I had an interview to do last week over on the Olympic Peninsula for an article I’m writing. I also had childcare arranged for a few days, so I took the time to camp overnight at the National Park Service campground near the Hoh Visitor Center. It was a long drive for a quick trip, but it was really worth making the effort. I hadn’t been over to that area since my honeymoon, almost 17 years ago. It was definitely time for a return visit. My interview took up most of Monday morning, and then I putzed around in Sequim for a few hours getting coffee and last-minute supplies. (I stumbled upon the Dungeness River Audubon Center in Sequim, which has Interpretive Displays and trails to walk.
They were closed this day, but it looks like a neat place to come back to.) I found a cheap umbrella at Good Will (because all the hip hikers use umbrellas these days) and a cheap and ultralight tripod for the camera at the neighboring Radio Shack. It’s a long drive from there over to Forks, and then up the Hoh Valley. It was dinner time when I finally pulled into the half-empty campground and found a spot for the night. It was nicer than I expected there, with more privacy than other NPS campground I’ve seen. I picked a decent spot with a small tent site under a towering spruce, set up my borrowed one-person tent, and made dinner on the camp stove.
I also spent time perusing my camera’s manual to try to learn how to take better photos. I’m trying to grow in this area, so I can submit photos with articles for publication in magazines. I never bothered to learn all the dials and buttons before, but now I think I’m starting to figure a few things out. I thought that I used up all the sunshine on the drive in, as the clouds were thickening that evening, and I expected rain overnight and the next day. I couldn’t wait for it to get dark so I could crawl into the tent – I was so tired from the day and the weekend before. Too bad it was getting close to the Solstice, and would be almost 10:00 before it was really dark. I finally packed it in and zipped the tent up.
I awoke to a few sparse raindrops on the tent fly in the morning. Temps had been mild all night, and I slept pretty well. I got up, made breakfast, did my camp chores, and broke everything down. My PLB wasn’t connecting to my phone, or even getting a signal, so that was kind of discouraging. It worked last time I tried, but I had to do an update a few weeks ago, and now it wasn’t working at all. There was no cell service, so I couldn’t text my husband to let him know I survived the night. The clouds were so dark that my solar charger wouldn’t work, either, to charge my phone up, and the battery pack only gave it half a charge (our cigarette lighter in our car hasn’t worked for years, so we have to be pretty careful with the tunes on long car rides.) Oh well, I guessed things would be more like the olden days before all these gadgets.
The Hoh River Trail starts out from in front of the Visitor Center (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)
You quickly leave the graveled nature walks and general tourists behind, and enter the quiet of ancient forest. I saw many elk prints in the area near the Visitor Center, and there were signs up warning visitors to stay away from the elk. There was no rain in the beginning of my hike, but bands of showers rolled through all day, interspersed with dry periods and even some sunshine.
Moss covers everything, and drapes down from branches like some kind of alien hair.
The trail winds up the river valley, occasionally coming close to the river for a view and a spot to sit by the water. It’s mostly level, with a short section of steeper uphill as it rises over a narrow spot in the valley.
There are a couple of nice streams to cross, one with a lovely waterfall.
I passed a giant pile of what I think was bear scat on the trail.
Many forest wildflowers were blooming.
There are camps along the way, almost every mile it seems. I went a little bit past the one at 2.9 miles, stopping in a wonderful grove of huge trees. This is the area that has been designated by the One Square Inch group, to focus attention on protecting Olympic National Park from noise intrusion. The acoustics of this area are unique, with the trees forming a cathedral-like atmosphere. There are no highways within miles, no rail corridors or lumber operations. The only human sounds come from fellow hikers and airplanes overhead.
I wanted to sit for a bit and rest, so I found a spot off the trail to hang out. I sat up against my pack, and covered myself with my umbrella as rain showers moved through. I think I might have even dozed a bit. When I first sat down, I could hear a grouse drumming nearby. A Stellar’s jay scolded, and robins and winter wrens sang. During the hour-and-a-half I was resting, I heard 4 planes fly by overhead. Their noise trailed on for minutes, it seemed, distracting me from my thoughts and my not-thinking. I observed the mosses and lichens, flowers and raindrops. I breathed and tried to soak in the stillness.
Eventually, though, it was time to head back, as I needed to get back home that day. There were plenty of folks on the trail all day. I walked a bit faster on the way out, but felt more calm and peaceful inside. It felt like a privilege to have this extended time alone, without kids to care for or a mountain of chores to do. To have time just to be.
I saw two elk on the other side of the river on the way back. The heaviest rain shower hit that afternoon, too, but even while it was pouring, there were areas under tall trees that were still dusty dry. I hiked most of the day just with an umbrella, but for the heaviest rain I did put my rain coat on. It was nice just to pull out the umbrella and put it back when I didn’t need it, instead of taking my pack off to get my coat on and off. It was warm enough I didn’t need the extra layer for hiking. Perhaps I’ll bring an umbrella along more often for trails that don’t require trekking poles.
The drive home was long. I stopped at the Storm King Ranger Station picnic area on Lake Crescent to cook dinner and warm up water for coffee. I saw a brilliant rainbow in Sequim; it eventually became a complete bow with a partial double. I couldn’t figure out where to pull over at that moment, though, so no photos of that one. I drove through several of the campgrounds along the route, to get an idea of places to try in the future. It was close to 10:30 when I finally made it home again. It would have been nice to have one more day at the campground and to have been able to drive home the next day, but I had a schedule to keep. It does seem that these kinds of trips can be tough to put together with our busy lives. There were many more places I wanted to check out along the way, but didn’t have time to scoot over to the coast. I guess that means I’ll have to make another trip soon.
If you go:
Read up on the WTA site about the Hoh Valley Trail.
Visit the NPS website for info about other trails in the area and the visitor center. The campground is open year-round and is $12 a night. It has flush toilets and running water, plus a utility sink.
Learn more about the One Square Inch movement at their website.