Washington is such a beautiful state, and we were fortunate to visit three of their National Parks while we were there. North Cascades, which is located on the states northern border with Canada, was a different experience than any of the other parks we have visited thus far. Mt. Rainier is further south and east of the capitol city of Olympia, and was incredibly beautiful in the fall. Olympic is in the north, and includes parts of the coast, it has the only rain forest in the U.S. We have loved and been awed by all the national parks we have been able to spend time in, and the Washington parks were no exception.
North Cascades was mentioned in a previous post so let me begin with our Mt. Rainier experience. We traveled south of Seattle to a small town outside Olympia where we stayed in a city park campground that was small and quiet. It was about an hour to get to Mt. Rainier but definitely worth the drive. The weather was perfect both of the days we spent there. Our first day we hiked in the lower part near the visitor center closest to the west entrance. They had quite a bit of information on the history of the park, the old hotel/spa that was there, and the people who owned it. The kids love spotting wildlife along the trails so we felt lucky to see a frog near a small stream running under the trail. In the afternoon we took the drive up the mountain. It was definitely much busier at the top! We only took a short hike at the base of the peak, but the view was amazing. Apparently the the mountain spends much of it’s time under cloud cover and rarely is it clearly visible, but we were fortunate to get some great views both days we were there. On our second day we headed straight to the top only to find that they were re-paving the parking lot at the visitor center and everyone had to park at the picnic area about a mile hike away. There was a ranger led hike we wanted to go on, as it was part of the kids Junior Ranger Program, so by the time we arrived at the designated meeting place it was almost time for it to start. Turns out it was the same hike we had taken on our previous visit, but it was nice to get all the information about the plants and animals of the park. The fall colors were amazing and had we not been accompanied by three fairly small children we would definitely had attempted the five mile hike to get to the official base of the mountain. All in all it was an awesome place and I am so glad we got to experience it first hand.
All of the National Parks we have visited so far have been amazing places, but the camping, either in or around them, has been a different experience. None have been terrible, but a few have been just a place to stay to see the sights. Not Olympic. The campground we stayed in was right on the beach, and probably my favorite campground so far. It took less than five minutes to get down to the water and we got to fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. It was great. Olympic is such a diverse area. We got to experience the coastal part and the rain forest, which were both amazing. The rain forest was actually pretty dry (meaning it didn’t rain on us) while we were there. It was crazy to look around and see moss pretty much covering every surface, it was like a carpeting of moss on everything. The way the trees and other plants grow out of the fallen trees and stumps was so cool. Things are just growing everywhere you look. The kids were amazed by the giant maple leaves because they really were giant! I loved the beaches even though it was kind of cold down by the water and we took several walks while we were there. We even got to have a fire on the beach and we all worked on building a sand castle around it. The kids each found a whole sand dollar which was very exciting. I look forward to going back to see more of this beautiful place and I hope we can stay at the same beach campground.
Here are links to the National Park Websites:
North Cascades National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
Olympic National Park