all the vampire traffic coming through. The unit had a full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom, and was larger than most apartments in Seattle! The decor was definitely “hotel” looking, but it was clean and warm and we were incredibly happy with our stay. The funniest part was when we checked in, the girl gave her little speech about the rules of the hotel and ended with “And please, do not clean your fish.” I was occupied with the paperwork, but John said, “Um, what?!” and the woman explained that fishermen come through and occasionally get drunk and start cleaning their catch of the day in the hotel bathtub. John and I looked at each other in a “we’re not in Seattle anymore” kind of way.
After a while of relaxing in the hotel room, we decided to venture out for one more experience for the day, dinner. Forks didn’t have a whole lot to offer, so I proposed driving out to La Push for dinner at a spot that came highly recommended in the books. (Yes, I did a lot of research for this trip!) After a short 20 minute drive to the coast, we were greatly rewarded for our dinner choice. The sun was going down and the fog was coming in, but when we arrived at the River’s Edge Restaurant we saw the most beautiful sight that we’d seen all day. Just outside the restaurant window was a monstrous couple islands surrounded by steep cliffs. If that wasn’t sweet enough, our dinner was amazing. I ordered the Prime Rib special with a mumble of “treat yo self” under my breath and when it arrived I was basically the happiest person alive. John kept looking at me like I was going to keel over, but I did ok! I saved about 10 bites and ate them for breakfast the next day.
I’ll add more in my next post!