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Olympic National Park
2023 Trip Report

Olympic National Park in one word—Diversity! I am not sure there is another park in the lower forty-eight states that encompasses such a variety of landscape photography possibilities. From snowcapped mountains and subalpine meadows to rocky ocean beaches littered with giant driftwood logs to delicate waterfalls and moss-covered forests, this place has a bit of something for everyone. And, along with the abundant wildflowers, we even throw in a visit or two to one of the region’s local specialties—lavender farms.

Drama Sunset layers

After transferring from Seattle to Port Angeles, our group met for dinner to prepare for the week ahead. We discussed the weather and being prepared to take advantage of whatever conditions we found. For some, the use of filters was new thus we went over times and places that might be appropriate for each type. We also needed to discuss timing. This time of the year includes very early mornings and equally late evenings in order to take advantage of the best light. To make this happen, we take a midday break so everyone can kick up their feet or, perhaps, start looking at images. By the end of the evening, everyone was excited about the days ahead.

Sol Duc falls

As promised, the following morning was an early one to get up to the Sol Doc River for first light on it’s falls. We had hot drinks and breakfast to go and then hit the road. Arriving so early, we had the trail and falls to ourselves for virtually all of the fabulous early morning hours. We worked on slow shutter speeds to blur water and when the light came up, threw on neutral density filters to keep doing the same. There was plenty of time for everyone to try some new things and practice their techniques. The forest here is also lovely so some chose to head back slowly and capture images along the way of a few of the forest flowers. Before we knew it, it was time for a nice picnic lunch then a short ride back to town for a break. After dinner, for those who wanted to go, we headed off to Sequim—the lavender capital of the state—where I had arranged to visit a farm after hours. It was so nice to have the place to ourselves for last light of the day. We did have clouds for a bit but when the sun finally snuck under, the backlighting was spectacular!

Tree stream

The next morning found us about twelfth in line to go up to Hurricane Ridge. The visitor center building had burned to the ground on May 7 this year and the park had kept the area closed for safety and to determine the cause. We really were not sure we would get to go at all but literally at the last minute they announced its opening. We were thrilled with this highlight of the trip, and we usually make multiple visits at differing times of day. It was a beautiful morning, and we had a black bear right by the road on our way to the trailhead (not that any of us were ready for that). He was gone before we knew it but it was exciting to know that there was one in the area. We spent the morning photographing along the Hurricane Hill trail with the snowcapped Olympic Range as a stunning backdrop for the alpine meadows flush with wildflowers. Once again, after a lovely picnic lunch, we headed back to town for a well-deserved rest and to literally recharge our batteries for the evening. We chose to have dinner at the historic Lake Crescent Lodge and, my oh my, was the food tasty. It certainly fueled us up for an evening visit to Marymere Falls and the beautiful forest along the way. Being one of the most visited falls in the park, this was the perfect time of day to go. Very few visitors and soft filtered light made for excellent images. Of course, the light drops quickly in such a forest, so it wasn’t long before we needed to head for the van.

Madison falls

On our third morning, we wanted to give Hurricane Ridge another go before heading to the coast so we left a bit earlier and made our way up. We chose a different area to focus on and found fog filling the Strait of Juan de Fuca below us with great compositions of tree lined ridges silhouetted in the foreground. After the sun got higher, we started looking closer at flowers and patterns in plants. We took some time to learn to use a diffuser, focus stacking and our phone apps as a remote shutter release. What fun to play with this new technology to take better images! When it was finally time to leave, we headed back to town, packed up the van, grabbed a quick bite for lunch then started heading toward the coast. We took a bit of time to stretch our legs and capture some images around the Madison Falls area then were on our way west. We got to our lodge near Forks just in time to get settled, have a tasty catered dinner then make our way over to Rialto Beach. Amazingly, it was sunny at the lodge but just 5 miles down the road at the coast, the fog was so thick we could not even see James Island. This was one of those weather situations that throws you at first but challenges you to adjust and make the most of pea soup. We had fun! We focused on the close-up textures and patterns along with the coastal trees disappearing into the fog down the beach. I think everyone got something they liked from that exercise. We did call it a bit early given the conditions and the early morning tomorrow.

Mossy trees

Four A.M. seems earlier somehow when you are on day four of a photo trip. But with the prospect of the Hoh Rainforest ahead of us, no one quibbled about the time. Of course, hot drinks and a to-go breakfast makes it a little easier to motivate. Again, we had the place to ourselves for the first few hours of the day. The Hall of Mosses did not disappoint but there is so much to photograph in this ancient forest. As the light started streaming down through the trees, we started looking for spot lighting and backlit leaves. I could spend all day in this forest, but the numbers of people and light urged us onward. We had a nice picnic lunch again before making our way back to the lodge for a rest. Early evening had us enjoying another tasty catered dinner before departing for our evening on Ruby Beach. Another evening of sun at the lodge but fog on the beach upon arrival. We did not let this deter us so grabbed our gear and walked down to the beach to see what was what. I thought we should give it some time, so everyone wandered off to test their creativity. Then, just as our set time to reassess was approaching, the fog started to move out and the light . . . oh, the light that came streaming through the thinning fog became magical. We all forgot any notion of leaving and stayed if the light was good. I think everyone got some stunning images with sun and fog and sea stacks comprising the compositional fodder. What an evening!

With the prospect of a late evening and early morning again at Hurricane Ridge for our final shoots, we all slept a little later this morning. We made another visit to Rialto Beach to see what it had to offer besides pea soup before starting back toward Port Angeles. It was a beautiful day, and we made a few fun stops along the way for photos, had another tasty picnic lunch then made our way to the hotel in Port Angeles. Our final dinner together was early so we could jet back up to Hurricane Ridge for sunset—something we had not been able to accomplish due to the late opening of the road this year. We virtually had the place to ourselves and captured some incredible images of late light on the Olympic Mountains as well as the beautiful colors of the sunset shooting toward Vancouver Island to the northwest. I do not think anyone was disappointed with the light this evening. We even got some brilliant images of the sun setting behind the tree covered ridge to our west.

Hyper processed

That late evening, though, made for a truly short night for those who chose to join me for sunrise back up on the ridge. We left an hour before sunrise and beat it right back up to the top. Again, we were the only ones there! The alpenglow was beautiful over the Olympic Range with the pink hues playing nicely on the snowy peaks. When the colors started to fade, we shifted to a different location shooting directly to the east across the low hills toward the North Cascade Mountains. The layering was superb, and we photographed that scene until it was time to head down. What a fabulous end to a wonderful week on the Olympic Peninsula!!

Upcoming Related Tours

Two Spaces Available!

Olympic National Park, Washington

Alpine scenery with wildflower meadows and dramatic vistas, plus a rugged coastline, sea stacks, waterfalls and verdant moss-draped rain forest set the stage for a quintessential Pacific Northwest photographic adventure.

June 23 - 29, 2024
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