Exploring Washington State (July 9 – August 13, 2017)

On July 9th we drove 182 miles from Sprague, WA to Winthrop, WA. The drive took us through lots of wide open spaces on single lane highways with few opportunities for rest stops. We stayed for three nights at the Winthrop / North Cascades National Park KOA. The campground name was a little misleading. Although it was only a mile from the little town of Winthrop, it was 75 miles from the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center.

On July 10th we drove Highway 20 along the Cascade Loop to North Cascades National Park. In addition to seeing the beautiful scenery, it gave Phil a chance to see the hills he would have to climb when pulling the rig a couple of days later. The highway had a long, steep climb near the Washington Pass but didn’t appear to be too difficult after that point.

We made several stops at scenic overlooks, including a view of Diablo Lake and the Diablo Dam. We stopped at Gorge Lake and walked a short trail to see the Gorge High Dam.

We stopped at the Visitor Center where we watched a short video on grizzly bears, examined some of the exhibits and had a picnic lunch.

After getting gas in the little town of Marblemount, we headed back eastward again. We stopped at the Happy Creek Nature Trail and walked the .3 mile boardwalk loop through tall trees and along Happy Creek. We attempted to follow a trail that was supposed to continue on for 1 ½ miles to a waterfall but fallen timber blocked this trail.

Next we stopped at the Rainy Pass Picnic Area and hiked the 2-mile Rainy Lake Trail. At the end of the trail was a beautiful lake with numerous large waterfalls cascading down to the lake. We attempted to blaze a trail along the bank of the lake to bring us closer to the waterfalls. Unfortunately we only got about ¼ mile before our path became pinched in between the water and the cliffs.

Our final stop for the day was at the Washington Pass Overlook. From this vantage point we had spectacular views of the mountains and Highway 20.

On July 11th we stayed closer to Winthrop. Our first stop was at the Smokejumper Base. This facility is considered the “birthplace of smokejumping” since the U.S. Forest Service made its initial experimental jumps here in 1939. Smokejumping was developed as a means to quickly reach fires in remote roadless areas for initial attack. This is one of the smallest of the eight smokejumping bases in the western U.S. (including Alaska) with 30 smokejumpers based here. We were given an individual guided tour by Nick, a first-year smokejumper who has been in the fire service for nine years. The tour began in the hanger where we learned about the equipment used by the smokejumpers and saw how the parachutes are inspected and packed. Since the smokejumpers often land in trees, we learned how they rappel down from a tree and how the parachute is recovered. We next climbed aboard the airplane and learned how the spotters identify the landing zones and how the smokejumpers exit the plane. Our final stop was the warehouse where we saw the many boxes of supplies that are dropped from the plane to the smokejumpers.  On our exit from the smokejumpers’ base, we encountered a deer standing in the road having a meal.

Next we drove to downtown Winthrop. We had lunch at Carlos 1800, a Mexican restaurant and cantina. After lunch we strolled along the downtown boardwalk. Winthrop was founded in 1891. In the 1970’s the downtown district was restored to reflect its original appearance.

Next we drove 12 miles north of Winthrop to the Okanogan National Forest where we hiked the trail to the Falls Creek Falls. We enjoyed dipping our feet in the creek, although the water was quite cold. Phil crossed the creek to take pictures from the other side using two logs that spanned the water.

On July 12th we drove 180 miles from Winthrop to Bothell, WA (about 20 miles north of Seattle). The drive took us through the North Cascades National Park and had some very steep climbs. Although the truck strained a bit during the climb, it managed to make it up the hills without dropping below 40 mph. We spent two nights at the Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell, WA and had lots of ducks on the lake right outside our living room window. We had been surprised to learn that we had reserved a back-in site but we managed to get backed into our site without too much difficulty.

On July 13th we got together with Phil’s sister, Joan Gordon, and spent the day exploring Whidbey Island. After taking a 20-minute ferry ride from Mukilteo to Clinton, we drove to the small town of Coupeville which is the second oldest town in Washington. Coupeville has over 100 buildings on the National Historic Register. We ate lunch at the café on the wharf.

Whale bones at Coupeville wharf

After lunch we drove to the community of Oak Harbor and walked the trail out to the marina and back.

Our final stop for the day was at Deception Pass. We spent time on the ridge that overlooked the bridge connecting Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island. The bridge was built in 1935 over the strong objections of the woman who ran the ferry between the two islands.

On July 14th we moved on to the Olympic Peninsula. The beginning of the drive took us through horrendous Seattle traffic but things got much easier after we escaped the city. We scheduled six days at the Olympic Peninsula / Port Angeles KOA.  Our site was in the new pull-through area and, although it was quite roomy with good hookups, it was basically an unattractive gravel parking lot. Having said that, we could see mountains all around us.

On July 15th we began our day at the Port Angeles farmers market. We were disappointed by the limited supply of produce being sold so, instead, we walked down to the city pier where we were able to see numerous large cargo ships waiting to enter Puget Sound. Then we visited the Olympic National Park visitor center and watched an introductory video.


In the afternoon we visited a couple of waterfalls in the park. Our first stop was Madison Falls, a moss-covered waterfall that was accessed via a .1 mile walkway from the Elwha Entrance Station.

Madison Falls

Next we drove to Lake Crescent and hiked the 1.8 mile Marymere Falls Trail. The trail took us through lush vegetation and required a steep climb as we neared the falls.

On July 16th we drove 18 miles up Hurricane Ridge Road in the Olympic National Park. From the Hurricane Ridge visitor center there was a tremendous vista from which we could see over 15 snow-capped mountain peaks. We hiked the Hurricane Hills Trail. The trail itself is 1.6 miles each way to and from the summit but, because it was a Sunday and the parking lots were full, we had to hike another half-mile each way to reach the trail head. The temperature was only 46 degrees when we started. It didn’t take long for us to warm up as the trail was almost entirely uphill to the summit. The hillsides were covered with wildflowers and we spotted seven deer and an Olympic marmot (which only exists in the Olympic National Park). When we reached the summit, we were at an elevation of over 5,700 feet and the clouds settled down around us.

View of Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center

On July 17th we drove to Sol Duc Road and hiked a couple of trails. The first was the Ancient Groves Nature Trail, a .6 mile loop which took us through a lush forest of very large trees and along a cliff above the Sol Duc River.

Our next hike was a 1.6 mile trail that took us through the forest to Sol Duc Falls and back.

After hiking, we stopped at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Lodge where we watched lots of people bathing in the three mineral hot springs pools. The spring water comes from rain and melting snow, which seeps through sedimentary rocks where it mingles with gasses coming from cooling volcanic rocks. The mineralized spring waters then rise to the surface along a larger crack or fissure. We hadn’t brought our swimsuits so we had to pass on this experience.

On July 18th we spent much of the day in the small town of Sequim (pronounced Skwim). Sequim is known for the commercial cultivation of lavender, supported by its unique climate. Sequim is known as the “Lavender Capital of North America,” rivaled only by France. They hold a large Lavender Weekend the third weekend in July; unfortunately this comes the day after we leave the area.

We visited Graysmarsh Farms where they grow lavender and a wide variety of berries on their 1,000 acre farm. We picked over 6 pounds of blueberries, guaranteeing a supply of pies over the coming year. Although strawberry season is in mid-June, we were able to find a few remaining berries on the vine. For lunch, we picnicked at Sequim Bay State Park.

On July 19th we drove over two hours each way to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the contiguous 48 U.S. states. It is on the Makah Indian reservation and is the northern boundary of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We hiked the Cape Flattery Trail (3/4 mile each way) through a thick forest out to overlooks above the Pacific Ocean. From the overlooks we were able to see beautiful rock formations and sea caves carved out of the sandstone. When large waves hit the caves, you can actually feel the earth shake. We arrived at the overlook facing Tatoosh Island and Cape Flattery Lighthouse about 20 minutes after a pod of six orcas had swum by. After our hike, we picnicked at Hobuck Beach.

On July 20th we packed up and moved 64 miles down Highway 101 to the Forks 101 RV Park in Forks, WA. Forks is on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula and is the rainiest town in the contiguous United States. It is also known as the location where Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book and movie series are based. Although the campground lacks frills, our site was grassy, quite large and very quiet.

That afternoon we drove to the Hoh Rain Forest. Mild winters, cool summers and up to 12 feet of annual precipitation produce giant conifers that dominate this rain forest, one of the most spectacular examples of a temperate rain forest in the world. First we hiked the .8 mile Hall of Mosses loop trail through massive old growth trees such as Sitka spruce which average 220 feet tall with some reaching 300 feet tall. The forest floor is so thickly covered with vines, ferns and salmonberry bushes that tree saplings would be choked out on the forest floor. Instead, the tree saplings grow on top of decaying fallen timbers, known as nurselogs. We encountered two large elk grazing on the lush undergrowth. Then we hiked the 1.2 mile loop Spruce Nature Trail that passes along the 50-mile-long Hoh River that starts at glacier-capped Mount Olympus and descends 7,000 feet to the Pacific Ocean.

Half-way to the rain forest, we had discovered that we left the camera’s memory card in our laptop so we were limited to taking pictures on Jan’s cell phone. The pictures turned out so mediocre that we decided to return to this location two days later.

That evening Jan baked a blueberry pie with some of the berries we picked in Sequim. On July 21st we had blueberry pie for breakfast. Then we drove to Rialto Beach and hiked 1.5 miles each way along the Pacific Ocean on the North Coast Wilderness trail to an arch and tidepools at Hole-in-the-Wall. The thick forest extends to within 100 yards of the ocean and there were massive downed tree trunks strewn along the beach. Since the tide had come in, Phil had to climb along the walls to reach the Hole-in-the-Wall.

In the morning of July 22nd we returned to the Hoh Rain Forest to get some better pictures. We hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Trail again.

That afternoon we hiked a .7 mile trail through thick forest to reach Second Beach and return. We walked about a mile along the ocean, enjoying the tidepools and dozens of sea stacks. There were lots of tents erected on the beach for campers who were staying there overnight.

On Sunday, July 23rd, we packed up and drove 99 miles down the Washington coast to the small beach town of Copalis Beach where we stayed for a week. Our site at the Copalis Beach Resort was only a few minute walk from the Pacific Ocean; in fact, we could see the Pacific from our living room window. After setting up, we went for a long walk up the large, sandy beach. The temperature was about 62 degrees and the wind was blowing hard, making for a chilly walk. Our return walk was into the wind which made for quite a workout. Despite walking a mile in each direction, we only saw about a dozen people on the beach. We had never encountered such an empty beach.


On July 24th we explored the neighboring town of Ocean Shores, WA and had dinner at Mike’s Seafood. Later, we walked along the beach and watched the sun set at 8:59 pm. It was shortly after low tide so we had to walk about an extra 100 yards to reach the ocean. Once again, the beach was almost totally deserted.

On July 25th we drove to Aberdeen, WA, the closest city of note (population 17,000) to do our grocery shopping and to use the library’s wifi to post our blog. Although Aberdeen had an unseemly past and was known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” in the early 1900’s, there didn’t appear to have been anything particularly memorable about the town in recent years. One claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Kurt Cobain, the founder and lead singer of the band Nirvana and originator of what is now known as grunge music. After his suicide in 1994, the city of Aberdeen established the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park. We visited this very small park, which is at the end of a dead end street and is by an old bridge under which Cobain reportedly hung out. Appropriately, we found this to be one of the grungiest memorial parks we’d ever visited. The most amusing aspect of the park were the signs hanging in front of the house closest to the park, obviously the result of the frustrations of dealing with questions from visitors. There was also a stand that said it held “Kurt’s Air Guitar” but we couldn’t see it since, after all, it was an air guitar.

On July 26th we returned to the Olympic National Park and visited the Quinault Temperate Rain Forest. We first hiked the 1.7 mile loop trail that combined the Maple Glade Trail through thick foliage and the Kestner Homestead Trail through someone’s farm.

Next we drove to the Irely Lake Trail trailhead. This drive included several miles on a very rough gravel road. Shortly before reaching the trailhead, the front of our car started to squeal and grind. Phil was concerned that we had broken something in the suspension. This was particularly concerning since we were quite a few miles from civilization and out of cell phone range. We hiked 1.2 miles each way to the lake and back. The trail was clearly not heavily used as the path was largely overgrown. Upon our arrival at Lake Irely, we concluded that the destination probably wasn’t memorable enough to warrant the effort it took to reach it. Upon returning to the car, Phil drove very slowly back down the gravel road and eventually the squealing sound stopped and we were able to get back home without any incident.

On July 27th we drove to the southernmost point of Ocean Shores and walked on the North Jetty at high tide. The North Jetty protects the northern beaches along Grays Harbor. We intended to stroll along the jetty but found that it took a lot of planning and daring just to find our way across the large boulders far enough to view the water.

We didn’t venture very far from home over the next two days. However, we did go strolling along the beach both days.

On August 1st we drove 100 miles to Randle, WA. Randle is situated midway between the Mt. Rainier National Park and the Mt. St. Helens National Monument. We spent five nights at the Shady Firs RV Park. With our Passport America card, five nights only cost us $97. Upon arrival, Phil rode around with the owner and was given a choice of sites. We would normally have selected one away from the trees so our satellite TV would work. However, since the forecast was calling for three straight days of 100+ degree temperatures, we opted for a site under a nice canopy of large fir trees. We were fortunate to get one of the two sites with a sewer connection so we didn’t have to hookup and drive to the dump station during our stay. We were also happy to have our son, Jarrod Bain, and his girlfriend, Jessica Mollman, join us the first three days.

On August 2nd we arose early to get on the road before the extreme hot weather set in. We drove to the Paradise Visitor Center in Mt. Rainier National Park and hiked some trails. Jarrod and Jess hiked the 5.5 Skyline Trail with a 1,700’ elevation gain. We opted for an abbreviated version of the Skyline Trail that took us 1.5 miles each way to the Glacier Vista (6,336’ elevation) and back. Although shorter, this hike was quite strenuous. We then hiked the easier 1 mile round-trip to Myrtle Falls. Although the weather was cooler than in Randle, it was still in the 80s while we were hiking. There was still snow on certain parts of the trails and this provided some relief from the heat. Following our hikes, we watched a video at the Visitor Center and then had lunch at the Paradise Picnic Area. After lunch we stopped at Narada Falls and walked down the steep path that led to the spectacular lookout at the base of the falls. Our final hike was the .4 mile Twin Firs loop trail through old growth forest.

On August 3rd we arose early again to beat the heat. Our first stop was at the Grove of the Patriarchs, just past the Stevens Canyon park entrance. We hiked this loop trail that took us across a long wooden swinging bridge and through the forest of ancient trees – some over 1,000 years old. Then we drove along Washington’s highest paved highway to the Sunrise Visitor Center (6,400’). We stopped at an overlook and were able to see Reflection Lake beneath us. The views were impressive but, unfortunately, the sky was smokier than usual due to massive forest fires in Canada and Oregon. Upon arriving at the Sunrise Visitor Center, we all hiked the 3 mile Sourdough Ridge Trail to Frozen Lake and back. Jarrod and Jess extended their hike a bit and visited Shadow Lake. After our hikes, we drove down to the White River Campground and had a picnic lunch and explored the raging river.

On August 4th we were able to sleep a little later. After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, it was soon time to say goodbye to Jarrod and Jess as they headed back to Seattle for their flight home. That evening we headed down the road to the small town of Packwood where we had spotted a pizza restaurant. We were quite excited to discover that the restaurant had free wifi since we had had no AT&T cellular service for three days. We took our time eating our pizza as we caught up on three days of emails and other news. We would have stayed even longer but Jan’s phone battery died.

Farewell to Jarrod and Jess

On August 5th we drove 27 miles to the little town of Mossyrock, WA (population 750) for the 11th annual Mossyrock Blueberry Festival. Although smaller than the festivals we are used to, it was pretty impressive for such a small town. After wandering through the antique car show, we walked over to the park where we snacked on mini-blueberry pies and corn dogs and watched the blueberry pie eating contest. Although the temperature was only about 80 degrees, the bright sun made it feel much warmer so we didn’t stick around for the dog show or the bands that were scheduled to perform until midnight.

Pie eating contest at Mossyrock Blueberry Festival

On August 6th we drove 80 miles to Silver Lake, WA where we will spend a week at Silver Cove RV Resort. The drive took longer than expected since we were delayed 30 minutes by a bad accident between two motorcyclists. The campground was much nicer than we had expected. Although our site was entirely gravel, it was quite long and wide. We had plenty of room to park both vehicles and not interfere with our rug and picnic table. We had decent wifi and cell phone service, after five days without these at Randle. Jan’s tomato plants are really start of mature now and we have picked quite a few cherry tomatoes for our salad this week.

On August 7th we drove 25 miles to the town of Longview, WA, which is a short distance north of Portland, OR. Longview was founded in 1921 by R.A. Long, co-owner of the Long-Bell Lumber Company and was one of Long’s many visions for a planned city, with an expected population of 50,000. Although the current population is closer to 36,000, it remains one of the economic and cultural powerhouses of the region. After having some barbeque for lunch at Hops & Grapes and running some errands, we went for a walk at the large and lovely Lake Sacajawea Park in the center of town. The homes on either side of the park were very attractive, despite most likely being built in the 1950’s or 60’s. We spotted a couple of overhead squirrel bridges that spanned busy streets. Longview honors their squirrels with an annual Squirrel Fest each August. Next we drove through the downtown shopping district along Commerce Ave. before heading to the library to utilize their high-speed wifi. Jan was able to finish reading a book that she had started at the Billings, MT library and had continued at the Ocean Shores, WA library.  The town is really quite nice and is the type of place we would like to live when we give up the RV lifestyle.

Since our older son, Jason Bain, was scheduled to join us for a week starting on August 11th, we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing the rest of the week. We did hit the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center in Silver Lake on August 8th and watched the video and looked at the exhibits dealing with the 1980 eruption. On August 9th we drove 57 miles to the Johnson Ridge Observatory near the base of Mount St. Helens. Since the temperature was in the mid-80s and quite sunny, we only hiked the .5 mile Eruption Trail and got a panoramic view of the Mount St. Helens crater, the pumice plain and blast field as well as a partial view of Spirit Lake. The sky was quite hazy due to the Canadian forest fires. After eating lunch at a picnic table in the Observatory parking lot, we drove 10 miles to Coldwater Lake, which was formed by the 1980 eruption. We hiked the .6 mile Birth of a Lake Trail that provided a close-up view of the returning life in the area.

On Friday evening, August 11th, we drove 75 miles to the Portland International Airport to pick up Jason. His flight had been scheduled to arrive at 11 pm but was delayed and didn’t arrive until 12:30 am. By the time we drove back to the campground and got ready for bed, it was 3 am.

We slept in a little bit on Saturday morning, August 12th, before driving back to the Johnson Ridge Observatory. The weather was cooler than when we had been there on Wednesday and the sky was clearer. When we arrived, there was 25 minutes until the next video was scheduled to begin so we quickly hiked the Eruption Trail. We then watched two 20-minute videos. The first dealt with plant life and wildlife returning to the area since the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption and the second one dealt with the phases of the eruption. After the videos, we attended a ranger talk about the eruption in which she explained that the eruption was so unexpected because most scientists had only had experience with lava-based volcanoes. She also spoke about the 57 lives that were lost, most of whom were scientists who had underestimated the extent of the blast zone.

We then drove to Coldwater Lake and had a picnic lunch. After lunch, we hiked the Birth of a Lake Trail again.

Fly fishermen on Coldwater Lake

Then we drove to the nearby Hummocks Trail and did the 2.6 mile hike. This hike took us through hummocks (giant chunks of Mount St. Helens deposited by the May 18, 1980 landslide) and provided close-up views of numerous wetlands and ponds, as well as excellent vistas of Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River.


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