Kyle Kotajarvi

American West Blog

Day 2: The Olympic Peninsula


Checkout my guide to the Olympic Peninsula here

"Make the most of every minute of today." - That's what I told myself when the most maddening alarm tone I could find on my iPhone awoke me at 6:30 this morning.  After a few minutes of  deserved grogginess, I pulled myself off of Wiley's couch and began preparing for the day.  Our plan of attack for today was to be out the door at 7:00 and make our way down through Tacoma and Olympia and then west along Highway 8 until we hit Highway 101 in Aberdeen, which would take us north into Olympic National Park.  I might sound naïve saying this, but I didn't realize how long of a drive it would be out to the peninsula, thus the early wakeup.  Looking on map, I could see that the linear distance between the coast and Seattle is about 95 miles, but since the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountain Range lie amidst the linear route, the only roads to the coast  lead around the obstructing landforms.  

As we made our way south down Interstate 5 I caught my first glimpse of Mount Rainier's silhouette in the distance.  It looked other-worldly; like a cloud that was tethered to the ground.  Even from miles and miles away, the mountain loomed over the surrounding landscape.  Hopefully I'll able to visit and maybe even climb it someday.  After stopping for gas and Starbucks near Tacoma, we turned towards the port-town of Aberdeen. 

After we merged north onto Highway 101, the trees began to grow larger and they began to hug the shoulder of the road.  It was as if driving down a hallway of leaves.  The landscape was simply incredible.  We pulled off onto the shoulderabout 10 miles short of our first destination, Lake Quinault, because we simply couldn't not take some photos. 

We arrived at Lake Quinault shortly after 10 a.m., so with only one stop, the total commute was about three hours. 

Seattle to Lake Quinault: 153 miles - 3 hours 5 minutes

The weather at the lake was the definition perfect. You truly haven't experienced fresh air until you're among one of the world's most thriving forests.   The lake was swelling from the recent rain and had impeded onto the shoreline grass. 

Since we were on a short schedule, we had to move quickly between the places we wanted to see, so we moved on from the lakefront after about 15 minutes and headed toward the "World's Largest Sitka Spruce."

Located adjacent to the Lake Quinault lodge and accessible via a very, very short trail, we knew we had to see it.  The mammoth is 191 feet tall and has a trunk diameter of 59 feet.  Simply amazing. 

After returning from the Spruce tree, we headed up one of the many trails accessible via South Shore Road (the only road on the south side of Lake Quinault).  We ventured deep into the Quinault Rain Forest through some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen.

About a mile into our hike we stumbled upon one of my favorite locations of the day and you can learn more about how to get there here.   

Leaving the Quinault Rain Forest was not a happy moment. Quite truthfully, up until that point in the day, I didn't realize how much more there was to see.  We got back to the car at about 1:30 and proceeded north along Highway 101 towards the coast.  

The amount of logging between Lake Quinault and our next destination, Kalaloch Beach, was incredibly depressing.  I couldn't even begin to describe the carnage.  We ended up stopping at a logging field to walk around a bit, which is much easier said than done.  The combination of mud, branches and wet sawdust created something close to quicksand. One misstep and you were knee deep in something unpleasant. 

We eventually reached Kalaloch Beach 1 at about two in the afternoon.  There was a small parking lot at the trailhead that we left the Jeep at and then we proceeded towards the beach.  The trail wound through a thick seaside cluster of trees before descending a steep hillside to the water's edge.  The beach was littered with thousands of felled redwoods that had been swept ashore and had been worn by the elements.  It was quite a sight.  

About 10 minutes after we arrived at the beach, Wiley came across this large glass green sphere wrapped in a thick rope.  Not really knowing what it was, we brought it back to the car only to learn that it was a Japanese glass fishing float. Apparently, the floats were once used by fishermen in many parts of the world to keep their fishing nets, as well as longlines or droplines afloat. The spheres were strung together in groups sometimes 50 miles long and were sit adrift in the ocean. Since these floats have been in use for about 100 years now, the one we found may have been lost in the Pacific for decades, traveling thousands of miles uninhibited and free. The world is an incredible place.

From Beach 1 we made the 20 minute drive up to Ruby  Beach.  Ruby Beach is one of the more well-known beaches on the peninsula because of its sea stacks, and it was also the first place we went where there was other people! Let me rephrase that, up until about 3:00 p.m., Wiley and I had run into a total of four people on our stops.  One person on the trail in the Quinault Rain Forest and three other people walking towards the World's Largest Sitka Spruce as we were leaving.  That's pretty incredible.  Ruby Beach was a bit difficult to photograph since it became incredibly foggy as we descended upon the beach.  Also, a stream was cutting off part of the beach that we really wanted to visit.  

We wandered around Ruby Beach for about an hour before we quickly set out for towards Kalaloch Beach 4.  One very important detail that I hadn't taken into account, one that would effect the entire three weeks I was on the road, was that the sun sets before 5 p.m. during late December and early January.  Thus, we really needed to make the most of every minute that the sun was up. Yikes...  

 Beach 4 at Kalaloch was definitely one of the highlights of the day.  It was indescribable.  The hike down to the beach was long and steep and ended at a wooded bridge over a small creek that ran into the ocean.  The beach itself was made up of tiny pebbles, which was a huge contrast from Beach 1, which was medium sized flat stones.  Both Wiley and I walked about a 1/4 mile towards a rock formation at the north end of the beach.  The formation was enormous and was covered in barnacles, sea anenomes and starfish.  We watched the sun set behind the cloudy sky and attempted to make the most of the rapidly fading light.  

Our day out on Olympic Peninsula was one for the books.  Truly one of the best days of my life.  We were completely exhausted by the time by got back to Seattle.  After spending nearly 8 hours in the car and going much of the day without food, we were ready to crash.  I don't know what tomorrow holds yet, but I'm sure it'll be a good one.