Our Northwest Adventure Part 1 – Olympic National Park, WA

This is what a 24 hour travel day looks like toward the end.

We’re here!

In the Hoh Rainforest.

The Hall of Mosses.

Found some cute critters!

Love watching her with her daddy.

At Hole in the Wall on Rialto Beach – this was fascinating tidal pools but you have to be careful to get through and back before the tide comes in or you can be trapped.

Rialto Beach – the sea stacks were unbelievable!

One of the seals that was following us down the coast – so funny!

At Sol Duc Falls.

Our donkey and horse friends who decided to have a little spat with each other while we were trying to walk by.

Gorgeous and gigantic Crescent Lake.

The easy little trail our helpful ranger told us would be no problem for our child with a heart condition – yes, it went pretty much straight up.

Peaceful Alpine Meadow. You just can’t really see that behind that deer is a drop of thousands of feet.

Anna and Rachel near the Princess-Bride-like hill at a point that was wide enough that I was still comfortable taking pictures.


About a year ago, my in-laws told us that for their 50th anniversary, they wanted the whole family to be together. They invited their three sons’ families on an Alaskan cruise with them to celebrate, and in a bit of a miracle, we found a time everyone could go! So, twenty-three Shaws set out earlier this summer for a grand Pacific Northwest adventure.

Nathan and I decided that if we were going to go to the expense and time of getting all eight of us out there, we might as well add some time and really show the kids that part of the country. We wanted to see Olympic National Park, and also Vancouver Island. The Littles (our pet name for Noah, Ethan, and Anna – our older kids are the Bigs) were so excited to go to Canada – the first time they’ve been to another country other than China or the U.S. It helps that both Nathan and I travel a lot for work, so we were able to use a lot of points on airfare and hotels to help keep our cost down – traveling that far with eight people can get really pricey!

I started watching airfares, and was so discouraged by how expensive it was to get us all from Columbus to Seattle. I was checking surrounding airports, and stumbled on one amazing fare that showed up for only one day out of Indianapolis. We would have to drive 3 hours, but it literally saved us more that half the cost! That was worth it. And in the end, we realized that between Nathan and I we actually had enough airline miles at that price to cover the entire trip with miles for our whole family – what a blessing!

The night before we left, we had the kids go to sleep in their clothes and packed the van. We had to leave at 2:30 in the morning to drive to Indy to get our early morning flight. I just kept reminding myself how much money this saved us – let’s just say I’m not a morning person, and I didn’t think weeping would enhance the start of the trip. The kids got in the car and went back to sleep for 3 hours while I kept Nathan awake.

We are kind of a traveling machine, so Nathan let us off and went to park the car and take the shuttle back while the kids and I checked all the bags and got our flights checked in. We met up at security and we were on our way! This was the first time the Littles had flown since we came home from China almost two years ago, so their only other experience with planes were the big international flights with TVs in the seats and meals served etc. Let’s just say they were a little let down by no TVs and a bag of pretzels this time. 🙂 We flew to California and then onto Seattle and then rented a car and drove three hours out to the far side of Olympic – it was an epic, almost 24 hour travel day, but they were all troopers!

Olympic National Park:

Olympic is so much bigger than I realized. We drove out on the southern route and made an incredibly quick stop at Sunset Beach which we reached literally as the sun was setting (so beautiful!!) and spent two nights in Forks, the closest we could get to the Hoh Rainforest. We drove back on the northern route, and the whole round trip was 6 hours! But it was so diverse, it was just amazing!

The first day, we hiked in the Hoh Rainforest and also did the famous Hall of Mosses which feels like Jurassic Park with giant pine trees covered in moss and the sun shining through. We weren’t able to do one of the trails we’d planned on because there was a mama moose and her baby on the trail so it was closed, but we discovered another trail that was just stunning as well. We went home for a late lunch and rest and then went to hike Rialto Beach down to “Hole in the Wall,” a famous rock formation.

You have to time Rialto to be there for the low tide so you don’t get pinned behind the sea stacks (giant rock formations) as the tide comes in which can be very dangerous. It was actually really hard hiking because the beach is very soft and rocky and you shift with every step, but it had a wild, powerful beauty to it that took our breath away. We saw our first eagles here, at one point seeing one dive bomb another at the top of a giant spruce. We were very under-dressed as it was much colder and windier on the water than we were prepared for, and all the other hikers were in full gear and clearly worried about us in our shorts with a hiking sandals and hoodies, but we were working so hard to hike we warmed up. The tidal pools all around Rialto were just fascinating! We saw sea stars and anemones everywhere, and also sea otters. While we were walking back, a seal literally followed us down the shore line for at least 20 minutes, popping up to watch us from the waves, and eventually a second one joined him – it was hilarious, and amazing! We all agreed that was one of the most incredible hikes we’ve ever done.

Our second day in Olympic we packed up because we were sleeping back in Seattle that night. We headed back on the northern route, driving through some of the most incredible scenery imaginable, especially along Lake Crescent. We hiked out to Sol Duc Falls, and it was another stunning hike.

When we parked, we saw a huge horse trailer, and they were unloading at least 20 horses and mules. I just assumed there was some kind of trail ride, but as we were approaching the falls, all the horses and mules showed up too, and we realized that this was how they transport building materials to sites that are not accessible any other way. They were redoing some of the bridges in the forest – I had wondered who in the world was carrying all those materials miles into the forest! They had them all gathered in one spot, and at one point one of the mules crowded another one which ticked him off and all of the sudden we had a bit of a mule smack-down which scared us all a bit, especially Anna, as we were pretty close to them! But the rangers got them calmed down and told us when we could pass. Pretty interesting job, I’d say.

Olympic is so interesting partially because there are so many ecosystems represented. Our last hike was to see that last type, called alpine meadow. That sounds so peaceful and safe, and yet this turned out to be one of the most frightening things I’ve done. We were going to find this ecosystem at the top of Hurricane Ridge – we found out later it’s called that because of the Hurricane force winds that come over the top of the mountain. Oh, how sweet. And slightly less peaceful.

Not sure how I missed it in my mind, but to get to “alpine” level with snowy mountain tops, one has to get to the top of the mountain. We went through a perfectly safe looking national park gate and then started a fairly terrifying, 15 mile, twisting-road-on-the-edge-of-a-death-defying-cliff-with-no-guardrails trip that had this afraid of heights mama testing the imaginary brake on the passenger side of the car the entire time. There was no turning back once you started because there was literally no place you could turn back! And while I was hyperventilating in the front seat, we were watching some obvious insane people BIKING down this road. Down. For 15 twisting miles. With no guardrails and drops of literally thousands of feet. Did I mention they were on a bike? Eiyiyi.

We got to the top (finally) and it really was so beautiful. And peaceful. Well, if you didn’t count the hurricane-force winds. And we thought, “hey, we made it up here, let’s see a bit.” So I asked the ranger what easy, safe, short hike she would recommend for a family with children, one of whom has a heart condition. And she sent us on a hike pretty much straight up a mountain. At one point the trail was only 18 inches wide which would have been totally fine if it hadn’t FALLEN OFF ON BOTH SIDES TO OBVIOUS DEATH ala the scene in the Princess Bride where they fall down the hill into the Fire Swamp except in both directions. Oh yeah, and then it was covered with snow. And ice. And I was wearing 10 year old Sketchers with no tread because, you know, I didn’t realize I was defying death today in an alpine meadow. Easy peasy.

When we made it back to the lodge (and I was done dry heaving into the bushes), the guy at the gift shop told me what a sweet job it was. Are you flipping kidding me that you drive that every single day?! And he said, no, they send a shuttle, it’s actually really peaceful, he does his crossword every morning on it. Of course. May I just say, YOU COULDN’T PAY ME!!!

And then we had to get back down. So much worse. And we’re in a rental and now I’ve worn out the carpet under my imaginary brake, the whole time wondering how the maintenance is on this rental car and if they take care of the real brakes as I picture our whole family flying off the side of the cliff. Let’s just say that I had abs of steel by the time we got down because I had my stomach clenched in terror for such a long time. Don’t need to do that again anytime soon!

After that, we had a relatively uneventful drive back to Seattle and prepared to board our cruise the next morning.

2 Responses to “Our Northwest Adventure Part 1 – Olympic National Park, WA”

  1. Marlyn B Clifton says:

    Looks like you had a wonderful time and so glad your family could be part of it. i was at the Ladies Retreat in Kitty Hawk NC the year you came to speak to us. I really enjoyed your talks, (Book of Ruth) We talked on the way home of how much we enjoyed this retreat. Praying you and your family are doing well. I enjoyed your recap of this trip you just took and the pictures were phenomenal.

  2. jennifer says:

    Thanks so much, Marlyn, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the retreat – I still remember how much I enjoyed being with you at that one!

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