Title: 7 day trip to Seattle and nearby National Parks (Olympic & Mt Rainier)
Preparation: Airline tickets were purchased through Expedia. Hotels and cabin were booked through Expedia and VRBO. Car rental was booked through hotwire.
General opinion: 3 days in the city and 4 days in nature. Good balance in my opinion.
Attractions and activities: Day 1: Waterfront Park We flew into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and checked into the Sheraton Seattle Hotel. Then we took a leisurely stroll to Waterfront Park, a public park comprised of Pier 57, Pier 59, and the Seattle Aquarium. The walk was lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, and street performers. Day 2: Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Park, Chihuly Garden and Glass Each day should start with a good breakfast. We grabbed coffee at the original Starbucks located at the gateway to Pike Place (102 Pike St., Seattle, Washington 98101) and paired it with delicious bread from the Piroshky Piroshky Bakery. We visited the Pike Place Market, which was full of foods and crafts. All the stalls were interesting, but what caught our attention most was the fresh-cut flower arrangements. Peonies were in season, and the colorful bouquets were a sight to behold. After Pike Place, we walked through the Olympic Sculpture Park. This quick walk offered sights of interesting artworks such as the abstract Eagle sculpture and views of the Seattle waterfront. Our next stop was the Seattle Center, where the Pacific Science Center, the Space Needle, and the Museum of Pop Culture are located. We already visited these places on our last trip to Seattle, so this time we chose to go to the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, which houses an impressive display of glasswork by Dale Chihuly. The tickets were $33.60 per adult and $19.95 per child (aged 5-12); they were not cheap, but were definitely worth it. Day 3: Discovery Park, Ballard Locks, Perry Park For the first part of the day, we drove around Discovery Park, which allowed us to take a break from the city and enjoy a bit of nature. Unfortunately, we had to cut the visit short because there was no parking by the beach. If you plan to visit Discovery Park, keep in mind that the visitor center is closed on Mondays and there is no shuttle to take you to various parts of the park where parking space is limited. Our next stop was the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks, which were constructed in 1917 to help move transport boats between Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Puget Sound. We went on a walking tour to learn about the history and function of the locks, led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Before leaving, we tried to catch a glimpse of salmon on the fish ladder. We saw a couple of smolt (young fish), but not many adult fish as it was too early in the year for the fish to begin spawning. The pleasant Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden is also located on the grounds of the Ballard Locks park, but unfortunately, we did not get to stay there for long. Maybe we’ll go back on a future trip! Finally, we drove to Perry Park to watch the sunset over the Seattle Skyline and catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier in the distance. The small park, which is located in a quiet neighborhood, is known for having stunning views of the city. There was quite a crowd gathered there by the time we arrived. Day 4: Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent We said goodbye to urban Seattle and left for Olympic National Park (~ 3 hour drive). We first stopped at the visitor center near Port Angeles to purchase an Annual Pass to the National Parks and to get maps of the area. After talking to one of the rangers, we decided to go to Hurricane Ridge first. The drive up to Hurricane Ridge was scenic, with patches of colorful wildflowers and views of mountains blanketed with tall, green trees. At the top of the ridge, we had an awe-inspiring panoramic view of glaciers on the surrounding mountains. There were several short hikes available, and on those trails we saw delicate avalanche lilies, patches of snow (in June!), and groups of grazing deer. The air was fresh and crisp, and the sky was a clear blue. Everything was perfect, and it was beautiful. Before heading back to our cabin, we stopped by Lake Crescent. It was almost evening by then, and it was getting chilly in the shade. There were very few other tourists around at that time of the day. We took the opportunity to relax on the shore of the lake and enjoy the tranquil environment. Day 5: Hoh Rain Forest, Forks (where Bela and Edward from Twilight lived ;-)) & Sol Doc Falls, The day began with a hike through the Hoh Rain Forest, which is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States. Bigleaf maples, conifers, and mosses thrive here, where up to 12 feet of rain can fall per year. Every surface was carpeted in lush, varied shades of green. It had an amazing and almost magical effect. Hoh Rain Forest is close to Forks, a small town of about 3,783 people. It is apparently the setting of Twilight, so there were many Twilight-related tours and souvenirs advertised around town. We drove through Forks to get to the rain forest and back, and it is also where the nearest grocery store to our cabin is located. We also took a short hike (1.6 miles roundtrip) to the Sol Doc Falls, where water makes a 48-foot plunge into the rocky canyon below and generates a fine mist. Day 6: Ruby Beach, Mount Rainier Unlike the seasides in northern California, where the winds seem determined to drive you back indoors, Ruby Beach had an invitingly warm, gentle breeze. It was perfect weather to take a stroll by the ocean. We visited in the morning during the low tide, so the tidepools were exposed. The rocks were teeming with starfish of different colors, sea anemones, mussels, and small crabs. The scenery at Ruby Beach was breathtaking. At low tide, the sand above the water line was still wet from earlier in the day. This formed a perfectly flat, reflective plane in the sand. It seemed to stretch on forever into the distance, mirroring the cloudless blue sky. After Ruby beach, we left for Mount Rainier. We stopped briefly at Lake Quinault for a picnic lunch.
Dining: Day 7: Paradise, Narada Falls, The grove of the Patriarchs We drove to the Paradise area, which is known for having beautiful expanses of colorful wildflowers amazing views of Mt. Rainier. Unfortunately, we visited too early in the year. The whole area was cold and foggy, with limited visibility. For the whole drive, we could only see the vague outlines of trees flanking the road and the dim headlights of incoming cars. When we got to the trailheads, we found that many of them were still covered in snow. While it was disappointing that we had journeyed so far only to have Mt. Rainier be shrouded in dense fog, we still had fun playing in the snow. Back at a lower elevation, we visited Narada Falls and hiked in the woods behind it. Everything was so green and refreshing. The Grove of the Patriarchs is at the foot of the mountain. It is home to many old-growth trees, some of which are over a thousand years old. The trees were so huge that they were awe-inspiring. It was an easy 1.5 mile trail with a fun suspension bridge over the Ohanapecosh River. Day 8: Tipsoo Lake, Seattle Before leaving for Seattle again, we went to Tipsoo Lake. This was another place we were excited to visit, as it was famous for having clear reflections of Mt. Rainier on the surface of the water. Thwarted again by the fog, we did not see Mt. Rainier. We went on a short hike around the lake. On the south-facing hills, we could see wildflowers beginning to bloom in patches of grass where the snow had melted away. We could only imagine how beautiful the hillsides would be in full bloom. On the way out, we looked back at Mt. Rainier one last time, and luckily the fog had burned off enough for us to catch a glimpse of it before leaving the park. Overall, we had a good time in Mount Rainier National Park, if unexpected. Next time we will visit later in the year, when all the fog is gone and the flowers are in bloom.
Lodge: We loved our cabin inside the Olympic National Park. Cedarbreeze (122 Riverside Road, Port Angeles WA 98363) was booked on VRBO. The inside of the cabin is neat but nothing extraordinary. The backyard, however, is amazing! There is a hot tub on the patio, a firepit with lawn chairs, and a picnic table. Best of all, the cabin is located right next to the Sol Duc River. The water is very shallow, and you can have fun wading in it.
Things I wish I had known before: The best time to visit Mt. Rainier is July-September. A visit in June is a bit too early. The Sunrise visitor center is closed until the beginning of July. Many trails at high elevation near Paradise were still covered in snow when we went. At low elevation, wildflowers had just started to come out.