One of the most beautiful places I’ve had the opportunity to visit is Washington State. From the rocky beaches to the snow-covered mountains, Washington literally has it all. One thing that my husband and I love to do is travel, and we’ve carried that love over to our son – and I couldn’t be more excited to share that with them both! For his birthday this year, Kayden asked for a “special birthday trip”, but we had to do it Covid-style. So I did what I do best and planned an epic National Park road trip for him! I’m going to take you through our trip! Unfortunately as we were preparing to leave for our trip, the big wildfires that consumed most of the West Coast had begun happening, and our original trip was affected by them, but we made the most of it anyway!
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Day 1 – Travel Day / Olympia, WA
We flew into Portland and originally planned on site-seeing around Portland, but because of the smoke from the wildfires, we opted to ditch Portland and head north. We wound up in Olympia, Washington and stayed the night there. We took the evening slow, but still ventured out to the marina to have dinner by the water.
*The photos below show how quickly it went from clear skies to complete smoke and orange skies.*
Day 2 – Olympic National Park
By this point we were all itching to see what Washington really had in store for us, but we were scared the smoke was going to interfere with what we could see. I can honestly say that we were not disappointed! We headed into Olympic National Park through the Port Angeles side and headed straight for Lake Crescent – with some stops along the way of course! If you’re looking for easy hikes with amazing waterfalls, check out these:
– Madison Falls
– Marymere Falls
We finished our night off in Port Angeles and stayed at the Red Lion Inn. We walked to a local restaurant for dinner and was hoping to catch a break in the smoke to see across the Sound, but we didn’t get so lucky.
Day 3 – Olympic National Park
Probably my favorite part about Olympic National Park is that you can go from the mountains to the rain forest to the coast all in a day! We decided to spend day three driving the coast (which truth be told was what I was most excited about). The beaches hit were:
-Kalaloch Beach (if you want to look for tidepools, this is *the* spot!)
We stayed at quite possibly my favorite place I’ve ever stayed – Kalaloch Lodge – and enjoyed our time along the remote coast with little-to-no cell service, and no wifi.
Fun Fact: All of the beaches we saw required some sort of hike down to it, which was so insane – going from hiking what we would consider a mountain here in NC to the rugged beaches and sea stacks. It was quite possibly the most breathtaking thing I think I’ve ever done!
Day 4 – Hoh Rainforest
Day four consisted of the more “inland” part of Olympic as we explored the Hoh Rainforest. We started to make our way to Sol Duc Falls and saw a sign for the “Salmon Cascades” on the side of the road. Since the rain was rolling in, we decided to stop in here first and at least see something before it really started to pour. Let me just say I am SO glad we stopped! We had no idea that September was the start of the “salmon run” for them to swim upstream to spawn. The Coho Salmon were plentiful and it was truly mesmerizing to watch. We never made it to Sol Duc Falls, and while I was sad we didn’t, seeing something that I know I’ll never see at home was far better. As the rain set in and the sun started to set, we headed back to Sequim for the night.
Day 5 – Bainbridge Island / Seattle, WA
This was the one day that I wished I had my camera out more, but for whatever reason I thought this wasn’t going to be a very photographic day – boy was I wrong. If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies, then you know the towns you see on there are picture perfect. Well Bainbridge Island reminded me of one of those town. It was so quaint and just like a little storybook town – I highly recommend stopping in! We took the ferry over to Seattle from Bainbridge, but of course the smoke stopped us from seeing the iconic Seattle Skyline as we entered the city. We headed straight for Pike’s Place – the one stop that Joe wanted to see. We were super sad that because of Covid they weren’t throwing the fish (literally all him and Kayden cared about seeing in the city). We didn’t linger long in the city because we were tired and most things were closed due to Covid anyway, so we headed north into Burlington for the night before hitting the North Cascades!
Day 6 – North Cascades
So I would probably be kicked in the shin for saying this, but it’s something that has to be said…. North Cascades kicks Rocky Mountain’s butt.
Okay – so maybe not completely, but the North Cascades do not need to be slept on! We didn’t have it in our original trip itinerary to visit them, but everything happens for a reason right!? I literally have no words for the beauty these mountains hold – and we didn’t even get to see them all. If you’re visiting the area, definitely check out:
– Gorge Creek Falls
– Diablo Lake (drive across the dam and also drive up to the overlook – it’s worth seeing it from both views)
– Rainy Lake
– Washington Pass
The smoke had finally started to clear some by this point, and while it was still super smoky and made for some hazy views, it was still one of my favorite things along the trip. We headed down into Auburn, which is south of Seattle, for the night to save some drive time the next day to Mount Rainier.
Day 7 – Mount Rainier / Mount St Helens
I’ve said this like a hundred times by now, but I hope you get to point – Washington is not a state to be slept on! Mount Rainier and North Cascades came in a close second for my favorite thing we did and saw – of course the smoke was an issue for us, but it still didn’t stop us from enjoying the sites. With that said, we didn’t get to actually see Mount St. Helens because of the smoke – but we’ve been there and that counts right!?
We visited Longmire and Paradise in Mount Rainier before being turned around due to the fires. We decided to make the drive over to Mt Saint Helens since our day at Rainier was cut short. From Mount St. Helens we drove on into Astoria, OR and stayed the night there.
*Want to see what Mount Rainier looks like daily? You can check the webcams to get a feel for what it’s like there currently. I shamelessly check this daily and daydream about when I’ll return.*
Day 8 – Cape Disappointment / Cannon Beach
Kayden decided he could understand why Cape Disappointment was named that, because it was here that smoke and fog gave us almost zero visibility. By the time we got to Cannon Beach, it was clearing up a lot and it was turning into mostly fog instead of smog! Wouldn’t you know that on our last full day of the trip, it started to clear up!
Day 9 – Columbia River Gorge / Travel Day
This was the saddest day of them all – the day we came home. When I tell you I was heartbroken, that’s not an exaggeration. We had some time before we had to be at the airport, and since we stayed just across the Gorge in Vancouver to be closer to the airport, we made a little drive down the Gorge to Multnomah Falls. At 620 feet tall, it’s astounding to just stand and watch flow down the rocks. Pre-Covid, you could walk across the bridge that goes across it, but with Covid, that unfortunately wasn’t an option.
*Pro-tip: If you want an unobstructed photo of the falls without people in your way, be there before it opens to get in line to enter. Bee-line up the walkway and there you have a people-free view of the falls. I’m sure that the weekdays are less crowded, but we were there on a Saturday and by the time we left within 20 minutes of it opening, it was already getting pretty steady with people flowing through there.*
Also, note how clear the sky was when we took off from Portland. Remeber the orange hazy view from the plane in day one? Well this was just a week later.