Olympic National Park with Kids

June 19, 2011 at 10:08 am
A typical beach

A typical beach

Olympic is way out there at the very North West tip of the USA. Easily within reach of Seattle and Vancouver, BC, it sees a lot fewer people than many of the other parks I have covered so far. But is this warranted?

We’ve been to Olympic twice – it’s huge, and we covered a different section each time. It’s also not a single “piece” of National Park. There are towns and villages and Indian reservations scattered in and around it.  We had two awesome trips. But…we had to deal with the infamous weather of this part of the world, so be prepared for rain, even if you go in summer. Of course, perhaps the biggest draw of the region now is the little logging town of Forks, made world-famous by the incredible popularity of the Twilight series. It’s almost a given that with kids on board, you’ll be making a stop in Forks.

On our first trip, we made our own HQ in Port Angeles, the largest town on the peninsula, which has lots of hotels in various categories.

The Park is divided into various sections, and we visited Hurricane Ridge, which offers incredible hiking and views all the way to Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria, BC. Our hike on Hurricane Ridge was awesome – we hiked all the way to the top of Hurricane Hill – the kids were great and managed just fine, and the views were incredible.

The following day we drove all the way to the Makah Indian Reservation. I had read about the Shishi Beach trail, which sounded well off the beaten track and beautiful. Well, it was, but we were nearly defeated by the weather. The trail has since apparently been improved, but on our trip a few years aback, it was raining and the trial had turned into a boggy quagmire in parts. In fact, in one especially treacherous part, one of the kids lost their sandals, which sank into the mud. He then proceeded to lie down and thrust his arm deep into the mud to search. After about ten very gooey minutes, he held up the sandal triumphantly!

Shi shi Beach itself looked like it could have been an incredible place to spend a couple of hours. The north west Pacific coast has huge rocky outcrops in the sea called seastacks (you can find these all the way down along the Oregon Coast) and hiking along the beach is supposed to be excellent, but by the time we reached there, the rain was bucketing down, and we briefly took out our sandwiches, ate them, and turned around as quickly as we could. Still, the kids, seemed to be in their element and would have been happy to stay longer on the beach in the rain. I guess this is what can and often does happen on the Olympic Peninsula. The reservation itself has a very good and well-tended museum, and we stopped in at a tiny salmon smokehouse, where we bought some great smoked salmon from the cook himself, and we could even take a look at how he did it.

We drove down to Forks and stopped in at the beautiful Rialto Beach, which was spectacular (and the rain had stopped). Forks itself was only starting to become known – my niece wanted to take a look at the school and other sights she’s read about, but there was nothing in the way of tourist information then. We ate lunch in a miserable diner where things seemed unchanged for at least four decades.

Exploring Forks, WA

Exploring Forks, WA

This past spring we revisited the Olympic Peninsula. We explored it from the Southern side this time. Driving from Seattle, we headed to the Park via Olympia,, and on our first night we stayed at Kalaloch Lodge, in the park itself. Kalaloch was great – we had a huge cabin, and with firewood provided we made a roaring fire. The lodge is right at the beach, and we took a great walk on the beach before heading back to our cabin to make dinner in what was an excellently outfitted kitchen. The lodge offers meals of course, but we were happy doing our own thing. The following day we revisited Forks, and what a difference from the last time. The town has a staffed visitor center now, and they have gotten on board the Twilight train fully. We took a self guided driving tour around the town seeing all the spots made famous in the books, and even the restaurants seem to have improved a lot. We had a pretty good pizza, and the overall selection seemed vastly improved.

We stopped in at the famous Ruby Beach to look for rubies – well, at least the kids did, and with great weather, it was a completely different experience from the first trip. Finally, we headed to the Hoh Rainforest, another section of the park, and did a great short hike through the forest. It would have been pretty miserable had it been raining, but it was a sunny day and the rain forest was magnificent. The kids loved the hike too.

Mossy trees

Mossy trees

We stayed the second night at the Quinault Lodge. A typically National Parks wooden building, it was built in under two months and was made famous by FDR’s visit in the 1930’s. We loved it – atmospheric, a roaring fireplace in the lounge, a games room for kids and a good heated swimming pool. We actually stayed in the modern building next door which was like any motel and served us well. Best was the weather – great spring sunshine – we played soccer on the vast front lawn and saw eagles flying overhead. We took a short hike along the edge of the lake and it was very special indeed.

To summarise, Olympic offers a real nature experience and you can do lots – in sunny weather its beautiful , and in the rain, it is eerily atmospheric, exactly what readers fo Twilight would expect. A great destination especially for  any “tween” or teen.

PS: These days I plan great trip for families to destinations worldwide. Click here for more details.