Days 39-40 (September 6-7)
Olympic National Park, Washington: Rialto Beach, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc Valley
Leaving Kalaloch campground, we drive north to Forks and stop for a few supplies and then turn west toward Mora. I had originally planned to stay at the Mora campground, though we change course this morning and decide to instead spend our final two nights in Olympic National Park near the mountains.
We do, however, check out Mora campground in case we decide to stay here on a future trip. The campground is in deep forest with tall trees and has very nice new bathrooms. It looks like a really appealing place to camp.
From Mora we drive two miles to Rialto Beach. Once again we enter deep fog here.
A short, easy walk over smooth pebbles leads to the water’s edge. The beach is fairly narrow, and the sea is violent here, resulting in a gorgeous tumbled pebble beach full of a hundred different colors of stone.
Visibility is only about 25 feet from the water’s edge before the view is completely obscured by the fog. It feels like we’ve reached the end of the earth. This place is hauntingly beautiful.
Robert reads a sign that notes this is the southern access point for the Olympic Coast Wilderness Trail (which isn’t a traditionally maintained trail but rather a long series of hikes along beaches & headlands). We are tempted to throw aside all plans for the next week and backpack the coast, however we are not prepared with the required backcountry permit nor supplies – specifically a bear canister – so we venture on to our next car-camping site, bummed to be missing out on a grand backpacking adventure.
When we arrive at Fairholme campground on Lake Crescent, we forget our woes and are perfectly happy at our site overlooking a clear-blue mountain lake. We woke up this morning to mid-40’s on the damp coast and piled on layers of clothing. Skies are sunny and temp in the high 70’s here at the lake, so I change clothes and walk down to the pebble beach for a chilly swim. (Full disclosure: I did get a mild case of swimmer’s itch from this lake!)
We drive up to the Sol Duc Valley primarily looking for hiking trails and a cell signal, or to find a ranger in order to inquire about the forecast for the next couple of days. Rain is supposed to move in to some areas tonight, and because we are heading higher into the mountains, we are wondering what might shut down due to snow. We find no helpful information at the Sol Duc “resort”, and the crowded hot springs and trails in this area don’t particularly appeal to us. The Moon Pies we pick up at the resort’s store are a fun little taste of home tho.
Longing for a quiet walk in the woods, we skip the Sol Duc resort area trails and drive back toward 101. We stop off to hike a bit of the North Fork trail. A tenth of a mile in, a bear grunts loudly to notify us of his presence, though we cannot spot him. We are half relieved and half disappointed. Perhaps he was politely reminding us that this place belongs to him.
The North Fork trail is a pretty and very quiet forest trail that runs through fern groves. We hike about a mile to the Sol Duc river, where we must choose to ford the river or turn back. With daylight hours growing short in this deep forest, we turn back, but have enjoyed our time in this peaceful place.
On our way back to Crescent Lake, we stop at the Salmon Cascades on the Sol Duc River. This series of small waterfalls is a great place to watch salmon swimming upstream if one is there in the right season. We are late for the Coho migration, but do see some of their 2-3” fry swimming back downstream. This is a fantastic place to get out of the car and do a little boulder hopping by the crystal clear blue river.
On our way to the Olympic mountains the following day, we stop to take a peek at historic Lake Crescent lodge and cottages. Built in 1915, the upscale waterfront lodge is another National Park jewel. Now this is much closer to my idea of a resort than Sol Duc.
While I love camping, I must admit that these historic NPS park lodges are really tempting for a future trip. Or at the very least, I’d like to enjoy a lakeside meal at their certified green restaurant.
And now off to the mountains we go…