Olympic National Park 2016 Trip Report

By Todd W. Pierce on Sep 26, 2016

The diversity of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula never ceases to amaze me. The makeshift plywood sign by the side of the road supported the fact: Beer, Bait, Firewood, Espresso! (Espresso??)
However, I’m not thinking of the diversity of supplies for a weekend warrior with a penchant for fine coffee, but rather the diversity of the natural landscape: rugged coastlines, tide pools, moss-laden coastal rain forest, alpine meadows, snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, lakes, picturesque farms and diverse weather conditions. It was this rich buffet of photogenic material that had me the most excited as we began our journey aboard the ferry across Puget Sound from West Seattle to Southworth.
After a delicious Italian meal in Port Angeles, we decided to chase down a quick sunset session at Tongue Point, 25 minutes west of town. With views of British Columbia to the north and the sun setting down the axis of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we enjoyed settling into the creative process at the water’s edge.
The following morning we returned to Tongue Point at low tide to look for sea urchins and sea stars among the rocks and shallow pools. One of the many interesting benefits of photographing a coastline, especially during a full moon cycle, is the ability to visit the same locations during high and low tide. Within 12 hours, the same location can yield totally distinct photographic opportunities. In this case, with the water line nearly 100 yards farther out, our location was hardly recognizable from the evening before.
Around noon we arrived at historic Lake Crescent Lodge for lunch. Opened in 1915, this classic national park lodge retains all the charm of the era in which it was built. Better yet is the lodge’s proximity to Marymere Falls, the next location on our agenda. Perhaps the most beautiful waterfall in the area, Marymere’s lacy ribbon pours 90 feet down a mossy rock face. Along the way, we were immersed in the magic world of coastal rain forest, the first of many meetings to come that week.
Later that afternoon we found our way into the forest hideout we would call home for the next two nights: Manitou Lodge. Nestled into the tranquil, cool forest just 10 minutes from the coast, this quintessential northwest B&B provided a comfortable and convenient base camp for our excursions to the rocky beaches and rain forests of this region of the Olympic Peninsula.  We settled in and had some dinner before loading up for a sunset shoot at Rialto Beach.
After navigating our way through enormous old-growth driftwood logs, we spread out onto the beach and became entranced by the scene. In the foreground, hypnotic waves washed across millions of dark, impossibly smooth and round pebbles 1 to 3 inches in diameter, sounding more like glass than stone as they shifted against each other with each passing wave. Beyond, sea stacks, clouds and ocean mist in shades of grey. A gap opened in the clouds to the west and as the evening sun blasted through like a spotlight, our monochromatic experience was suddenly electrified with golden light. We scrambled to find compositions to do it justice before it turned off like a switch again. Needless to say we went to bed happy and exhausted.
Day 3 greeted us with perfectly cloudy skies—exactly the conditions we needed to realize all the photogenic opportunities in the iconic Hoh Rain Forest. Although a relatively short loop trail adjacent to the visitor center, the Hall of Mosses trail provided numerous possibilities with thick, emerald green mosses, ferns, and giant old-growth trees.
We broke for a picnic lunch, and since conditions were so favorable we decided to continue shooting in the forest for another couple of hours. We returned back to the lodge for a well-deserved break and dinner before an evening excursion to Second Beach where we would photograph sea stacks silhouetted against a golden sunset. Needless to say we fell into our cozy accommodations in the forest that night.
On the morning of Day 4 we bid farewell to the western coast to focus our efforts on the other beautiful facets of the peninsula. Along the way, we photographed cascades and forests along the Sol Duc River and tranquil views across Lake Crescent. By choosing only the best locations, we were able to continue our relaxed, yet fulfilling pace, and settle into each shoot with time for creativity and reflection. That afternoon, with our picnic dinner packed up in the cooler, we ascended the long winding road to Hurricane Ridge. Relatively compact in size, this alpine area of the park is perched along a rolling ridge of forests and meadows at an elevation of 5200 feet, providing dramatic views of the Olympic Mountains to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and British Columbia to the north.
After a couple hours exploring the meadows and enjoying close encounters with the local deer, we set up our dinner picnic and enjoyed a delicious meal against the backdrop of Mount Olympus. With plenty of time till sunset, we set off for another area of the ridge to photograph the falling light across the ridges and valleys far below. The last order of business for the day was a full moon rise over the Olympic Mountains just after sunset. Armed with a handful of apps and compasses, we pointed our cameras toward the horizon and waited. Like clockwork, the moon emerged behind the peaks, providing one of the most magical displays in the natural world.
Sticking to the theme of diversity, we began Day 5 by driving 20 minutes east to Sequim (pronounced “Squim”) to visit two of the most picturesque lavender farms in the area. Mid-July is a great time for alpine meadows in the park but it also happens to be peak lavender season. After soaking in the sun among the rows of brilliant deep purple lavender, we sat down in the garden of Nourish farm restaurant to enjoy a beautiful farm-to-table lunch. Our meal was so amazing that we mandated a return for dinner the following day.
Later that afternoon we ascended to Hurricane Ridge where we were greeted with much different weather than the day before. Dark grey clouds were building over the mountains and within a couple hours the thunderstorm was at our doorstep. However, seeing that we had a relatively clear horizon to the west, we decided to wait it out and plan for the “best case scenario”—sunset light shooting through an atmospheric thunderstorm with a high probability of a vivid rainbow. Waiting under the covered porch of the visitor center, the drama began to unfold. Although direct sun never manifested, we were treated to the most magical conditions of the week.
Our last day of the tour began with a short hike to Sol Duc Falls, one of the true highlights of Olympic National Park. The forest was particularly beautiful under cloudy light in the cathedral-like silence that morning. We stopped numerous times along the way, finding photos around every corner of the trail. The rumble of the falls became louder as we approached, enticing us to quicken our pace. As predicted, the crystal clear waters of Sol Duc Falls did not disappoint.
To wind down our amazing week, we opted for a final return to Hurricane Ridge. Despite the low cloud ceiling and steady mist, I had a feeling we were in for something special. Indeed, as we drove higher the sun began to shine through the fog, and like ascending in an airliner, we were suddenly above the clouds and under a clear blue sky. Wisps of fog played with the ridge lines below us displaying yet another amazing aspect of this beautiful part of the world.
Boarding the ferry back to West Seattle the following day, our journey came full circle. In some ways, it felt like we had just started. In other ways, it felt like we were gone for a month.