I have about 5 days in the area with my family, and we’ll be staying up on Whidbey Island for most of the time, doing all the touristy stuff I can think of. I’d love to show them the Rainforest (and the scenic overlook of the Park south of Port Angeles) and Mt St Helens, but they’re both a long, long drive away, and I may have to choose only one of them. I’m looking for opinions on which one I should choose if it comes to it. I’ve never seen either one, so I have no idea which is better. Both my wife and 10-year old daughter will be there (haven’t traveled much and have no clue what the PNW is like).
Mt. St. Helens. Stark and terrifying, yet oddly beautiful. The Olympic Penn. is pretty, but green and wet gets boring fast.
Whidbey Island to Port Angeles is nothing. Go to Fort Casey and take the ferry to Port Townsend. It’s probably about 3 hours down to Mt St. Helens; Port Angeles would be half that, with time strolling around on the boat.
(I just checked, that ferry only runs every 90 minutes, but time it right and you should be okay.)
Yeah, but from Port Angeles to the West of the peninsula where the rain forest is is a fairly long drive, so I have to add that to the commute, then take it int account again for the return (I think I have a hotel reserved in Port Angeles for that night).
If I had to choose, I’d do the Olympics. I don’t remember my geography very well, so maybe this is off the route, but one of my favorite drives was around Neah Bay.
And Hurricane Ridge – wouldn’t that be on the route? Beautiful up there.
Hurricane Ridge is the scenic overlook I was talking about–I keep forgetting what it’s called. So yeah, that’s on the agenda if we go to the Olympics, but it’s going to add another hour or two to the whole day. Maybe I should just try doing Hurricane Ridge and skip the Rain Forest. Has anyone seen the Rainforest part of the park? Is it worth going to?
If time is an issue, Hurricane Ridge is about a 30 minute drive from PA, St Helens is at least 4 hours away.
Lake Crescent is beautiful too. It’s on the way to the Ho.
Ferry ride (to Olympic Peninsula) vs. hours on horrid I-5 (to Mt. St. Helens): spectacular as Mt. S-H is, this decision would be easy for me. Also, Hurricane Ridge is great hikin’.
I live on the Olympic Peninsula. I’d say that Mt. Saint Helens is pretty dawn cool, however my experience is that the drive there is long and not particularly nice. The ferry over to Port Townsend is nice unless it’s super windy, in which case it’s not as much fun (though still fine). It’s pretty and scenic most of the drive to wherever you plan on going once you are on the Peninsula. Hurricane Ridge is nice. I haven’t been to the Hoh for a while so I don’t remember it so well. I do remember it being pretty cool. I’d say there are plenty of things to do that don’t require driving all the way to the Rain Forest (though it might be worth it).
I am partial to Mount St Helens via Randle. This route gives you the mossy tree rainforest then, when you near the top, you turn a corner and see utter devastation. Very amazing experience.
You would also be around Mount Rainier, another beautiful place to wander.
The I-5 is a nightmare at the best of times. They are also doing construction work on it which would make it even more of a pain. Link to “The Clog” - I-5 construction info.
The Olympics may be your best bet. If you want to amuse the family, take them to the Olympic Game Farm where the yaks poke their heads into your car and stick out VERY long purple tongues in search of handouts.
Longtime Northwesterner here.
The choice depends on what you want to get out of your visit.
Mt. St. Helens: Single destination; nothing like it anywhere else in the U.S.; will blow you away; can be effectively experienced in one day.
Olympics: Huge area; lots of varying geography; takes a lot of time to explore and internalize what makes it so special. (Rain shadow terrain on the eastern half of the peninsula very different from rain forest to west.) In a single day, you’d have to pick one and maybe two highlights (say, the aforementioned Lake Crescent), and pass on the rest.
In other words, St. Helens makes the biggest immediate impression, but the Olympics are probably cooler overall if you devote the necessary time.
When exactly are you going to be here?
Thanks for the responses so far.
picnurse, can I drive around in the Rainforest or is it something that’s better experienced on a hike? As well as my wife and 10-year old, we’ll have my 16-month old, too, and actual hiking isn’t high up on my list of things to do unless it’s very worth it. I see on google maps that the hoh road is pretty long until it dead ends in the park, but I don’t know if that long drive in is all Rainforest and enough of a tour in and of itself. I’m wondering what’s at the end of that road besides a campground.
And thanks, Gulo gulo and E. Thorp for the warning about I-5. I had no idea! Last time I was up there (2000), it was fine, at least from Seattle up to Bellingham. So if I go the St Helens route, I’ll definitely go the Randle way. Is there a route you’d recommend? I’d originally planned coming in from I-5, and going through Randle takes you in to a completely different part of the Park. Is there a visitor’s center at the end of NF-99?
And I have to say, none of this is making it any easier. Now I want to go see both of them even more.
I hadn’t thought about Lake Crescent, but maybe I should add that to Hurricane Ridge and skip the Rain Forest. Man, this is tough decision.
I’ll be up there Aug 20-25, Cervaise. Oh, and your post is making the decision all the more difficult.
Auntie Pam, I’ve never heard of Neah Bay–what makes it worth visiting?
Oh, you would ask. I’ve only been there twice, and it’s been more than 30 years. Mostly I remember walking up to a bluff and then worrying that one of the kids would fall off.
Neah Bay itself wasn’t spectacular, but we drove farther northwest, as far as you can go, up to the point. We could see a lighthouse (on an island?) from there, and the Pacific, of course.
In some of the photos from that trip are caves carved by the waves into the bluffs, and some nice rock formations. It was wild and beautiful, and not touristy.
Maybe things have changed since then, but even with four little kids, we had no problem walking to scenic viewpoints, and there was enough to look at so that the kids weren’t bored. Of course, their dad’s “Do I have to stop this car?” might have helped with that.
I found the photo . This was taken in 1973 or 1974.
The photo doesn’t show it, but the reason my husband was hanging on to the kid is because it was a long way down to the water. (I drew a circle around the lighthouse on the island.)
I vote (?) for Olympic. The trails at Lake Ozette are very nice, long sections of boardwalk over varying terrain, out to one of the coolest tidepool areas I’ve ever experienced. You do need to schedule your hike with the tides in mind, though.
The freeway construction described above will be from August 10 to 29, so I’m going to join those who say that St. Helens is probably not in the cards for this visit.
Re Neah Bay, it’s a small community at the northwestern tip of the state, the biggest town on the Makah Indian Reservation, and not much of a destination in and of itself unless you’re into sport fishing. However, just beyond it is the point mentioned by AuntiePam (cool picture, BTW) – Cape Flattery, which is just as wild and beautiful now, thirty years later. It’s a bit of a haul, though, and probably isn’t worth the extra couple of hours of driving to do all by itself. On a week-long Olympic Peninsula sojourn, it’s a must-see.
Oh, and the Makahs make the best smoked salmon in the state.
From PA, take 101 N. It will take you passed Lake Crescent. Stay on 101 through Forks to Amanda Park. Take South Shore Rd (You’ll see N Shore Rd first) It will take you into the forest. If you want to take a leisurely walk, (no hiking involved) stop at Lake Quanault Lodge and pick up the trail directly across the street. You have a choice of 1.5, 3, 5 and 7 miles, IIRC The 1.5 is mostly flat and nicely groomed. Here’s a a picture I took last time we were there. little falls
Even if you don’t take the trail, the drive is beautiful.
It depends on the weather. Remember that the observatory/visitor center at Johnston Ridge is safely in cloud level, so if the weather is dodgy you aren’t going to be able to see much. The Olympics are probably a safer bet.