Our adventure exploring the best of Washington: North Cascades National Park, San Juan Island, Mount Rainier National Park, and Olympic National Park.
Day 1 – Seattle/North Cascades
Like all first time Seattle visitors we had to check out Pike Place Market and it lived up to the hype. We were impressed with lobster tails bigger than Kevin’s fist, massive crabs, and massive salmon everywhere. We purchased $60 worth of salami, pate, cheddar cheese, and olive oil at a local deli and chowed down (pun intended) on some clam chowder and lobster/crab rolls. After walking around downtown a bit more, we started on our two hour drive to up to North Cascades National Park.Buffalo Run Inn ($109 per night). This motel was rustic to say the least – I had to make Kevin take down a giant fake moose head above our bed. I was happy to be staying here since it’s the only hotel on west side of the park and in close proximity to all the hiking trails and Sasquatch conferences we were sad to miss. We had dinner at Moto’s, a local restaurant with an identity crisis represented by an Asian, American, and Mexican menu.
Day 2 – North Cascades
The plan was to do the longest and most challenging hike of our trip but looking out the window all we saw was misty fog. Instead, we went up to Diablo Lake, which gives Lake Louise a run for its money. I was so excited about the lake’s beauty and sunshine peeking through the clouds that I decided to balance on a few logs and fell in waist deep. Not feeling up for a hike we headed to the town of Winthrop and boy were we in for a pleasant surprise.
We couldn’t leave the North Cascades without attempting one of the best hikes in the Pacific Northwest so we set out for the Cascade Pass trail at 7 AM. The long and windy road up to the mountain was made even more terrifying by the morning fog. I am SO glad we were in a rental because I am fairly certain the car’s suspension is absolutely shot after bumping along on an unpaved road for an hour. Kevin slept through the whole thing leaving me with white knuckles and no one to share my fear with. Typical.
The parking lot was completely full by 8 AM despite fog so dense that obstructed views of a mountain that was LITERALLY right in front of us. Luckily enough, the fog dissipated completely by the time we cleared the tree line and the weather could not have been more perfect.
At the top of Cascade Pass, a fellow hiker suggested we go up one more mile to see some stunning views of Doubtful Lake. We were trying to make the 3:20 PM ferry from Anacortes but decided to book it up the mountain because up until that point, the hike wasn’t as painful as we usually like. Kevin would probably say he regrets this decision as within 20 minutes, we saw a huge black bear not too far from the trail. I on the other hand, was thrilled to spice up absolutely breathtaking views of Doubtful Lake with a bear sighting.
On the way down we practically ran down the mountain with high hopes of making the ferry. I almost made it through the trail unscathed until I face planted in the last 20 feet of the trail. I will always be sad about not spending more time looking at Doubtful Lake since we missed the ferry anyway but am forever grateful that we got to see it in the first place. Overall, our hike was 4 hours (8.3 miles with 2,664 ft elevation gain). We drove to Anacortes, made the next ferry, and got a beautiful sunset ride to the San Juan Island. Upon docking, we ordered to go food from Blue Water Bar & Grill where the owner must have been confused about how masks work as he would pull his down anytime he approached someone. Tip – definitely make a ferry reservation as soon as possible if traveling with a car.
Day 4 – San Juan
Waking up in an Airbnb on the westernmost side of the island, our first full day on San Juan Island was the pinnacle of my excitement. Much to Kevin’s delight, I booked us a six hour whale watching tour with Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching. Since we were the first tour out, there were no reported whale sightings in the area and I held my breath until we spotted a minke whale about 20 minutes later. Shortly after the minke sighting, our captain booked it towards where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the ocean to catch some humpbacks and wow did we get lucky! Once we arrived, we were COMPLETELY surrounded by humpback whales – someone counted 40! There were blowholes and tails popping up everywhere and it was incredible to watch these huge whales for a whole hour. On our way back, one whale even treated us to a full breach which made me tear up. We capped off an incredible day by making dinner and watching a gorgeous sunset on our balcony.
One of the (ok, the main) reason I wanted to visit San Juan was to see orcas in the wild. On our second full day we explored Lime Kiln State Park, which is known as the best place in the world to watch orcas from shore. The Southern Resident killer whales have not been visiting the island this summer like usual due to a lack of salmon. Fortunately, Lime Kiln and San Juan were still beautiful places to visit.Friday’s Crabhouse (great fish tacos), I went on a sunset whale watching tour with Maya’s Legacy. Before we left the dock, I was already grilling the captain on whether there were orca sightings in the area. The good news was that killer whales were spotted nearby. The bad news was that they were headed for the Canadian border which is inaccessible during the current COVID-19 situation. Once again, I held my breath as the captain floored it towards Stuart Island. After about 30 minutes, the dorsal fins that I’ve been dying to see in the wild for fifteen years finally appeared! I have zero shame in admitting that I cried when I saw three beautiful Transient killer whales swimming near our boat. We spent 20 glorious minutes with them until they crossed into Canadian waters. At this point, I began counting the money in our savings account so I could use it to bribe the captain to follow the whales into Canada. The fine is $1,000 and there were 8 of us so #worthit. Still reeling from my “dream come true” high, I happily made dinner and we enjoyed another sunset on our patio.
After forgetting our checkout time and being kicked out of the Airbnb by a frightened owner, we visited Cattle Pass on the southern tip of San Juan. I plan to camp out here for a week next time I come to San Juan orca expedition. This place has beautiful 180 degree water views and happens to be another orca hot spot with sightings almost every other day.Elliot’s Oyster House. This was my second time trying, and first time actually liking, oysters. Despite my praise on how fresh and non-fishy they were, Kevin abstained from eating the “slimy boogers”. The seafood pasta we both ordered was probably the best I’ve ever had. That explains my eating until I had to unbutton my pants and walk to the car pretending to be pregnant.
Arriving at the Paradise Village Hotel ($225/night) in Ashford in the dark, we were hit with major Jeepers Creepers vibes as we saw a rusty hippie van in a field nearby. We were checked in by a 12 year old who had his life more together than both of us combined. There was not an adult in sight. Shockingly, this actually turned out to be the nicest accommodations of our entire trip. The king sized bed had a memory foam mattress, there was a large fridge and microwave, and the bathroom had a rain shower and heated floors! This hotel really needs to move that van and step up their marketing game.
Day 7 – Mount Rainier National Park
I was so excited for our hike that I insisted on no breakfast and packed sandwiches. By this point, Kevin has learned that he’ll be railroaded by my enthusiasm regardless so it’s easier to just eat a protein bar in compliance. We arrived in Paradise Park after a 40 minute ride, parked by the visitor center (which had lots of parking) and began our hike. The Skyline Trail Loop took 4 hours (6.3 miles with 1,800 ft elevation gain) and showcased the best of Mount Rainier. There were snow patches, mountain views, wildflowers, and friendly chipmunks everywhere.
Since Kevin drank 3 beers on a mountain top and I decided to experiment with probiotics a few hours before a long hike, we were pretty done exploring afterwards. We decided to check out our hotel’s onsite restaurant and oddly enough, the restaurant served a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. I was excited to share some dishes from my childhood with Kevin. Lucky for him, none of what we ordered contained copious amounts of mayonnaise like the dishes at my family parties.
We still couldn’t find an adult anywhere, so I asked the slightly older teenager whether we can use the fire pit next to the Jeepers Creepers van and buy wood. There was a hut with stacks on stacks of wood but he told me they didn’t sell it and that I should “forage in the nearby forest”. There were in fact a lot of logs in the forest so we started a bonfire and were even joined by two girls from the northwest suburbs of Chicago (small world). After witnessing some questionable Russian mafia related activity like a lawn mower being dropped off at 12 AM and figuring out that the stacks of wood are reserved for the hotel’s Cannibal Hot Tub, we called it a night.
Day 8 – Olympic National Park
Feeling like we saw the best of Mt Rainier, we headed to Olympic National Park. To break up the four hour drive we drove to the Hurricane Hill park entrance located in Port Angeles and did the Hurricane Ridge Hike. Out of all the hikes we’ve been on, this probably has the best effort to reward ratio. Despite being only 3 miles long (787 ft elevation gain), this hike boasts coastal, mountain, and valley views. We also saw numerous elk and deer that felt zero stranger danger.
We rewarded ourselves with a hearty meal at Downriggers in Port Angeles and made the two hour drive to our Tiny House at the Three Rivers Resort in Forks ($125/night). I am hands down IN LOVE with this place. This place had everything including a toaster oven, hot plates, good shower pressure, and the coziest atmosphere I’ve ever felt. It was so cool to see an entire apartment packed into a tiny space with such thoughtfulness. I am ready to sell all our possessions and live in a Washington tiny house.
After making breakfast, we headed to Rialto Beach where we spent the day climbing on driftwood and exploring the tide pools full of anemones. We completed the 2 mile coastal Hole in the Wall hike during which I lost our house keys after using them sea urchin bait. I deserve that.
Day 10 – Olympic National Park
This was slated as our rainforest day. After doing the 0.75-mile Hall of Mosses Trail we aborted that plan as we were wholly underwhelmed. I am still not sure why every itinerary recommends moldy trees with such vigor.
Day 11 – Olympic National Park
On our way to the airport we stopped by Lake Crescent for brunch. The Lake Crescent Lodge has surprisingly delicious food given its location right inside the park and on a beautiful lake. I had aspirations of doing the Marymere Falls Trail but decided to soak in the last bit of the Pac NW by the lake.
It wouldn’t be an Alvarez adventure if we didn’t sprint for the plane at some point. We were making great time when I ran over an unidentified piece of metal, getting a flat tire on our rental car 90 miles out. I credit Kevin’s ability to put on a spare in record time (years of practice) in getting us to the plane immediately before the boarding door closed.
But would we do it all over again? Yes!
Overall, this was a fantastic trip and I’ve never been so thankful for the opportunity to spend 16 hours a day outside. I am really glad we saw Olympic National Park. However, my passions really do lie with snow capped mountains and glacial lakes so the coastal beaches and “rainforest” won’t be calling my name anytime soon. Rainier was definitely worth a visit and the Skyline Trail Loop gave us an amazing overview. I would love to go back and explore more of the lakes and glaciers in North Cascades and will DEFINITELY be camping out on the shores of the San Juan Islands looking for orcas.