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Escape to the Olympic Peninsula

28 Sep

Last week we made our first trip out of the Seattle area since we moved here just over two months ago.  We had planned on hiking to the lovely Olympic Hot Springs in Olympic National Park with our friends Will and Stephen.  Well, the National Park Service had other ideas so the hot springs had to wait until another time.  Olympic Hot Springs is in the Elwha River Valley and the National Park Service is in the process of starting the largest dam removal project in the nation.

The Park Service has even declared this the “Last Dam Summer at Olympic National Park!”

Overall, this seems to be a project that is receiving wide-spread support and should do wonders for salmon and shellfish habitat as well as improving economic prospects for local tribes.  The Elwha River will be returned to its natural flow after more than 100 years of being artificially blocked up and interrupted.  Biologists estimate that the number of salmon in the river may swell from 3,000 to 300,000 in the future as all five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream.

NPR has also been covering the Elwha River dam removal.

The reservoir, Lake Mills, is a beloved fishing spot for some but in the near future it will be nothing more than a memory.

We were a little disappointed that we could not go to the hot springs, but we were not going to let that get in the way of a good time.  Instead we took our (rental) car on the ferry from Edmonds (just north of Seattle) across Puget Sound to Kingston (on the Kitsap Peninsula).  

From there we drove across the Hood Canal and onto the Peninsula itself.  We stopped briefly in Port Angeles for lunch and camping supplies.  Some of us (I won’t name names) were lured into the “Dazzled by Twilight” store by the life-size cardboard cutouts of various Twilight characters peering seductively from the store front windows.  After 15 minutes examining vampire and heartthrob-themed movie paraphernalia we escaped vampire-ville and continued to Lake Crescent, 18 miles west of Port Angeles on Highway 101.

Lake Crescent is absolutely beautiful and we lucked out with great weather.  With an officially recorded depth of 624 feet, it is the second deepest lake in Washington (though it is rumored to be over 1000 feet deep).  This 12 mile long lake is filled with extremely clear waters and is a great place to swim (or skinny dip) under an almost full moon.

After setting up our tents at Fairholme Campground and chilling some beers in the lake we proceeded to play a game of “extreme” bocce along the shoreline.  We call our version of bocce extreme because there aren’t really any rules–just get your ball closest to the “Golden Snitch”.  It doesn’t matter how you get your ball closest to the snitch–bouncing it off tree trunks and rocks, through bushes, carried by wildlife, or half submerged in the lake–just as long as you are having fun and always carrying a beer in your non-throwing hand.

Later that night we feasted on homemade chili and fell asleep happy under the Olympic moonlight.  Unfortunately the logging trucks rumbling up highway 101 across the lake woke us up early the next morning but the mountainous setting was worth the wake up call.  Thankfully, because Lake Crescent is located fully within Olympic National Park, it is spared the vast clear cutting that afflicts forest lands outside the park.  If you look at satellite imagery of the Olympic Peninsula using Google Earth the patchwork of degraded landscapes can be seen clearly.  You can also see where the invisible boundaries of the National Park are since it is within these boundaries that the forest has been allowed to recover.

The next morning we drove to nearby Sol Duc Valley to check out the hot springs there.

The Sol Duc River Valley is also extremely beautiful and we were lucky enough to stroll through old-growth forest and watch salmon jumping up the river to their ancient spawning grounds.  The Sol Duc hot springs are definitely more developed than the Olympic Hot Springs and it is appropriately labeled as a resort.  It is in a pretty ideal location, however, with cabins to rent and other amenities (like hot coffee!!) and is a great place for families and others who want to avoid “roughing it”.  There are also a number of trails in the valley including a short trail we explored that took us to Sol Duc Falls.

The afternoon quickly slipped away from us as we explored Sol Duc River Valley and soon it was time to start driving back to Kingston and catch the ferry.  Our trip was short but was a breath of fresh air from city life.  Seattle is a great place to live but it is the nearby mountains, rivers, and misty forests that really give the region its charm.  We can’t wait to plan our next trip to the Peninsula–maybe next time to go hiking in the Hoh Rain Forest, or kayaking on Lake Ozette, or beach combing near La Push, or skiing at Hurricane Ridge, or, or…

So much to do and so little time =)