Seattle Travel Diary: Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks

For fall break this year, I decided to take a trip by myself to the Pacific Northwest. I had never been to Washington before, and I really wanted to see Seattle, so I saved up some money and headed out! Two of my four days in the area I spent exploring the city and doing typical tourist stuff, and the other two days I explored neighboring national parks. This blog post will be about the two days I spent exploring Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. To read my post about my time in the city, click here.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Leading up to this day, I was a bundle of excited and anxious energy. I rented a car (for the first time) from the Seattle Airport and drove two hours to Mount Rainier National Park. The drive was beautiful, as I got a beautiful sunset and drove closer and closer to the mountain. The last eleven miles was up a steep gravel road full of potholes, so that took up half my driving time. It was beautiful, though, and I stopped multiple times to take pictures and breathe in my surroundings.

Then I finally made it into Mount Rainier National Park and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief- for about two minutes. Then I discovered that the last four miles to my desired hiking trail was closed due to ice and snow. I had just checked road conditions the night before and thought everything was fine- I guess not.

I talked to a park ranger and grabbed a map, then decided to take the trail right next to the parking area I had stopped in. The trail was about three miles, and mostly flat and downhill. I tore through those three miles very quickly and decided I wanted to keep going rather than turn back.

The next three miles were… not as fun. It was mostly uphill and took much longer than I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful, but it felt very lengthy and my legs were dying. I started to have a panic attack at one point because I was worried I’d never find the end of the trail. My anxiety convinced me I had somehow gotten lost and would never get back to my car. This of course was ridiculous, because I could always turn around and go back the way I had come, but in the moment, I couldn’t breathe.

I finally found the end of the trail. After hiking for 6.5 miles, I stopped for lunch at a picnic table and had to almost slap some birds that kept trying to steal my tofurkey.

I decided I was going to walk the five-six miles back to my car from the road rather than going back on the trail. Right off the road, though, I found a beautiful lake. Since I hadn’t seen any amazing views yet, I stopped and set up my phone to take some self-timer photos.

Shortly after I got back on the road, I saw it: the trail-head for the hike I was wanting to do all along. The trail was about three miles up, and three miles back down, so another six miles on top of the six I had already done. Along with that, I still had to walk five miles back to my car. I was struggling with anxiety of not knowing what to do, and being alone, I had no one to talk to. I decided to start on the hike, and reminded myself I could turn back around at any time.

As soon as the trail started getting steep, I wanted to stop. I truly didn’t want to keep going. I saw no reason to keep going. However, I felt like I would be a failure if I had gone all that way and stopped only two miles from my destination. So I kept going. I rested every ten steps because my feet and legs were killing me, but I somehow powered through. I passed a gorgeous lake and knew I only had one mile straight up until I reached the beautiful views I had seen in pictures.

The last mile took me much longer than it would have taken if I hadn’t already walked so much. But eventually… finally… I made it. I stepped out onto the highest point. It was clear of trees with sweeping views of mountains. Mount Rainier was directly ahead. It was so beautiful.

There were already a couple groups up there, and they offered to take my picture. They also gave me a cracker so that a bird would join me in a shot (they were everywhere).

It felt so good to rest my feet with such amazing views. I probably would have spent a lot more time up there if I hadn’t made it so late. Knowing how long a hike I had back to my car, I headed back down the mountain around 4:00 p.m.

I thought the hike down would be a lot quicker. It was… not. I almost cried when I finally got back to the road, but then I actually started crying an hour and a half into my road-hike when I still hadn’t made it to my car. I finally got to my car a little after 7:00 pm. It was dark. There was only one couple behind me left on the entire mountain. I had hiked a total of roughly 16-17 miles. I was so worried I would get a flat tire going back down the pothole-ridden road alone in the dark, but I somehow made it. I turned in the rental car and limped to my Lyft and finally made it back to my Airbnb.

I honestly still have anxiety surrounding that day. It was beautiful but so miserable. Life isn’t always what you see on social media, and I hope someday I’ll be able to make more memories at Mount Rainier National Park that can block out these. Because wow.

Monday, October 14, 2019

For my last day in Washington, I decided to book a group tour of Olympic National Park through Airbnb. It was the most expensive thing I did during my trip (about the same as my flights) which made me super anxious but it was so much fun and I am so glad I did it!

I met up with my tour guide and the group downtown, and we took a ferry across the Bay to Bainbridge Island. It was cold on the deck, but they have seating that is covered from wind. The entire ride was about 30 minutes and it was such a cool experience!

After the ferry, we headed toward Olympic National Park. It was about an hour and a half drive from Bainbridge Island, and it gave us a chance to see more parts of the state! Everything was so beautiful, and I learned so much about the area from my guide.

Then we finally made it into the Park and started driving up toward Hurricane Ridge! We stopped halfway up the mountain at a really beautiful viewpoint. Even though it was cloudy, we still had pretty good views and it was breathtaking.

We continued up the road and reached the highest viewpoint on the mountain. We were so high up, trees had stopped growing. We parked at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and had gorgeous sights of the blue mountains.

We spent quite a bit of time in this area and walked around on a paved path to get more views. After we finished at Hurricane Ridge, we drove back down the mountain and headed to our next stop: Madison Falls and Elwha Lake for lunch.

The waterfall was just off a very short path from where we ended up parking, but it was so beautiful. The fall colors really added to the aesthetics and made the water look even more blue.

By the time we had walked back from the waterfall, our tour guide had set up an amazing lunch for us. There were many sides, and all but one of them were vegan!! I felt very cared for. Everything tasted delicious.

We spent some time exploring around the lake and taking in the cool fall air. I can’t really choose a favorite place that we went during this day, but if I did, this would be up toward the top. It was just so BEAUTIFUL.

Next we headed to Lake Crescent. This was an adorable area with trails, cabins, and the most beautiful lake. Our tour guide said that a lot of people who live in the Seattle area will go there for a weekend over the summer. I started to imagine taking a short trip with Shane and our future family and fell even more in love with the idea of living there one day.

We walked a short trail through an old-growth forest. Most of the trees (if not all of them) are over 400 years old. Everything was so green and beautiful. There was even a large tree that had been struck by lightning that still stood tall.

Because of the way we hit some road work on the way back, we were going to have to catch a later ferry than we originally planned. That just meant we had an extra hour on that side of the bay, so our tour guide took us out to the coast for a little bit!

I love the Pacific coast. I’m not a huge “beach girl”, but this is the kind of beach where I would love to spend an afternoon.

The ferry ride back to Seattle was even colder than our morning trip. The color of the water against the backdrop of the setting sun was breathtaking, though. If it hadn’t been so windy, I would have loved to stare at it the whole half hour back to the city.

My days exploring two of the National Parks of Washington were amazing! Of course, my experience at Mount Rainier National Park was less than perfect, but my group tour was so much fun and so worth the money. It made me love Washington more than I had already, and I cannot wait to take another trip to the Pacific Northwest.

One thought on “Seattle Travel Diary: Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s