Exploring Olympic National Park

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For our last backpacking trip of the summer, we head west to Washington’s enchanting Olympic peninsula to spend a few days exploring the rain forests, beaches and high alpine scenery of Olympic National Park. We’re probably crazy for wanting to do any more hiking after all the miles we’ve put in already this summer, but this time we really have no choice in the matter.

You see, last winter, we were lucky to receive an advance permit to hike the Seven Lakes Basin loop, a short 19-mile backpacking trip through some of Olympic’s most stunning scenery. In the past, we have been extraordinarily unlucky when it comes to these permit lotteries, so, when we actually “won” for a change, we thought it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, even if it comes at the tail end of a summer chock full of backpacking.

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On our way into the park, we stop into friendly Port Angeles for an overnight at the NPS Heart O’ the Hills campground and a night out on the town before picking up our permit at the ranger station the next morning. Originally, we planned on spending three nights out on the Seven Lakes Basin trail, but, given that the trail is only 19 miles total, this seemed a little excessive, even for slow-pokes like us.

We discovered that we could exchange our last night on the trail for a permit to beach camp before heading out at Rialto Beach. Not only that, but, while we are on the west side of the peninsula, we can also check out the Hoh Rainforest. So, in short, we still get to do the entire backpack—at a slightly faster pace—and get a couple of cool extras. That’s a win/win in our eyes, for sure.

With new permit in hand, we stock up on groceries (and beer!) before leaving Port Angeles and driving west to the coastal section of Olympic. Our first stop is the beautiful Hoh Rainforest, where our main goal is to photograph the gorgeous trees all festooned in bright green mosses on the aptly named Hall of Mosses trail.

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This short but sweet 0.8 mile nature loop is stunningly beautiful, and we take our time walking through it, looking for compositions that show off the trees, mosses and ferns at their best.

Despite the gorgeous subject matter, photography in the Hoh isn’t exactly easy. When the sun is shining, the forest tends to be really contrasty, which can ruin even the best framed shots. On the other hand, when the sun is hidden behind clouds, the dense rainforest can get frustratingly dark, even at midday. Either way, using a tripod is a must, as it allows us to shoot HDR photography to capture the extreme contrasts in the scenes we see while also holding our cameras steady in the low light.

By the time we make it back to the beginning of the loop, it is already late afternoon, and we decide to hit the road for Rialto Beach, our destination for the night. Once we arrive on the coast, we discover that a cold fog has moved in, which should make our first night ever of beachfront camping an interesting experience.

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It doesn’t matter what the weather is like as far as we are concerned because we only have to walk a mile down the beach before we can set up our tent in any inviting spot. For a single overnight such a short distance from our car, we don’t really need much of anything, so we decide to make this trip a party. We take an empty bear canister and load it with ice to keep a 6-pack of beer and our vegetarian breakfast sausages chilled. We’ve got our camp chairs and an entire bag of potato chips, and we feel like we are living the dream. We can’t wait to get to camp for the night and chill out ocean side.

There’s not much of a view to speak of as we make our way down the beach in the foggy afternoon. The waves are roiling and toiling, but that doesn’t stop a group of fisherman from trying to catch their meals for the night. From the looks of the bucket on the shore, it looks like they are having a rather good day!

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It’s almost dark by the time we find a site that looks like it will do for the night. It’s far enough away from the other campers around us and tucked up into a sandy spot behind some logs. We pitch our tent, assemble our camp chairs and crack a beer before darkness eases in. Life is good!

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We both sleep really well with the sound of the waves crashing on the shore less than a hundred feet from our tent. We sleep in, and, when we finally emerge, we discover that the fog has settled in and that there is a heavy dew coating everything. Our tent is soaking wet, but, more importantly, there are lots of cool water droplets all over the vegetation around our site.

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We make a delicious camp breakfast burrito and enjoy the serene scene before we finally decide it’s time to get a move on.

Before heading out, we want to go explore the rock formations and tide pools that the Washington coastline is so famous for. We throw everything in the tent and leave it to dry out while we head up the beach to explore.

The tide is low, so we are able to get some nice shots of the sea stacks and the water swirling around them.

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At the end of the beach, the shallow rocks are exposed. We poke around the tide pools and spot some interesting creatures. There’s also a lot of cool kelp on the beach that makes for some nice abstracts.

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Once the tide starts coming in, we head back to camp and gather our gear before retracing our steps back to the parking lot. This time there are seagulls fishing in the waves instead of the fishermen, and it’s fun to watch them squabble with each other over their catches.

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In no time, we are back to the car and heading on to our next hike in the heart of the Olympics. Stay tuned for more!

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