Olympic National Park, WA 2017 Trip Report

By Todd Pierce on Oct 23, 2017

Washington State's Olympic Peninsula never ceases to offer wonderfully diverse photo opportunities. This, my fourth tour of its varied landscapes and ecosystems, was no exception. After a relaxing ferry ride and 2-hour drive to Port Angeles, we settled into the elegant, yet rustic, Olympic Lodge. Following a delicious Italian dinner, we decided to pursue a quick sunset session out at Salt Creek Recreation Area, just 25 minutes out of town down a narrow country road lined with forests, pocket meadows, pastures and barns. The golden light of sunset reflecting in the Strait of Juan de Fuca was a perfect welcome to the week ahead.

Day 1 began back at Salt Creek, but now at low tide, to look for sea urchins, sea stars, and other tide pool treasures. Our location was hardly recognizable with such a dramatically lower tide, but as a result, offered completely different opportunities than the prior evening. Following our morning shoot, we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the historic and charming Lake Crescent Lodge for lunch. Replete with creaky wood floors and a cozy stone fireplace, we felt as if we had stepped back in time. But with a gorgeous view over the lake, it was difficult to resist taking more photos before even getting inside in the first place!

Olympics National Park beachFollowing lunch we enjoyed a 20-minute walk through lush, tranquil old-growth forest to Marymere Falls, a 90-foot ribbon of water that pours over a moss-laden cliff. Later that afternoon we wound our way to Manitou Lodge, a quintessential Northwest-style inn tucked into the forest just 10 minutes from the coast. Having nearly the entire inn to ourselves, it felt more like a private lodge than a B&B. The day concluded with a beautiful evening and sunset on Rialto Beach, where we photographed massive old-growth driftwood, waves washing across glossy pebbles, and silhouettes of rugged sea stacks.

Our second day began with an extended visit to the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the most iconic coastal rain forests in the world and a highlight of the trip. We made our way around the Hall of Mosses Trail, offering numerous photogenic opportunities with massive old-growth trees, emerald green mosses and ferns, and a small herd of tame and approachable Roosevelt Elk that call the forest home. After a picnic lunch adjacent to the visitor's center, we drove down the coast a short distance to Ruby Beach, where we photographed waves splashing through a small sea arch carved out over hundreds of years by relentless currents. That evening we returned to the coast for another round of stunning sunset light on Rialto Beach.

Creek in Olympics National ParkOn the morning of our third day, we departed our forest hideaway to return to Port Angeles where we would be based for the remainder of the tour. Along the way we stopped at Salmon Cascades, where crystal clear waters flow from the Olympic Mountains down the Sol Duc River. Along the shores of Lake Crescent we found even more photo subjects to capture before returning to Port Angeles.

After a short break to check back into the Olympic Lodge, we began our ascent of over 5,000 vertical feet up the winding road to the alpine meadows of Hurricane Ridge, where we enjoyed breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains, wildflowers in peak bloom, and numerous deer that needed to be photographed with a wide-angle lens. We also enjoyed a picnic dinner at one of the most beautiful picnic areas in the world where we could shoot publishable images between each bite of our delicious meal. Not a bad way to spend a day!

Day 4 began with an early start to Sol Duc Falls in order to enjoy the tranquility of the forest and avoid any park crowds that tend to grow later in the morning. The silence of the cathedral-like forest was mesmerizing, broken only by the growing thunderous roar of Sol Duc Falls. As waves of mist rolled up from the falls we found various perspectives on this beautiful icon of the national park. It was hard to leave, but several locations we had seen along the mile-long trail beckoned us back, including a picturesque side stream flowing through moss-covered stones set between towering trees.

After a much needed afternoon break, we opted for an early dinner at Nourish, one of the peninsula's finest farm-to-table restaurants. The healthy and delicious meal set us on a positive track for another evening and sunset up on Hurricane Ridge. Multiple photogenic opportunities developed as the light fell across the snowcapped mountains to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and British Columbia to the north. With our batteries spent and our memory cards full, another amazing day in Olympic National Park drew to a close.

Hurricane Ridge Olympics National ParkThe next morning we decided to explore the pastoral dimension of the peninsula by visiting three distinct lavender farms around Sequim. These small-scale family operated farms set amongst the rural landscape beneath the Olympic Mountains provided a more tranquil energy and respite from the busyness of the week's itinerary. More importantly, they added even more diversity to the portfolio of images collected during the week.

However, the lure of the higher elevations of the park began to call us back to Hurricane Ridge. Wildflowers, mountains, long views in every direction, abundant wildlife, warm evening light, and fog in the valleys below was enough to keep us shooting with the same exuberance as we had on our first day. We descended the long winding road back to the Olympic Lodge exhausted, but elated from a successful and fulfilling week.

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