I first saw the Olympic Mountains while driving west toward Seattle on a clear day. I was immediately disoriented because I thought all the mountains were behind me. My brother chuckled and said, “Those are the Olympics, and they are more grand than the Cascades!”
I was so intrigued I vowed I would go there someday. When my someday arrived, it was extraordinary.
I’ve learned to take in stride going solo to national parks and assorted natural settings. But going to the Olympic Peninsula solo gave me a moment of pause. It is big, it is remote, and it requires some effort to explore.
I set my itinerary to stay for 10 days in a simple campground in Chimacum on the northeast end of the peninsula. Route 101 goes around the entire peninsula and runs about 300 miles. The Olympic National Park and National Forest include the mountain range and pretty much cover the entire peninsula. I decided to make shorter day trips on the north side rather than try to explore the full 300 miles. I would have access to Olympic National Park, where I would visit Hurricane Ridge and Crescent Lake and do some remote road tripping in the park. I also visited the seaside towns of Port Angeles and Sequim, and took a whale watching trip that left from historic Port Townsend.
The park and whale watching were the most extraordinary things I did, and they both took something to accomplish for me. Hurricane Ridge is 5,200 feet up a winding two-lane road through beautiful forest and a mountain tunnel. I’m not keen with driving on narrow roads up mountains, but this seemed almost serene. It takes a good 30 minutes to get to the visitor center parking at the top. I had a picnic there with a clear view of Mount Olympus, which stands at nearly 8,000 feet, and its surrounding glaciers in the distance.
Once fortified, I took on the top-of-the-ridge trail. It’s an asphalt path that winds a couple miles from the visitor center across the ridge and back through an alpine meadow and through the forest. The views were breathtaking. I could simultaneously see the Olympic mountains to the south and Canada to the north -- just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Some fearless deer came out to visit on the path and they drew a crowd of photographers, myself included. Alas, I did not see any Olympic marmots the day I visited. Absence of marmots aside, I felt accomplished in my experiences and so grateful I made the excursion and got to see the views.
On another day, I drove along Highway 101 and on into the park, much closer to sea level, stopping at beautiful Lake Crescent. Here I hiked the lake trail that hugs the shore against a backdrop of tall trees and crystal clear water. I sat by the water’s edge listening to the waves lap and spotted an eagle flying over the lake. The trail then winds back through a forest area filled with ferns and moss as well as towering trees.
Hiking solo is challenging for me, but I persisted, not wanting to miss this opportunity. The reward was a tranquility I carry with me to this day. I spent several hours hiking and enjoying the solitude, reveling in my personal accomplishment. For those who hike regularly and remotely, my hikes may not seem like an extraordinary experience. I don’t come from that background, though, so every trek for me is building a muscle I didn’t know I had.
Whale watching in this area is not to be missed, but it takes something for me to go solo on a group excursion where everyone seems to be traveling with someone they know. I have found that there is usually a shared group experience that provides inclusionary moments. Sighting the whales was that moment. The captain came over the loudspeaker and spotted their location for us. When the whales came up out of the water, a collective “oh” and “wow” were expressed.
It was a thrilling experience, and I completely forgot I was by myself. Later I realized it wasn’t just the sighting but a common thread of experiences that every person on the boat shared -- from expectation to sighting to the memories we carried off the boat with us. Being part of something makes me forget I am solo, because I no longer am.
Don’t miss a fulfilling experience because you travel solo. I loved developing my itinerary and, more so, the experiences I had making the stops. I’m so glad I went for everything on my Olympic Peninsula list and look forward to my next visit. Extraordinary accomplishments and extraordinary experiences are now etched in my travel log.