If you’ve ever spoken to me about my travels, you’re aware that I have a growing love affair with the outdoors. It’s so bad that I often wonder if a man will ever be able to inspire the same heart-throbbing, jaw dropping, giddy emotion that the great outdoors continues to do each time I stumble onto some place new.
Okay, so that’s a little much but you get my point-I love nature.
And not in the tree-hugging, PETA-supporting, “I only eat organic apples,” kind of way. I love it because of how naturally magnificent it is.
Absent of the ability to form words, yet the outdoors continues to speak for itself and I imagine that’s exactly how the Lord designed it to be.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that my favorite aspect of the PNW is the variety of outdoor activities she offers. Washington alone encompasses three National Parks and I’m here to cover my experience in two of them: Mount Rainier and Olympic.
We’ll start with Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP because we can all agree that’s a mouthful). After settling in central/eastern Washington for my three-month travel nurse assignment, my mom and I packed once more and headed west. It was August and the weather was the definition of perfection – like Rhode Island’s description in Miss Congeniality of her perfect date, ” not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket.”
Spring and Summer are typically the best seasons to visit these parks, however, I also visited both during the snowy winter months and let me just say, they’re gorgeous no matter the season. Should you choose to do so as well, make sure you check the road closure status prior MRNP Road Conditions. Regardless, mom and I entered MRNP via the eastern Stevens Canyon entrance and I can remember immediately struggling to catch my breath-it was like driving through an evergreen sun-bathed dream. After several stops to take in the scenic overlooks, mom, Danko and I geared up to hike the mild trail, Grove of the Patriarchs. To anyone looking to hike this trail, be warned it is not dog friendly (oopsie..as my high school basketball coach always said, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission) but do yourself a favor and leave your pup at home for this one. The hike is short and simple, with a total roundtrip distance of 1.5 miles. It includes a small suspension bridge that crosses over the Ohanapecosh River and leads to a wood paved loop of impressive Firs, Hemlocks and Cedars.
After making our way back from the trailhead, we hopped back in the car and headed west to Paradise. No, really, there is a visitor center in the park called Paradise. It sits beautifully on a snowy slope of Mount Rainier, with panoramic views of the nearby mountains. There is even a Paradise Inn that offers overnight accommodations but note that it is closed on the weekdays in the winter (mid October-April). Mom was a bit tired from our hike plus the trail also restricts pups, so she and Danko sat comfortably at the Paradise visitor center while I hiked Panorama Point Skyline Loop Trail. This trail is NOT for the faint of heart. I quickly understood how the exercise term, “mountain climbers,” came to fruition. The 5.3 mile paved trail maintains a steady incline, climbing almost 2,000 feet total before completing the loop to halfway up the gorgeous 14er.
As you can see, during the summer the trail displays fields of wildflowers and on a clear day, the snow-peaked top of Mount Rainier. Winter allows for breathtaking amounts of fresh powder on the trail if you’re interested in trying your hand at snow-shoeing. My third or fourth visit was in February when my two best girls Emily and Julia came to visit. It was their first time in the PNW and they had already packed in so much but I couldn’t let them leave without experiencing MRNP. We took a short drive to Paradise and then back down for a few scenic “basic” girl photos.
In all, MRNP was the park I visited most simply because it was closest. I can say with confidence that even if you just take a drive through the park, you won’t be disappointed.
Now that we’ve tackled MRNP, let’s not forget about Olympic National Park (ONP). I was able to see this beauty up close and personal twice: once with a friend in September and again on my own as a long weekend get away. Olympic was exactly what I’d imagined it would be and more! She had everything, from mountains to your classic dark sanded beaches filled with icy cold ocean water. If you’re creative mind is lacking, picture Twilight on steroids. If you haven’t seen Twilight, first of all, props to you for resisting the chick-obsessed fantasy of 2008. And second of all, do yourself a favor and check it out. As a girl who had only ever seen the white sandy beaches and clear blue waters of Florida, I was pleasantly pleased to experience a different kind of beach. This place nagged at the introvert within me, which was completely appropriate because I was there alone. My first experience was Labor day 2017 with my good friend Zack. If you get anything out of this, note that holiday weekends are THE WORST time to camp in national parks. With that being said, plan ahead if you intend on visiting during the busy season (IE Summer and Fall). Very few of the campsites in Olympic allow you to reserve a spot ahead of time so keep that in mind. Zack and I camped at HOH National Rainforest campground and it was simply magical.
What is not pictured is the struggle Zack and I had to go through to secure a campsite with our pups. Washington is typically very dog friendly but I would have to exclude the national parks from that generalization. Because my initial holiday weekend visit was tainted by crowds, rude obnoxious people, and dirty looks due to two full grown dogs, I decided to give the park another go in the “off-season.” Danko and I packed up mid February and headed west to a tiny house about 45 minutes southwest of the park. To all my fellow closet introverts, this is the park for you. Combine cold dreary weather with your most unflattering, ultra comfortable high school sweats, topped off with a good book fireside and you’ll be in heaven. Add in a beautiful snow-filled hike and you’ve accurately described my solo weekend away in Olympic. I hiked a snow-covered Marymere Falls trail in the early morning. If you’re interested, park at Storm King Ranger Station and follow the signs for the trail. It’s a short, mild hike, under 2 miles roundtrip but covered in lush evergreens and ferns, even in the dead of winter.
In the spirit of honesty, I must admit that I struggled throughout my time in Washington state. The lack of sunshine-filled days, as well as circumstances affected my daily disposition more than I anticipated. The only saving grace was close friends and the beauty found outside. The culture may not have meshed well with me but the environment certainly made up for it. I firmly believe that nature is capable of changing your perspective if only you’ll allow it. It’s endless supply of golden hours and thunderstorms have often turned my sadness to joy, pride to humility and worry to faith. With each hike, “solocation” and saturday spent outdoors, the state of Washington was able to execute this shift of focus flawlessly. SO should you ever find yourself in the upper left USA, check out these two hot spots for yourself! AND stay tuned for more on short day trips from Seattle!!
Ragan & Danko