Washington State is a little corner of heaven for a hiker, forest lover and national park seeker like me. Seattle sits at the center of a national park power triangle: Olympic, North Cascades and Mt. Rainier. So it was the destination for our first vacation since 2019. First stop: Olympic.
With 10 feet of rain or more per year — if it isn’t raining, it’s thinking about raining — the forests throughout the Olympic Mountains are more than simply lush. They are blanketed, engulfed, inundated with life. Layers of lichens, mosses, ferns, fungi cloak every available surface, growing on and over and around each other. Maples, firs and other trees are skyscrapers for communities of epiphytic plants that continually get lifted into the canopy and fall back to the soft, porous ground. Jays, woodpeckers, banana slugs and millipedes move through curtains of green. Life, death, decay and new growth are each so abundant and entangled that the lines between them smudge away. It’s just on a different level from any other place I’ve been.
It might sound goofy, but a primary reason I’ve wanted for years to go to Olympic is that its coast is home to dozens of tidal pools — bowls and fissures of rock that hold onto seawater even when the tide goes out and exposes their surroundings. These temporary aquariums contain strikingly colorful communities of anemones, mussels, seaweed, gooseneck barnacles and other organisms that spend much of their lives clutching to this rock as tightly as they can. It was the first time I’ve seen most of these animals in the wild, and it was everything I hoped for.
Next up: North Cascades.
North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks in the country, which is a shame but also makes its glacial rivers and rugged trails a quieter and more contemplative experience than its neighbors. Much of the park was still inaccessible due to snow even in early June, but camping next to the crystal-clear Goodell Creek and Skagit River was worth the visit alone. It was also prime wildflower hunting, including for my favorite Pacific Northwest bloom, the calypso orchid (and I bet you can guess which photo shows it above).
Last and most regal, Mt. Rainier.
The snows are melting on Mount Rainier, creating a spectacular array of falls and glacial streams. Thankfully it wasn’t anything like the flooding hitting Yellowstone, though last fall a few roads and bridges washed out here, too. As in North Cascades, much of Rainier is still unreachable as many feet of snow surely but slowly fade. And the peak was shrouded by mist and clouds the entire time we were there. But we could see enough: western hemlock forests, volcanic springs and a fun little mushroom called the orange peel fungus.
I’ll wrap up this post with a shoutout to Seattle, a diverse, relaxed, tree-filled city that, as various relatives and friends predicted, has become one of our favorite places. Sure, it does rain often, but we were remarkably lucky with weather on the days we swung through from one national park to another. I didn’t take many photos there, and none of the great Pike Place Market, but these give a decent snapshot of the experience.
Thanks for looking!