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Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

Hingham...
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Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

Hello! I am in the process of trying to plan out a summer vacation for our family of 5 - three kids ages 10, 7, and 4. We live just outside of Boston and our usual summer vacation location is Acadia Maine - our favorite East Coast National Park. This summer, we are going to venture out West, and after researching the parks, we have decided on Washington's gorgeous NP's. We are completely flexible with our time for traveling (July and August) and we will be staying for approximately 2 weeks. Here are my thoughts and questions-- please feel free to offer any advice, suggestions, and MUST SEE spots!!

1. Is there a better time to come visit with respect to weather and bugs- (taking temperature and rain into account!). We are looking at anytime from mid July through the end of August.

2. We would fly into Seattle, and then we would like to see Olympic, North Cascades, and Mt. Rainier. Would it be too much to try to fit three parks into our schedule? What order would you suggest in terms of ease of travel (car with 3 kids...) If three parks is too much to fit in, which two would you suggest (we definitely want to go to Olympic).

3. What would you say are the things we must see/do in each of the parks? We love to hike (limited to about 3-4 miles R/T with the kids), canoe/kayak, wade in tide pools, etc. Sunrise/ sunset locations? Wildlife viewing?

4. And lastly, are there any recommendations for lodging in these three areas? Ideally, we would like to rent a 2-3 bedroom cabin with a small kitchen close to the parks that has a nice view if possible! Grocery nearby would be a bonus... Any restaurants that are good to go to for breakfast? Dinner?

I have never posted on tripadvisor before- I am new to this, so all suggestions welcome :) Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and share your thoughts with me!

Port Angeles, WA
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1. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

I wish you had posted earlier. The best places in and near ONP are all rented for August. At least take a look at www.kaleberg.com. Look at the section devoted to day hikes in Olympic National Park. You will find lots of pictures, detailed trail descriptions, and tide tables for the local beaches. In general, there are only a few places to base yourself near ONP. Port Angeles has many amenities, including, good restaurants, grocery stores, a movie theatre, an excellent playground, a good hospital, etc.... Forks is a dismal little town with no good places to eat and nothing to do, but it is relatively close to the beaches and is only 1 hour from the Hoh Rain Forest, while Port Angeles is almost 2 hours away from the Hoh. Lake Quinault is fine if you are interested in the southern half of the park, but it is far from everything else and has no places to shop or eat outside Lake Quinault Lodge.

That's it for ONP unless you can get into one of the 3 Lake Crescent rentals or Lake Crescent Lodge, and you are too late for the former.

I am going to suggest looking into a rental near Port Angeles. It is very convenient for a family, and Hurricane Ridge is right there. Lake Crescent is only 25 minutes away. Please write in as yourefine your plans, and I can offer some detailed advice as to the area.

Poulsbo, Washington
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2. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

This is what I would do if I were in your shoes. Skip the North Cascades and instead visit the San Juan Islands. Very unique and beautiful spot your family would enjoy. There is not a lot of canoeing in W. Washington, but some of the very best kayaking anywhere is in the San Juan's. There are lots of opportunities for guided paddling with experienced guides. Your kids would love going whale watching and seeing killer whales in their wild natural environment instead of a captive theme park. I still get a thrill every time I see them after all these years. I saw a pair from my ferry two weeks ago. First time I seeing a huge male leaping out of the water and spy hopping about thirty yards from the ferry. I would spend at least a couple nights in or near the lovely town of Friday Harbor. We stayed there last July a watched about 60 orcas pass by the State Park. The ferry ride by itself is worth the journey!

From the San Juan's I would travel back to Anacortes on the ferry and drive by way of gorgeous Deception Pass through Whidbey Island. Nice way to spend a Summer day. Then take a ferry from the Island to another scenic town Port Townsend on the Olympic Penninsula and make my way to Port Angeles. Spend a couple of nights there visiting Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent and Sol Duc Falls. Problem is after leaving Port Angeles decent food becomes the problem. On the Westside of the Penninsula, however, is where you can experience our lush rainforests and wild Pacific Beaches. I have been to Acadia, but IMO it can not hold up to Rialto and Second Beach. My suggestion would be to settle for good burgers one night or stay at a place with a kitchen or an outdoor barbecue. The places I would look at are Cabins at Beaver Creek, Huckelberry Lodge or Oceanside Resort in LaPush. I can not imagine any kid not enjoying sitting around a campfire at these places after a day of exploring.

From the Forks are head south to Lake Quinault. Like the Hoh near Forks this is rainforest and you will see some of America's most beautiful old growth forests. Lake Quinault Lodge is a wonderful Lodge with an indoor pool, outdoor activities, a good restaurant and gorgeous nature trails a giant trees nearby. There are still some open dates at some rentals on or near the Lake. I really love staying at the Elk House listed on VRBO. Very nice owners and fantastic place for a family to stay. The sister. Of the owner has another lovely house nearby listed on VRBO. Do not wait to long to decide on where to stay. They will start booming up for the whole Summer. Great area to see wildlife at dusk and early morning. Last Thanksgiving we saw elk along the shore roads and behind the Elk House. Last May I walked. By two bear cubs that scurried up a tree as I came upon them on one of the trails. Two or three nights would be a great place for your family to enjoy. Again you can spend your evenings sitting around a fire pit. We did even in November. If you choose not to stay at the Lodge, you can still eat there. Google Quinault rainforest for photos and trail information.

From there you can head for Mount Rainier. In early August the wildflowers there are second to almost no other National Park or so said John Muir. Try and get rooms at Paradise Inn or a cabin in the tiny hamlet ofAshford just outside the Park. If you google Mt Rainier Ashford accommodations you will get lots of info. Again get going on this. Figure two of your days are going to be spent clear to the airport.

I would choose the last week of July and the first week of August. August is when you will run into more people. I grew up in New England and have traveled a lot, but in July and August no place can beat our fantastic moderate temps and lack of humidity. Our National Parks, access to wild places and temperate weather is why I chose to move here 35 years ago. I am headed for Crater Lake in two weeks. Can not wait.

Seattle, Wa
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3. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

I have a couple thoughts. One is that if you like Acadia, you'll love the San Juan Islands. (I do wonder if any kayak trips will allow a 4 year old, though). So I think that's worth looking in to. Book now. San Juan Island is the busiest (and thus least bucolic) island, but it also has some neat sights and is most convenient to whale watching.

But my other thought is that it's a shame to miss the North Cascades, and at the very least you should spend a day on NC Hwy, stopping at the pullouts, doing a couple little hikes, etc. Washington Pass overlook is the obvious turnaround spot. But, spending a few days in the Methow Valley (in Mazama or the western themed town of Winthrop), on the east side of the mountains, is a great destination for a family wanting a cabin. I use this cabin rental service (linked below) regularly. There are lots of good restaurants in the area. There's a full sized grocery in Winthrop and a great general store/bakery/deli in Mazama. It's the rare location in the WA state that actually has good accomodations and restaurants, since unlike Rainier or even Olympic, it's a true 4 season destination, with winter as popular as summer (its a huge area for Nordic skiing).

https://www.centralreservations.net/

There's every outdoor activity imaginable in the area:

http://www.winthropwashington.com/

Cabins at Rainier: Look at Trip Advisor for Ashford options. Alta Crystal Resort has good cabins outside the park's NE entrance. Both are outside the park and are convenient for some hikes/sights and not as convenient for others, but Rainier isn't so huge you can't get to where you need to be no matter where you stay. Neither location has a real grocery so shop before you get near the park. Ashford has a few restaurants but keep expectations in check. At Alta Crystal the only thing around are the restaurants at Crystal Mt ski are, about 10 miles away.

Re the weather and such--late July is technically our driest time but that whole period should be dry. Bugs...there will be bugs in the mountains, but I'm told what we get isn't as bad as what you get back east. (Still, I wouldn't hike without at least bringing spray). There aren't bugs in the islands.

I think you can easily do all 3 parks in 2 weeks.

Edited: 16 March 2014, 01:26
Mukilteo, Washington
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4. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

glaciermeadows and Christy have provided excellent advice. I'll throw in my two-cents worth:

First, September is the absolute best time of the year to visit, but August is also very good. We sometimes get some rain in July, but normally it is also an excellent time to visit (the Pacific Northwest usually gets a pretty nice summer despite its rainy reputation). I'd plan the trip to avoid the busy Labor Day weekend at the end of August.

To summarize, you have three kids 4 through 10 and two-weeks to travel. Your priorities are hitting the three national parks (Rainier, North Cascades & Olympic). I assume you are renting a car or van.

In two weeks I think you can see the three parks.:

North Cascades National Park/Cascade Loop - 2 or 3 nights: North Cascades is more of a wilderness park, best for extended backpacking trips. But one of the most magnificent drives in the U.S. goes right through the heart of it - highway 20. You could do a three or four night trip along the Cascade Loop. This route starts in the small city of Mt Vernon north of Seattle and follows highway 20 east over Washington and Rainy Passes to the touristy, but fun town of Winthrop with its movie-set like old west downtown. You can stop for short hikes along the highway and Winthrop is the obvious stop for the night (the kids will like it). from Winthrop head east to the Columbia river, then south along the river to Wenatchee. A side trip (and overnight stop) to Chelan is worth it where you can take a bot up the fifty-mile long lake to tiny Stehekin and stay at a ranch for horseback riding into the mountains, or return on the Lady of the Lake boat to Chelan. Or, pass up Chelan and drive highway 2 westward out of Wenatchee to the faux Bavarian town of Leavenworth (again, very touristy but the kids will probably like it). You could spend the night there with lots of day hikes around the area. After Leavenworth, up and over Stevens Pass and back to Seattle.

Olympic National Park: 3-4 nights: Take I-5 out of Seattle to the town of Edmonds only 20 minutes north. Catch the ferry there to Kingston and from there on to Port Angeles and the first stop for the night. IN Port Angeles drive up to Hurricane Ridge for views across the Olympics. Also fro Port Angeles you could take a ferry (the MV Coho) to Victoria British Columbia as a day trip or overnighter, but the big draw there - Butchart Gardens, will be very crowded, however Victoria's waterfront is very pleasant. Regardless, from Port Angeles drive westward (on highway 101) until you reach the nasty little town of Forks where you turn off to La Push. There are hikes along the ocean beaches at beaches # 1, 2 or 3 towards La Push, or at Rialto Beach in the national park. If you can convince the crew to hike the 1 1?2 mile over hole-in-the-wall rock there are magnificent tide pools full of colorful starfish and anemones, but be VERY aware of the tides and watch the kids there. Return to Forks and find a B&B I the area, or continue south on 101, next stop the Hoh River and walks through old-growth forests. Following 101 south there are stops at ocean beaches along the way until you reach Lake Quinault with lots more day hikes and another good place to spend the night. In the morning drive to the north end of the lake here elk and bears often graze in the meadows there. complete the loop by driving through Abedreen/Hoquiam and on to Olympia, the state capital with its pleasant waterfront and funky street scene and another good place to spend the night.

Rainier Park: You can visit various parts of Mt Rainier as day trips out of Seattle (Paradise Lodge, Sunrise, Mowich Lake) or make it a road trip. A road trip could be highway 410 out of Puyallup south of downtown Seattle, over Cayuse Pass and reaching highway 12 to the little town of Packwood where there are hotels. Be sure to walk the kids through the Grove of the Patriarchs, a 1/4 mile nature loop through some huge old growth cedar and fir trees. From Packwood head westward on 12 and at Randle you can drive up to the devestation zone within Mt St Helens Volcanic Monument, or simply drive on to the Johnson Point viewpoint of Mt St Helens before regaining I-5 and north back to Seattle.

Seattle: The kids might like the indian dancing and salmon bake at Tillicum Village, which is a boat a tour out of Seattle. Also, Boeing's Museum of Flight is very good. The Chihully House of Glass at the base of the Space Needle is worth the rather high cost of admission and of course no trip to Seattle would be complete without walking around Pike Place Market. A corny, but fun thing to do is ride the "ducks", amphibious vehicles that tour you around downtown and then into Lake Union before returning to Seattle Center.

Hingham...
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5. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

Wow, thank you all so much for taking the time to write such detailed responses! I have looked into all the above mentioned options, and I have also looked online and in a few national park books since posted yesterday. SO much stuff, and it all looks wonderful-- how to pick?!!

I looked on VRBO, and found some good options for cabin rentals in ONP- I was thinking of renting one on Lake Crescent for about 5 days so that we could take in all the northern sections of the park, and then move on towards Forks so that we could spend a few days at Hoh Rain forrest and the beaches (Rialto, Second, and Ruby) - probably one day exploring beaches, and one day at Hoh, unless you think we should spend more time at Hoh. My question is this.... should we stay in Forks along the Bogachiel River or stay closer to the beaches - I found 2 places near where Mora Road and La Push Road intersect. OR, would it be better to stay at Kalaloch Beach (I found a place near there, too) so that we could then explore Lake Quinalt and the southern area of the park, too, without having to move yet again? Having a home base helps when traveling with 3 kids, but then again, driving a lot to get somewhere is not ideal either!! How long would you say we should allocate for Lake Quinault? This may affect our decision to stay put or move....

SO, basically, we are looking at renting two or three places at ONP - first at Lake Crescent, second at Forks vs. Rialto Beach area vs. Kalaloch, and possibly a third at Lake Quinalt. Thoughts?!!

NOW, onto my next area of uncertainty... after looking stuff over, I think it will be too much to squeeze all three parks in (if it were just my husband and I, this wouldn't be an issue) so we will save Mt. Rainier for another trip and do the Northern Cascades instead. As far as an itinerary, what if we drove up and stayed in Marblemount one night, then took the North Cascades Highway the next day, stopping for some short hikes/sights, and stayed in Mazama along the Methow River (again, I saw a few options on VRBO). How much time should we allocate to this area of the park? Just the one day, or should we plan for two - three days? After this, I was thinking we'd circle around to Lake Chelan and go to Stehekin. At this point, maybe we'd hang out there for a couple of nights before heading back towards Seattle. One question about this which may help, is: I have heard that the mountains are not as lush on the Eastern side of the park-- is there an area where this switches over? (We definitely like that green feel as opposed to a dried out dessert type of mountain.) Thoughts?!

And lastly, after reading some posts, I AM intrigued by what people have said about the San Juan Islands. Maybe we should hold off on North Cascades altogether, and go to SJI instead? I know I am all over the place- I just have no idea having never been out there! As I mentioned before, we do love Acadia, but if the San Juan Islands have a similar feel, then I'd rather do something else (I would like to see things we can't see back East). Where should we stay in these islands (which one, and how long) and what can we do there (keeping in mind the ages of my kids: 4, 7,10)?

Thank you ALL for your help- any advice is appreciated!

Poulsbo, Washington
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6. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

I have given you my thoughts, so I will not repeat. I do not like Kalaloch as it is too far from the rest of the Park's highlights. If you can get a cabin other than Log Cabin Resort, go for it. You are the one that has to decide between staying on the Ocean or in Forks. I can tell you this Oceanside will be full of people, the places I recommended will not. The San Juan Islands are nothing like Acadia, but everyone's perception is different. Anyone who lives here will tell you that the San Juan's are unique to this area and Canada. You could still take a drive for a day and get some great views of North Cascades NP. I just think the Islands are a better option for a family. Also as I said Quinault is a great place given its gorgeous forest and many beautiful and easy nature trails. Once you start climbing on the North Cascades Hwy past Ross Lake the scenery gradually changes. Look at photos of the Methow Valley and you will see the difference. West of the Cascades is much greener and more lush ergo the rain. The Eastside is very very dry in Summer. IMO prettier in Spring and Fall not in Summer.

Tacoma, Washington
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7. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

If you are traveling for 2 weeks.... 4 nights on Olympic peninsula, 2 nights in San Juan islands, 2 nights north cascades area, 2 nights in Seattle, and 2 nights in Packwood(mt Rainier, St Helen's)

1-- fly into Seattle

2--Seattle

3 mt rainier Packwood

4 st Helen's/mt rainier night in Packwood

5 drive to Olympic, stay 3 nights in the area of Forks/Lake Crescent

6 Olympic

7 Olympic

8 Olympic, then drive over to Port Townsend for a night

9 ferry to coupeville ( reservations needed) then north and take state ferry to Friday Harbor Orcas Island for 2 nights

10 day on island..night there

11 ferry back to anacortes then drive to north cascades or mt baker area

12 north cascades/mt baker.. Night in area

13. North cascades...return to Seattle

14 Seattle...red eye flight home or fly back in AM next day.

In terms of when to travel....late July/early August would be best. Mountain wildflowers should peak around then. In later August you have a higher wildfire risk in the mountains.

Seattle, Wa
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8. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

The eastern side is drier but the mountains aren't totally stark and barren the way they might be in some of the Rocky Mt states, since firs and spruce are dominant. September will be less green than earlier in the season in the Methow Valley itself.

Here are a couple photos of the eastern side, to give you an idea. The NC highway runs through the center of this photo, which is of the valley near Mazama.

mattfirthphotography.com/galleries/01_methow…

This is of the highway in the Washington Pass area.

…wordpress.com/2014/02/liberty-bell-from-nor…

So you can see its not rainforest lush, but certainly not stark and desert like either.

I am a real mountain nut, and IMO Rainier and the North Cascades are the primo mountain areas in the PNW (Olympic is great for its diversity of landscapes, but the mountains there to me aren't as impressive) so I hate to tell someone who likes mountains that its okay to skip Rainier or the NC.

Seattle, Wa
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9. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

As for how much time to spend, check out the Winthrop website I already linked, and this Mazama website:

http://mazama.org/things-see-do/

And see what you want to do.

As for staying in Marblemount...unless you are going on one of the hikes in the area, and I can't think of one that would work for a 4 year old, there's not much else around there. So I wouldn't bother. Unless it's because you've driven from Forks or someplace far and it's a good place to stay the night before setting off the next day.

Mukilteo, Washington
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10. Re: Need advice for Olympic, Mt. Rainier, & North Cascade!

Well Nasreen, referring to your #5 post:

Most of the major sights in Olympic National Park are on the western side near the ocean, so I think five days at Lake Crescent is WAY too much. the lake is beautiful, but hemmed in by high mountains where the trails re steep and long, probably unsuitable for the kids. I'd exchange those five days out for two or three in a cabin along the Bogachiel that you mention (good chance of seeing wildlife there -eagles, deer, elk and bear) and you can explore the beaches near la Push from there.

I agree with other posters that Kalaloch isn't all that attractive (to me anyway), but Lake Quinault would be a good base with kids as there are a number of easy, short trails to hike around on there. Still, a couple nights there would be plenty.

That would use about five days from your trip leaving you about nine days remaining and I still think you'd have plenty of time to do the Cascade Loop described in #4 AND a couple days through the San Juan Islands. Don't know if I'd stay in Marblemount though, not much to do there. I'd press through to Mazama as you mention where you can bask in the sun, horseback ride or hike around on the many trails in the area.

Regarding the forests: The Cascade Mountains divide Washington into distinct areas, western and eastern. Most of the rain falls on the western side where the huge old-growth trees are while the eastern side is sunnier and the forests more open. They're both beautiful, one not superior to the other. In fact this dramatic difference between west and east is one of the things I like best about the Pacific Northwest.