Washington State's Olympic Peninsula
Mount Olympus is at the center of a region dotted with thick forests, remote beaches, and rejuvenating hot springs. Let the games begin.
Day 1: Seattle to Ocean Shores
Since even in the summer one rarely swims outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, spring is a perfect time to visit the Olympic Peninsula. Rates are cheap and, without the summer crowds, the wilderness feels all the more wild.
With daylight at a premium, my wife, Susan, and I motor quickly, resisting the multiple espresso choices offered by every town along the way, including Kurt Cobain's childhood home of Aberdeen (the welcome sign reads COME AS YOU ARE). We reach Ocean Shores on a blustery, fleece-and-base-layer afternoon, and it's not hard to see why the town boasts a champion kite-flying team or why firewood is still for sale.
Ocean Shores is basically a sleeping/shopping/eating hub for tourists, but today the four-lane beachfront boulevard is largely carless. We drive semi-aimlessly toward the marina at the tip-top of Grays Harbor. We weren't really planning to visitOcean Shores Interpretive Center, but hey, it's right here--and a lot bigger and more well-rounded than the quaint small-town museum that we expected. There are rooms of shells and bones and fossils, a preserved eagle's nest, all kinds of bird-watching information, and a taxidermic specimen known as the Passaround Bear--because, as a volunteer tells us, it's been displayed in a handful of local establishments since the 1920s. We also learn that Pat Boone and Ray Charles used to hang out and perform in Ocean Shores back in its 1960s heyday.
A short walk from the museum isDamon Point State Park, where theCatala, a former freighter and "botel," has been buried in the sand since 1965. Storm erosion has brought some of it back to the surface, but since last year it's been fenced off so that the oil still remaining in the wreck can be drained. A big portion of Damon Point is also closed off as a snowy plover nesting habitat. One path to the water is available. We trudge along the dark, gravelly sand, fail to spotany of the baby seals we've been instructed not to pet, and then flee the wind for a nap at theHoliday Inn Express.
Emily's Restaurant, inside the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, provides the answer to the question, Where are all the people? We've come for the salmon, which is either farmed or caught wild by members of the Quinault Nation. The fish is served in the traditional style on a wooden plank the size of a cutting board; it has a decent smoky flavor but is a bit dry for my taste buds. I win back half of what it cost at a fancy electronic slot machine, despite the fact that I don't really understand what constitutes a jackpot.
- Holiday Inn Express685 Ocean Shores Blvd., Ocean Shores, 360/289-4900, from $69
- Emily's78 State Rte. 115, Ocean Shores, 360/289- 9466, roasted salmon $17
- Ocean Shores Interpretive Center1033 Catala Ave. SE, 360/289-4617, interpretivecenter.org, open Apr.-Sept.
- Damon Point State ParkOcean Shores, 360/902-8844, parks.wa.gov
Day 2: Ocean Shores to Neah Bay
The hazelnut-encrusted French toast atOcean Crest Resort in Moclips is so good and rich I barely use the freshly zested orange butter. The restaurant (which is currently closed) sits high on a bluff, with 131 wooden stairs that drop through the trees down onto flat, wide-open Sunset Beach. We walk off breakfast but don't linger, as theQuinault Rain Forest awaits.
After an hour's drive we pause in theQuinault Mercantilestore to sock away some sandwiches; the owner, fisherman and would-be retiree Chuck Coble, says he loves this neck of the woods more than the national park's Hoh Rain Forest because there, the best scenery comes only after long hikes. "Here," says Chuck, "it's 31 miles and you can see it all by car." Funnily enough, our waitress at Ocean Crest told us she prefers the Hoh for the exact same reason. Since we already have a hike planned for tomorrow, Susan and I are down with Chuck's perspective.
"Have you seen the tree?" Chuck asks. No, but we're about to: The World's Largest Sitka Spruce--191 feet tall and just an inch shy of 59 feet around, with an enormous root system--is at the beginning of the Quinault Rain Forest loop drive. Then South Shore Road rambles past homes and farmland--Rainy Daze Farm, the Wild Ass Ranch--before resuming alongside the Quinault River.
At the 10.8 mile mark we cross the river and continue down North Shore Road, which winds and drops into a denser, lower-hanging canopy. We picnic in a meadow by the ranger station, toss our trash into a bear-proof bin, and proceed on foot along the Maple Glade Trail, a half-mile circuit of seemingly boundless forest with maples, mosses, hemlocks, spruces, and, as Susan dubs them,Jurassic Parkferns.