Hitched Up: Olympic National Park and Mount Saint Helens

We got lucky in Seattle with a week of clear skies but the gloomy clouds and rain were waiting for us at our next stop in Port Angeles. We had really been looking forward to reaching this point in our trip because our friends from Texas and Louisiana (who introduced us and attended to us in our wedding last year) moved to the area earlier this summer.

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We were super excited to spend time together and to explore their beautiful new home in the Pacific Northwest. The week of our arrival marked the first significant rainfall the area had seen all summer. But, we weren’t going to let a little rain spoil our fun, so we put on our jackets and headed into Olympic National Park to check out some of its waterfalls. There are dozens of waterfalls of varying types and sizes around the Olympic Peninsula, fueled by abundant rainfall and over 60 glaciers. Some of the waterfalls can only be enjoyed by kayak or boat and some are located deep in the backcountry, but many can be viewed after a short hike. 

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Our first trip was to Sol Duc Falls at the northwestern end of Olympic National Park. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead, however the trail itself is not accessible with obstacles including stairs, rocks, and tree roots. The rainforest canopy provided some shelter from the rain as we made a short trek through the rainforest to the falls and the Sol Duc River. 

On another rainy day we hiked out to the beautiful Marymere Falls and Lake Crescent. Even in the rain, the lake was gorgeous and the misty, looming clouds gave the mountains a magical feel. 

img_7024Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead for Marymere Falls but the trail is only accessible for the first 1/2 mile. The accessible portion of the trail is packed gravel, however further down the trail and closer to the falls there are several sets of uneven stairs with handrails.

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img_7022I was eager to visit the accessible trail to Madison Creek Falls. The trail is also one of the few where pets are allowed. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead and the trail is paved and mostly flat.

This was my favorite waterfall so far— tall and cascading, surrounded by deep green foliage. The short hike to the falls was also gorgeous as it meandered through huge moss-covered trees.

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Another accessible option from the Madison Creek Falls trailhead is taking the paved Olympic Hot Springs Road along the Elwha River. The road is closed to vehicles just beyond the trailhead parking due to a bridge washout further ahead, however the paved road is pet-friendly and can still be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. We walked along the road traveling through the forest, alongside the Elwha River, and over a few bridges. We stopped near one bridge and walked to the river to check out the salmon swimming upstream on their run. 

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img_7435img_7439After a few days of steady rain we had a pocket of sunshine midday so we took advantage of the opportunity and made a quick trip up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. The drive up to Hurricane Ridge was super scenic and we even spotted a black tail deer grazing on the side of the road. 

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img_7207.jpgThere are a few accessible scenic overlooks along the way, though some have walkways which are only partly accessible, starting off as paved but leading to stairs. 

The Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center has a few paved trails deemed “accessible with assistance,” defined as trails which “do not meet ADA/ABA standards, but may be passable by those with sufficient upper body strength or a friend to help.” An accessible gift shop, cafe, restroom, parking lot, and a large patio overlooking the Bailey Range is also onsite. The Cirque Rim and Big Meadows trails are paved and “accessible with assistance,” offering stunning views of the Olympic Peninsula on a clear day. The Hurricane Hill Trail is also partially “accessible with assistance,” though it was closed for construction during our visit. According to the park’s website, the project includes “improving the first 4/10 of a mile of the trail to federal accessibility standards.” Whoo-hoo! More details about accessibility in Olympic National Park can be found here.

We hiked up the High Ridge Trail (the first section is steep and marked as “accessible with assistance” from the Big Meadows Trail) to Sunrise Point. Those who are not faint of heart will enjoy the steep and steady climb up the narrow trail to the top.

img_7213With another short window of sunshine predicted in the weather forecast, we decided to head out on our bikes. We traveled a short segment of the 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail which runs along the coast through towns and forests between Port Townsend, WA and La Push, WA. This fully accessible and mostly-paved trail has something for everyone— beaches, forest, city streets, streams, bridges, picnic spots, marinas, barren industrial facilities, you name it.

Heading east from Port Angeles we had stunning views of the coast. I loved the trail so much, cycling it from end-to-end is now on my bucket list. Gaius also enjoyed cruising along the trail and when the raindrops started to fall, we got to try out his rain cover. He didn’t seem to mind it or the rain at all. Rain or shine, riding around on the bike with Gaius in a basket is a guaranteed way to put a smile on the face of every person we meet. He never fails to gather a lot of attention.

We said goodbye to our friends and left Port Angeles to head further down the coast where this lucky little dog got to experience his first trip to the beach. As soon as his little paws hit the soft, warm sand he instantly began running circles around me as fast as he could. He was a very happy boy.

We also took a trip to Forks, home of all things Twilight, and hiked to a few gorgeous beaches. My favorite beaches have always been those that are rocky with lots of trees and these did not disappoint.

Several of the beaches have accessible overlooks, including Ruby Beach pictured above left. However, according to Olympic National Park’s website, none of their beaches have ADA-accessible trails to the shore. I usually try to write my posts in a positive tone, but I’ll admit it’s difficult to maintain after realizing my dog can easily experience the sand on a beautiful beach but a person who uses a wheelchair cannot. Also disheartening is traveling an “accessible” trail only to reach an inaccessible scenic overlook or attraction. It’s like a big tease or a really cruel joke– “Oh I see you came all this way, did you want to see the epic view that lies ahead? Just kidding, here’s a 6-inch stair that will keep you from it!” I can only begin to imagine how incredibly frustrating this must be for people who use wheelchairs or scooters.

With that said, some places are awesomely accessible, including the Mount Saint Helens Visitor Center operated by Washington State Parks. For a small admission fee, visitors can enjoy museum exhibits where they will learn about the volcanic mountain’s geology and landscape before and after the historic 1980 eruption. There’s also a theater and a fantastic walking trail through second-growth forest and wetlands. The 1-mile loop trail is accessible and travels over wooden boardwalks and packed gravel or dirt surfaces. A manual wheelchair is also available for loan.

After a brief stop at the visitor center, we drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The observatory is located at the end of State Highway 504, which passes through a few small towns and provides access to several marked scenic overlooks. We stopped at each overlook along the way, all of which are accessible, and had grand views of the volcano’s blast zone. The observatory is also super accessible with restrooms, exhibits, indoor and outdoor theaters, overlooks, trails, powered-assisted doors, and ample parking.

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Visibility wasn’t great on the day we visited but even though the clouds hid the top of the snow-capped volcano, we couldn’t complain about the view.

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We also couldn’t complain about camping in the forest and staying warm by the campfire. Since May, just about every place we’ve camped has been under a fire ban so sitting around the campfire was a real treat.

There’s still a lot more of Washington we’d love to explore someday but for now we’re on to our next stop– Oregon.

Thanks for reading.

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