Trip Report: Olympic National Park
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Sol Duc Hot Springs RV Resort (Site #3)
July 19 – 24, 2017
“Nolan!” The man’s voice carried throughout the campground, desperate and ardent. Wendy and I stopped to listen. “NOLAN! Has anyone seen a little boy?!”
It was about 8:45pm but still light out. We had eaten dinner, the kids were in bed, and we were in our PJs. I envisioned a father pacing the campground, hands cupped on either side of his mouth, screaming his son’s name, hoping for the best, expecting the worst.
Wendy started getting dressed. “Take the headlamp,” I told her. She left.
I expected a full-on search to ensue. Wendy expected to leash CeCe and begin searching the woods for the boy. But instead, she returned to the trailer in less than two minutes.
“It was a joke,” she said. “Some kids playing a joke.”
“But it sounded like a man,” I said, confused.
“I dunno,” Wendy explained, “but the guy next to us said it was some kids and he was considering telling their parents.”
Thus began our first night at Sol Duc Hot Springs RV Resort, 12 miles off the 101, in Olympic National Park.
“Is this it?” I had asked Wendy as we pulled in. It seemed like the parking lot for a place, not an actual place. But yeah—it was our campground, alright: A dusty gravel pad with some freshly-mown vegetation in the back. The brush had grown to about two feet—evident from a small patch that remained in the front of our site beneath a face-high tree branch. “I’m not ducking under to get that,” I envisioned the employee on the riding lawn mower saying. “I don’t even like this job.” Another thing the mystery employee said to himself? “Why bother picking up all this trash when I can just run over it?”
So yeah, our campground sucks. I wouldn’t recommend this place. But at least it has water and electricity hookups, and that makes us like it a little more. It’s also pretty well located for the things we wanted to do here at Olympic. There’s no road through this park, so it takes a really long time to get anywhere—at least an hour; it’s 20 minutes just to climb out of our campground. But it’s totally worth it.
On our first full day at the park, we drove about 90 minutes to explore Olympic’s beaches. We didn’t leave until after 10am because it was our first time enacting a new plan to address CeCe’s separation anxiety:
Feed her in the trailer instead of outside;
Barricade the emergency window at least half an hour before we leave;
Take her for a long walk and slip her two Benadryl encased in butter;
Leave her in the trailer while we eat breakfast with the kids outside, and let her watch us through the screen door;
Turn the radio on; and
When we’re ready to leave, turn on her e-collar and set up the GoPro like a nannycam.
The GoPro creates its own wireless connection to my iPhone, so we were able to sit in the car and watch CeCe in the pod before we left. Shortly after I closed the trailer door, she jumped on the dinette bench then nosed the back window curtain off of the rail. I gave her a quick zap. She jumped down, paced the floor for a moment, then laid down by the door. We waited, watching. After she’d stayed that way for a couple of minutes, we decided to leave and hope for the best.
We arrived at First Beach in La Push—a town made famous by the Twilight series—around noon. It isn’t the nicest beach we’ve been to, but it was decent and had tons of driftwood. We used a piece as a bench for our picnic lunch of apples, nuts, cheese, and crackers. Other visitors had created elaborate structures with campfire rings, wind breaks, and plentiful seating.
After lunch we continued to the creatively-named Second Beach, which was much nicer but made us work for it. We parked at the trailhead, placed the kids in backpacks, and set off to walk the 3/4-mile trail through the rain forest down to the beach. The trail had no name and there was no information sign-posted regarding elevation or difficulty. Whatever, I thought. It’s less than a mile.
About 10 minutes into the walk, we passed a couple on their way back from the beach. “Good luck,” the guy said as his girlfriend puffed a cigarette.
“What do you mean?” Wendy asked.
“It’s just that there are like, a thousand stairs down to the beach,” he explained.
“Is the view good from the top?”
“No,” he said, as his girlfriend simultaneously replied “Yes.”
We laughed and decided we’d decide when we got there.
But when we reached the stairs, the beach wasn’t visible from the top. Either we took the stairs or we never saw the beach. So down we went. Down and down, until the trail opened into a beautiful beach with spires and arches in the distance.
We took turns scaling the large graying trees that had drifted ashore over time, interlocking to form a mostly-stationary latticework about 10 feet across. By now it was after 2pm, so we headed back up the 125 steps, which was difficult but nothing compared to the Cleetwood Cove Trail back at Crater Lake.
As a final nod to Twilight, we went home via Forks, drove by some of the sight-seeing must-do’s, and snapped a photo with Wendy at Bella’s truck. As we approached the campground, Wendy and I both wondered what we’d find. What would CeCe have chewed? How bad would it be?
I opened the trailer door and saw that the back window curtain was displaced. But that was it. Nothing was destroyed.
The next day, we followed the same morning routine. This time CeCe laid down right away, which just seemed too easy. We waited and waited, but she didn’t move. So we left, this time to visit the Hoh Rainforest within the park, about two hours away.
It was really cool. We started with the Spruce Trail, which is a mostly-flat loop a little more than a mile long that took us through the rain forest and next to the Hoh River. We let the kids walk this one, and they had a good time. They both like to step on tree roots and to my dismay, I saw one squish beneath Darwin’s sneaker. I realized too late to prevent her from stomping on the five-inch slug, thinking it was a protruding root. Tiny bubbles extruded and I feared she had killed it. So I did what any veterinarian would do, and poked it with a stick. It moved. Phew.
We checked out the Visitor’s Center, had a picnic lunch, then took the kids in the stroller through the Hall of Mosses. “You’re gonna have trouble with that,” a woman warned us a few minutes into the mile-long trail. Trouble? Psshh. She doesn’t know where this thing has been. We did have some trouble, but the trail was do-able with teamwork, and worth seeing.
We returned home around 5pm, wondering what we may find. But once again, no damage. Even the back window curtain was intact.
On our third day at the park, we followed the same pattern. This time CeCe took some time to settle. She laid down for a while then paced and appeared to howl, then laid back down again. We waited. She stood up again, walked toward the dinette bench, then turned around, appeared to howl, and laid down again. Again, we waited. A couple of minutes later, she got up, jumped on the dinette bench, and nosed the back window. I gave a quick zap; she jumped down, then laid down by the door. We waited and nothing happened. We drove away, hoping for the best.
After some debate, we decided to visit Hurricane Ridge instead of Dungeness Spit—the “longest spit in the United States.” I’d never had any interest in visiting a spit, but once I learned it was the biggest one I kind of wanted to go. Besides, Hurricane Ridge was alpine forest and we had just come from that kind of habitat at Mt. Rainier.
A ranger changed my mind. When Wendy, somewhat to my embarrassment, told him we’d just arrived at the park, hadn’t researched anything, and were wondering what stroller/kid-hike friendly activities he would recommend as must-sees. I did a lot of research for this trip, but I barely know anything about the parks when we get here. I jotted down some hikes that sounded good or were recommended by Fodor’s and that’s the extent of it. No poring over a park’s particulars—it was bada bing bada boom, is there space in any of the campgrounds there? Book it!
The ranger recommended several activities, including a few we had already planned, but he didn’t even mention the Spit. He did, however, emphasize that we had to do Hurricane Ridge. So we decided we’d rather drive 90 minutes to a sure-thing than two-and-a-half hours to what Wendy described as a really long stretch of sand.
It was amazing! Definitely one of my favorite hikes so far. We were literally walking along a mountain ridge for 3.2 miles, flanked by stunning drop-offs, heavily-forested valleys, vibrant wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. The trailhead started at around 5,400 feet then climbed 700 more feet over the course of 1.6 miles to the top of Hurricane Ridge, with views of Mt. Olympus and parts of Canada. On the way down, we even got to walk into and through a cloud, feeling the cold wind and light rain on our faces. Deer grazed in close proximity several times throughout the hike; a rabbit darted across our path; chipmunks scurried; and we saw a marmot hanging out next to a sign lamenting the disappearance of marmots, as if to say “Those park rangers are such worrywarts.”
We stopped at a Walmart Super Center on our way home, which meant we arrived quite late—close to 6:30pm. I was shocked as I opened the door to the trailer: Not a thing out of place. Not a single thing. I was simply greeted by three happy dogs with wagging tails in a completely intact trailer.
We reserved our final day at Olympic for taking care of chores and relaxing a little. I’ve been driving a lot each day and tomorrow is our longest stint yet—313 miles to North Cascades National Park. The kids had a crappy day because there’s nowhere to play in this campsite; the “parking lot” is too dangerous due to traffic and our back lot has too many mosquitoes. So they ended up being bored—and subsequently quite naughty—all day. But Wendy successfully stowed the R-Dome; re-anchored a light the kids have been pulling away from the wall in their crib; re-affixed a piece of wood to the inside of a kitchen drawer so it’ll no longer open way farther than it’s supposed to (compliments of Emerson); and cleaned/re-waterproofed our boots. I drove to a pullout with Verizon LTE and used my phone as a hotspot to publish blog posts dating back to June 6th (just figured out how to do that); patched the TV cord CeCe had bitten through, so the TV works again; and super-glued a piece of plastic back onto the refrigerator so it’ll close properly again.
Now the kids are sleeping and we’re sitting at the kitchen table drinking Legacy scotch from styrofoam cups. Nine-and-a-half hours from now our alarm will sound, and we’ll be on the move again.
Read the next trip report: North Cascades National Park