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Explore the Olympic Peninsula In Just Two Days

In more than three years living in Seattle, I had never made it out to the Olympic Peninsula, though I had wanted to go since my first week in Washington. So when I accepted a job that would be bringing me back to Texas at the end of 2020, it became my mission to make sure I took a trip out there, and the perfect opportunity presented itself when my mom came to visit to help me finish packing up my apartment. 

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Given we only had a few days for the trip, I decided the place I most wanted to visit was the Hoh Rainforest, as I’d been fascinated by it for years and knew it was going to be worth it!

When I started to look into housing, I discovered the closest town with a motel was Forks, WA – any fans of the Twilight series who are wondering, yes it is that Forks. So we booked the Forks Motel and hopped in the car with my mom, Barb, and my dog, Misha.

The drive from Seattle to Forks is a little over four hours, so we left midday with the goal of getting to Ruby Beach before sundown, which would leave us about 30 minutes left in our drive to get to Forks for the evening.

Somehow that goal of getting to Ruby Beach kept my motivation up for the drive because I drove all four hours and got us there 15 minutes before sundown; sunset was around 6:20 PM, so the pressure was on!

This beach had parking up above and a path that led down to the beach and water. We parked quickly and ran down to watch the last bit of the sunset and to let my dog walk around a bit before the final leg of the journey. 

When we got to Forks, we went and checked in at the motel and then hopped back in the car to pick up some dinner to eat back at the motel; we ended up getting pizza from Pacific Pizza and a few snacks and wine at the Thriftway Food Store before settling in for the evening. 

In the morning, we walked from the motel to In Place, the restaurant across the street, for a nice breakfast. While we were eating, we started to wonder if any of the shops were actually in the Twilight movies, so I started googling and realized we were one street down from Forks High School. It turns out that almost nothing from the movie was actually filmed in Forks; the restaurants, school and even their houses were filmed in or near Portland, Oregon for the most part. So, the only part of the school that looked like the movie was the ‘Home of the Spartans’ sign out front it turns out, but we walked by it anyway after we ate.

Next, we stopped by the visitor center for some ideas for the next day. The person helping us was so incredibly helpful and patient with all of our questions (specifically around which trails dogs were allowed on, as they are not permitted on the National Park trails – including the Hoh Rainforest trails), and then we drove to the Hoh Rainforest.

We knew that the trails would be gorgeous, but pretty much anywhere you drive on the Olympic Peninsula is breathtaking, and the 30 minute drive to the Hoh Rainforest trailhead was no exception. 

The Hoh Rainforest itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was declared a national park in 1938 by President Franklin D Roosevelt. It’s one of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States with rainfall in the region averaging between 140 and 170 inches per year, and some of the trees here are more than 1,000 years old.

We had planned ahead, so we knew we were going to hike the Hall of Mosses first, which is just under a one-mile loop and is one of the most famous trails to hike on the Olympic Peninsula. The trees here are some of the oldest and can be up to 200 feet tall, and many of the ‘fallen’ trees continue to grow moss, making them beautiful to observe.

One thing I really enjoyed about this trail is that it had signs throughout with various descriptions of the forest, one such example being of nurselogs, as seen below.

When we finished that loop, we headed over to the main entrance to the trailheads for the Spruce Trail and the Hoh River Trail, only to find that it was temporarily closed. So, we followed the signs that led to the complete opposite side until we were able to enter the Spruce Trail.

The full trail is a loop that is about 1.2 miles, but we started in the middle given the detour, and only did about half of the loop before it split over to the Hoh River Trail; we figured when we came back to go to the car, we would finish the other half of the Spruce Trail loop.

The Hoh River Trail in its entirety is something like 18.5 miles and has significant gains in elevation as you go, so we were only heading out to the Mineral Creek Falls waterfall that was supposed to be about 2.7 miles out. The trail was even better than we expected, without very many other hikers along the way, so Barb and I were just chatting as we hiked along. 

Then about 2 miles into the hike, I was leading and turned around a corner only to see a huge elk right in front of me! I later learned that male elk are called bulls, and when I turned the corner, this bull was right in front of me grazing just a little ways down the path. When he heard me, he lifted his head and looked at me and then started walking up the hill away from me. 

In that fraction of a second, I internally panicked and turned back toward my mom, who hadn’t seen him yet, telling her to turn back. Clearly she didn’t know what was going on and walked forward to look; on our way out there, I’d read all the warnings from the help center and all they mentioned about elk was that if you saw any to stay 100 yards away, which we definitely were not, but we had no idea if they were likely to attack or harm us.

We pretty much stayed where we were until the bull had walked far enough away, and then I walked forward a few steps and we discovered there were four other elk – two females and two babies – just up ahead eating. We could see the antlers of the bull above us, watching his family, so we were super hesitant to keep walking, as we didn’t want to appear to be a threat. 

Pretty soon, a couple came up on the trail behind us, and we pointed out as silently as we could what was going on. They were braver than we were and got closer trying to get pictures; in my nervousness, I had tried to get some pictures too, but none of them really turned out. Then, we heard two women talking very loudly coming from the other direction, and it startled the female elk who started to run in our direction. 

Fortunately, she veered up in the direction the bull had gone, but that few seconds was super terrifying. The two women turned the corner having no idea that they’d just potentially put anyone else in danger, and they saw the elk and got all excited, still talking loudly, and got closer than any of the rest of us had to try to take a picture and then kept walking past us none the wiser. 

Eventually, the couple we were now with started to walk slowly past the females and we stayed close and followed them around the corner safely. As we kept walking the half mile or so to the waterfall, I joked to my mom that it must be elk lunch time and wondered if they would have come back after we were gone to finish up their meal. Little did I know that my joke would not really be a joke…more on that later.

We finally started to hear the water but couldn’t see the waterfall, and it took a little while longer than we expected to get to it; we think it was closer to 3 miles than 2.5 to get there, but it was completely worth it. The only thing we wished was that we could get closer, but given we’d already bumped into more wildlife than we expected, we didn’t want to veer off the path. 

After getting some photos and enjoying the falls, we turned around to head back, and as we got closer to where we’d seen the elk, we were careful not to talk too loudly just in case. We were shocked to see, as we turned the corner back to the clearing where we’d originally seen them, that all the females were still there – which mostly made us nervous because we were sure that meant the bull was still there too even though we couldn’t see him. 

We were careful to walk slowly and quietly, and we made it back through that part of the path and kept walking along the rest of the trail. When we got back to the Spruce Trail, we decided to walk back the way we’d come rather than finishing the other half of the loop, just because we’d taken longer than expected with the elk run in, and we didn’t want it to get dark.

When we were almost back, we saw a deer on the trail, and then, as we came out of the trail into the parking lot again, we started talking more loudly and instantly had to stop. There was another elk – a bull – grazing right in front of us with some moss stuck on it’s antler. I tried again and failed to get a good picture, probably getting a little closer than I should. 

Given our detours and everything, we had walked a solid 10 miles and were definitely ready to grab something to eat and rest up for the next day. When we got back to Forks, we grabbed a beer and appetizer (at a socially distanced table) at Blakeslees Bar and Grill just at the edge of town and then took our meals to go to have back at the motel.

In the morning, we ate breakfast again at the In Place diner, and we sat at a table near the door. At one point, a woman walked in holding a baby, so naturally, I got excited and told my mom, and then she went and sat with the man at the table right next to us. We started talking to them and it turned out they were locals and started sharing with us about places to hike and the different wildlife in the area; this is when I learned male elk are called bulls. 

The man sitting with us also told us about the book he was working on writing about the history of the area, and he said it was very unusual that we had run into any elk that time of year during our hike, so we had gotten lucky!

After breakfast, we did a little bit of souvenir shopping at the Chinook Pharmacy and then at the ‘Native to Twilight’ store, I was legitimately looking for a friend – haha. 

Then, we took Misha on a short hike at a trail right behind the visitor center that is about a half mile loop before jumping in the car for our next stop. We had decided that for day two, we would fully give in to the Twilight vibes and headed to a beach on the Quileute reservation called Rialto Beach, since  La Push was closed at the time. 

We could have stayed there forever listening to the waves, but we eventually had to leave if we were going to have time for a hike on the way to Port Angeles, where we were staying that night.

We drove a little over halfway to Port Angeles and stopped at a trailhead recommended to us the day before called the Kloshe Nanitch Trail. We were basing our distance on the amount of time we had, so we decided to hike for a little over an hour and then turn back to the car.

We started to hike and it was beautiful, but we came to an end after only about 20 minutes, so we knew we had missed a turn somewhere because it was supposed to be a 6-mile-long trail. When we turned back and were looking much more carefully, we realized we had passed right by the skinny trail next to the sign. 

When we started up this trail for real, we discovered that when we were warned about the elevation it was no joke! We basically walked uphill for an hour, stopping a few times to catch our breath. It always cracks me up that my dog, who hates walks in the city, trots along in front of us seemingly unfazed by the steep elevation.

Once we finished our hike and checked into our hotel, we showered quickly and then got ready for dinner at our final Twilight-inspired location, Bella Italia, for dinner. We both ordered the mushroom ravioli, just like Bella does in the books, and we were very pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was, given that our motivation was solely based on Twilight when we picked the restaurant. 

Back at the hotel, we went to bed early, knowing we had to start driving at 5:45 AM to make the ferry back to Seattle in the morning – it was moving day the next day!

Our short trip to the Olympic Peninsula was absolutely amazing, and I will be going back for sure to explore the many other areas that we didn’t have time for. 

Check out our next blog post, West Coast Road Trip From Seattle to Austin, to see how driving from Seattle, WA to Austin, TX went!

And, for other adventures in the U.S., check out our posts below:

XOXO Travel A-Broads

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3 years ago

This is an amazing place I hope I can visit sometime

Candace Dwyer
Candace Dwyer
3 years ago
Reply to  Diego

Hi Diego! It really was a magical trip – I hope you have the chance to visit soon!