Washington National Parks + the San Juan Islands [Part 2]

Washington National Parks are cool.

Welcome to Part 2 of our trip to the Washington national parks & San Juan Islands! We’ve reached the national parks portion of our tour. If you’re looking for the Game of Thrones on-location tour, that bus left an hour ago, and also you’re in the wrong country. Looks like you’re stuck here, so feel free to come along as you examine your life and your choices.

Missed Part 1? Check it out here. Otherwise, onwards!

Day 6:

Olympic National Park

Throughout these days of long drives, hours of podcasts helped the time whirl by. Soon enough, on day six we were walking down the sandy path to Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, peering through the trees to get a good look at the Pacific Ocean.

We stood on bleached white logs and skipped rocks into the streams of water that rushed towards the broad stretch of ocean. Others – families, photographers – joined us on the sand as we fiddled with our cameras and explored the rocks. Several minutes were dedicated to taking pictures of mussels.

Mussels at Ruby Beach.

Walking around Ruby Beach was a joy because I’ve seen so many pictures of it on Instagram, and it still blew me away in person. (Does anyone else have mixed feelings about the internet like I do? I love to see these beautiful places online, but I also want them all to myself…)

Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park.

Back in the car, we continued on to marvel at the lupine lining the highway and Crescent Lake‘s glistening water. Our next destination was the enchantingMarymere Falls, which teased us with glimpses of the rushing waterfall before we reached the trail’s viewpoint. Washington is truly a beautiful state.

Marymere Falls in Olympic National Park

The waterfall hunt continued: we made our way to Madison Falls, a quick and easy trail with beautiful cascading water at the end. It was an awesome reward for minimal effort.

Madison Falls, Olympic National Park.

We ended the day with the 17-mile drive up Hurricane Ridge, one of the park’s biggest and (relatively) easily-accessible attractions. Fog pillows settled down around the car as we drove, decreasing visibility and slowing our roll.

The weather at the top was supposedly OK, according to our stop at the Visitor Center. The fog worried us, though – what if we made this trek through the mountains only to be disappointed? (Obviously, the stakes were low. This wasn’t mountaineering or anything. But still.)

We weren’t disappointed. The fog cleared just before we reached the top, and cloudy skies couldn’t dampen the amazing views.

Hurricane Ridge

Know before you go: Hurricane Ridge is well worth the drive, but check the weather at the park’s visitor center before you head up there. The top is likely to be cold and windy on any given day, so bring at least an extra jacket if you’re planning to get out of the car and walk around.

Day 7:

North Cascades National Park

Day 7 in Washington dawned bright and beautiful – clear skies, full stomachs (mmm, breakfast), couldn’t lose. We hit the road.

Our day trips meant we didn’t have time for much in-depth hiking during our stint in Washington, but we did manage to trudge through the late-May snow on the ground to reach the Washington Pass Overlook.

Washington Pass Overlook, North Cascades National Park.

Good news – I made a new friend:

New bird best friend in Washington.

Know before you go: Even during the last week of May, several feet of snow covered the ground surrounding the lookout, and cars couldn’t drive past a pull-off on the main highway. We hopped out and walked up the road leading to the parking lot, then we slipped and slid our way over the snow to reach the overlook. Bring sturdy shoes!

By the afternoon, our rental car was running out of gas, and there aren’t any gas stations throughout the entire length of the park. After driving down the highway to the outskirts, we ended up in a tiny mountain town on the other end. Another day, another round of dream homes at the foot of the mountains.

Pulling into the dusty parking of a group of cabins yielded the answer to our gas prayers: an old man with a funny hat and a white beard down to his chest who walked out of the information center right as we pulled up.

He did not yell at us to get off his lawn, but he did give us directions to the nearest gas station, grumbling about how someone had put up a sign we’d passed that pointed the wrong way towards gas.

This encounter led to us filling up the tank outside an adorable general store called the Mazama Store. It’s outside the park, but makes it on my list of recommendations anyway simply for being so cute.

Tank full, we turned around and drove back through the park in the opposite direction. Of course, we paused to appreciate the views at theDiablo Lake Overlook before cruising back towards Seattle.

Diablo Lake Overlook

Day 8:

Mount St. Helens

The drive from Seattle to Mount St. Helens is a long one, so we powered through several podcasts and Diet Cokes (always come prepared.) As we approached, tree stumps and gaps in vegetation in the areas surrounding the mountain offered a friendly reminder that it’s still an active volcano.

Mount St. Helens was, sadly, shrouded in fog, but the mountain peeked through once or twice to offer us a glimpse into what it must have been like when it erupted back in May 1980. The visitor’s center covers the eruption’s history in depth, so we browsed that for awhile before hopping back on the road.

Mount Rainier National Park

Rainier is probably my new favorite national park. Small waterfalls cascaded down the rocks on the side of the road, and the immensity of Mt. Rainier was overwhelmingly beautiful. We drove around listening to theWake Up Now! episode of This American Life (highly recommend – the story is pretty nuts.)

The Namesake of Mt. Rainier National Park.

At the top of the road to the visitor center, we discovered a closed center and no signs pointing towards gas as we’d hoped. (Yes, we were low on gas again. Don’t judge.) We also found the unexpected but awesome surprise of a swarm of people skiing. I’d love to make a trip back to Mt. Rainier that involves hitting the slopes.

It was pretty late in the day by this point, seeing as we’d driven to Mt. Saint Helen’s in the morning. After getting our fill of the park (not actually…when can I go back?), we raced back to Seattle to meet our friends for dinner.

Finally, the sun set on the Space Needle and our last day in the Pacific Northwest – for now 😉

Day 9:

Flying home to fall face-first into a pillow.


Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to read about the first part of our trip in the San Juan Islandshere.