Perhaps the biggest adventure of our entire trip would come in the USA and Canada where we will be driving around the West coast of both countries for 2 months in our rented Chevrolet Traverse, a meaty 3.6L 7 seater SUV I shall refer to as Tyrone. Tyrone loves a drink, understeers like mad and has more body roll than a Sean Paul backing dancer.
We picked up Tyrone from Downtown Vancouver early on Friday and headed straight to the USA border just south of the City at ‘Peace Arch’. After the grumpiest man alive interrogated me at the border about our plans, he then wished us on our way with a stern ‘Goodbye’, almost throwing the passports back through the window. We hadn’t done as much planning as we should have with regards to the first few days route as it all depended on picking up some camping gear from the nearest Walmart across the border.
We plan to camp as often as possible to avoid the USA’s ridiculously overpriced “cheap” hotels /motels that had seriously raided our budget in Florida. After a bit of research I decided the best town across the border to get things done would be Bellingham as it had a Walmart Supercentre nearby as well as a Dicks Sporting Goods store for anything that Walmart couldn’t provide. We booked in at the familiar (and George's favourite for the breakfast eggs and waffles) Econolodge for one last night of luxury living!
Except for camping stove gas, we got everything we needed at the Bellingham Walmart - a tent, air bed, chairs, cooler box, blanket and a ton of food to hopefully last us a week. We decided not to buy sleeping bags as we were thinking most of the trip would be fairly hot so hoped an emergency woolly blanket would be enough. The whole bill came in at $224, around the cost of 2 - 3 nights at a hotel
Change of plan already! Due to picking the car up on a Friday and combined with the City's ‘Pride’ festival over the weekend meant that Seattle was hugely expensive to stay so we decided that we would instead visit on our way back up to Vancouver. Our detour lead us down the coast and across a number of Islands just north of Seattle, through Deception State Park and over its 2 huge iron bridges all the way to the port town of Coupeville.
The Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry crossing was really great and took us swiftly across the bay for $14 where we would pick up highway 101 heading towards Olympic National Park.
We plan to visit as many national parks as possible, this one would be our second and would be $25 to enter without our annual park pass that we bought at the Everglades in Florida ($80 per vehicle for the year). Being a gorgeously sunny weekend and knowing the National Parks camp spots fill up fast (some months before) we were a bit nervous about not finding anywhere to camp, especially as it was nearing 3pm as we approached the park.
We decided to head to the Visitor centre in Port Angeles (fans of the Twilight book saga will recognise the name) to ask where our best bet would be on finding a camp spot which turned out to be quite funny as the nice old lady behind the counter couldn’t understand my accent one bit. After realising I was looking for a campsite and not a cumsquat (?!!) she said we might be struggling so gave us as many leaflets as possible to help us out. I ignored the leaflets and instead headed up to the National Park Visitor centre. The centre was on the way to a camp I had already researched so I thought we should try our luck on better information there.
Fortunately the National Park Centre said our best shot would be the closest campsite at ‘Heart O’ the Hills’ (the one I wanted to stay at anyway). We quickly drove up the mountain road that leads to Hurricane Ridge and turned off into the campsite after about 6 miles. We managed to find a great spot in Loop C for 2 nights. The campground operates on a self registration process, you find an empty site, bagsy it with a few chairs, fill an envelope out with you details, add the nightly fee ($20 in this case) and put the receipt stub on the board to show the site is occupied. All very simple. The spot, named ‘Daisy Corner’ by George, was pretty big with a picnic table and a fire pit for marshmallows (something we later found would be the norm) and was surrounded by huge sitka spruce trees, famous in the area.
After a long day travelling, we decided against going for a late afternoon hike and instead went to the campground amphitheatre for a Ranger talk on the endangered animals of the park - which George loved. That night we quickly found out that the night temperatures tended to drop a little more than expected and that our no sleeping bag choice was a bad one!
Time to get serious! George had picked a trail for us to get warmed up and back in the hiking spirit so we set off on the 4 mile ‘steady’ hike to Heather Park, where open wildflower meadows awaited. Perhaps a note she missed was that over the course of said 4 miles, there was an increase in altitude of 3350 feet!! I think only Sir Edmund Hilary would describe this hike as ‘steady’ so we were caught off guard big time, not taking enough food and water and me wearing jeans in the mid-20 degree sun.
After a couple of hours of straight uphill with no respite we almost gave up and turned back - especially as there were no trail markers to know how far we still had to go. Just as we were about to give in, a solo female hiker caught us up and said she thought we only had another hour to the top so we decided that we had to make it to see something for all our climbing (rather than the thick evergreen trees that had been the only scenery so far).
Probably an hour and 15 minutes later we reached an opening near the very top of the mountain and were rewarded with a far reaching view back to Port Angeles on one side and a stunning mountain backdrop complete with water fall on the other. The meadows hadn’t quite flowered yet but it was still worth the effort.
After hiking back down to camp and getting a much needed energy boost we headed out that evening to the very top of the hill, Hurricane Ridge. Hurricane Ridge has its own visitor centre as well as loads of hikes off all over the park. The view from the top is really stunning with Canada in view from one side and the Olympic mountain range covering the other like a panoramic postcard shot. Arriving just as the sun was going down we walked a few of the easy loops located around the visitor centre, some still covered in snow (in late June!) and waited for the sunset over the valley - I managed to spot a Black Bear in the far distance which was cool (but scary).
The sunset was unreal, the sky turning a deep dark red like something we’d never seen before! We had hoped the clouds would clear (as if they did the park held a nighttime astronomy tour at the top) but our luck was out so we headed on back down the pitch black hill to daisy corner.
After 2 nights at the campsite it was time to move on. I wanted our next camp to be on the western coast of the park on ‘Second Beach’. To camp on the beach we needed to get a permit and pick up a bear proof food container from the National Park Visitor centre on our way, $8 each per night for the permit and free rental of the canister was a bonus. Black bears are common throughout the region and bear canisters are a compulsory item if you want to camp in the wilderness…. unless you want a bear to give you a midnight fright searching for your twinkies.
We made a brief detour to the local Walmart en-route to pick up two sleeping bags as we couldn’t bare another cold night with only our blanket, luckily Walmart's cheap and cheerful $8 (extra wide!) sleeping bags are really great. I also picked up a small inverter for $10 that means we can now charge our cameras in the car along the way - this has turned out to be a real life saver.
After an hour and a half drive west we reached the small town of ‘La Push’ (also in the Twilight vampire books) where we sat on huge driftwood trees that lined the beach and looked out at the spectacular tree covered sea stacks. A short drive back up the same road we pulled into the ‘Second Beach’ parking area and loaded up one of our big rucksacks with everything we needed for a night on the beach.
The trail to the beach was an easy one, less than a mile with just one hill up and then one hill down. We quickly found a spot nestled in between some driftwood trees, only about 5m or so from the high tide mark. The ranger gave us the tide info back at the visitor centre and told us not to get caught out by the high tide at 2:30 am.
The beach was spectacular, miles upon miles of beach with the forest on one side and the huge sea stacks dotted along the coast on the other. At low tide you could wander 50m or so out onto the beach and view the star fish and anemones clinging to the exposed tidal pools. George was tasked with building a fire pit while I collected some firewood, which she took very seriously. After the rockery/fire pit was sculpted, complete with decorative dragon eggs (Kahleesi??!) we watched the sunset and messed around doing some light painting with my camera with the stunning backdrop shining in the moonlight.
There was only half a dozen or so other campers that night which meant from sunset to sunrise we pretty much had a picturesque stretch of the Pacific Northwest coast to ourselves - amazing.
After stretching our legs along the beach the next morning we quickly packed up and headed back to the car, ready to set off for our next camp at ‘Ho Rainforest’.
On the way we drove through the town of Forks, where the Twilight books were actually based. There’s not a lot in town to see (as its just an old timber town and not full of vampires or werewolves like in the books) but George made me find the high school and stop for a photo against ‘Bella’s’ red Chevvy pick-up from the movie!
Another sub 2 hour drive lead us to the main visitor centre at Ho where we quickly found a camp spot in loop A, nestled in with wildflowers opposite the Ho River, a huge glacial river that runs alongside the camp. Again, self registration was simple and we popped $40 into the envelope for our 2 night stay on ‘Dandelion Drive’. We decided to have a relaxing afternoon soaking up the unusually hot sunshine (the annual rainfall here is 144 inches!)
The most famous trail in this area of the park is the short 3/4 mile trail called ‘Hall of Mosses’. The path winds around 500 year old 200ft plus Sitka trees dripping with all kinds of moss and old mans beard creating an eery effect. Along the path small info boards educate you about the different trees/plants and how fallen down trees act as feeder trees for new growth trees and other plants. The huge trees have very shallow roots as the high rainfall means the roots don't need to go deep to find nutrients - 200 foot shallow rooted giants and huge Pacific Northwest storms leads to a lot of fallen trees, known as ‘blow down’.
We followed on from that trail with the other short 1 1/4 mile spruce trail around newer forest where Roosevelt Elk can often be spotted.
After a big lunch we set off in the afternoon along the ‘Ho River trail’ that leads 17 miles or so into the park. Several back country campsites are dotted along the way (available with permits) however we decided to only go the 2.5 miles to the waterfall and then a touch further to Tom Creek where we sat next to the river and had highly competitive stone throwing competitions - I won. We desperately tried to find Elk on the walk back but only managed a couple of spotted deer and a few squirrels.
The nightly campfire followed with our ghetto take on the famous American smore - melted marshmallows in-between two hot chocolate chip cookies!!
We would make one final stop in Olympic National Park, this time at the more touristy Lake Quinalt a couple of hours south along highway 101.
On the way we stopped for a walk along Ruby Beach, one of the more popular PNW stretches of coastline with the forest/sea stack combo. One sight we didn’t like on the beach was a dead grey whale rotting on the sand, George found it really upsetting but we quickly saw some amazing nature - a couple of Bald Eagles and then a Sea Otter returning from the sea running across the beach, definitely a lucky find to distract George!
I had researched another quick stop on the way, a tree on the beach that has been completely undermined by erosion with only a few roots keeping it upright. After a few photos and some more sea air and sunshine we continued on our way to the Lake Quinalt visitor centre to drop our bear canister off and find out which campsites had availability.
This area falls under the National Forest and the nearby campsites were ran by the fancy Lake Quinalt Lodge. This resulted in a higher nightly fee of $25 but not quite as nice spots as we were used to but we used the afternoon to do some much needed laundry (George’s socks were toxic by this stage) and visit the worlds largest Sitka spruce on the lakes shores, an impressive 210 feet tall. A nightly campfire followed ready to go exploring tomorrow