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Trip Report Crater Lake, Olympic, Mt. Rainier National Parks and Surrounds

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Recently got back from 16 days in Oregon and Washington visiting for the first time, or revisiting, some national parks and other destinations in the area. Although we been to the Hoh Rainforest part of Olympic for a day twice before and had been in the area of Mt. Rainier about 15 years ago, my husband and I had never actually visited the national park nor Crater Lake. So in Jan. we decided to fly into Portland mid-July, go to Crater Lake, then drive up the coast to WA and spend a few days at Olympic before driving to Mt. Rainier. Usually we do these trips in Sept. when it’s a little less crowded but I wanted to see the wildflowers in bloom. The guidebooks said the flowers get close to their peak in mid to late July.

We took a late afternoon flight that got us into Portland about 10PM. All good news there - everything on time and we had PreCheck, so we didn’t have to shed our shoes. We picked up our rental car and drove a couple of miles to an airport hotel where we had a free room night from a promotion.

Day 1 – Shopping and to Coos Bay
We stopped at Target for insect repellant and Safeway for some groceries, then drove to Coos Bay, arriving late afternoon. Hadn’t realized that our route took us past the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, where we didn’t plan to go this time, but what-the-heck, we were driving right by. They were in the meadow, lying around doing nothing, just like the last time. But if you want to see elk, it’s the only sure bet we’ve found except in Yellowstone and parts of SD. Checked into the Best Western Holiday Hotel, which was typically acceptable, clean but with rooms smaller than some. We had time to walk along the boardwalk and look at the town of Coos Bay (what there is of it) before an early dinner at the Blue Heron Bistro. Although the restaurant has mostly very good reviews for their German and seafood, we found the clam chowder only acceptable; the Jaeger schnitzel and the rouladen were pretty good and in portions that left us most of the rouladen to take for lunch the next day.

Day 2 – Cape Arago and South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Although we’re late risers, we got up early and headed to Cape Arago State Park for the minus tide and some tidal pooling. The fog was there to greet us. Although there were plenty of green anemones, snails and mussels, we didn’t find a single starfish at Cape Arago. The wasting disease may have wiped most of them out since our last trip to Oregon or there may have been some in the less accessible pools well into the rocks. But we discovered we are a little less agile on jagged, algae-covered rocks than we were 7 years ago, so we didn’t venture onto the more treacherous-looking areas for fear of harming countless little creatures and/or a couple of big ones.

We headed back north to Sunset Beach while the tide was still low, but we didn’t find starfish there either. Only a harbor seal basking on the beach. So like good Oregonians, we picnicked there in a misty rain with our rouladen and provisions from Safeway. Then we drove back south again. It was still so foggy that we decided to skip Shore Acres SP and go back to do the cliff walk at Cape A. On the way we stopped at the Simpson Reef overlook and saw, through the fog, Stellar sea lions in the distance and a few harbor seals on rocks somewhat closer. On the cliff walk we could hear barking, presumably from sea lions on Shell Island, but visibility was nil. We had hoped the fog would burn off by afternoon, but no such luck, so we skipped Shore Acres yet again (probably a mistake, in retrospect) and went to South Slough. We did one loop trail there but since the road was closed to the other we were interested in doing, thereby adding another two miles to the walk, we decided to go back to Coos Bay and see if the weekly Wed. market was still open. We got there in time to see the remaining vendors pack up, so we poked around in antique stores for an hour or so before dinner at Fishermen’s Seafood Market. That was an odd little place with 4 or 5 tables in a floating fish market. We had second thoughts due to a mediocre lunch a couple of months before at a fish market on the Outer Banks (NC) that got mysteriously good reviews for meals on TripAdvisor, Open Table, etc. But the food here was very good for what it was (limited to fries and slaw for sides) and the two young men taking orders at the register and delivering orders were exceptionally friendly and helpful. If you couldn’t make up your mind, they offered to do a combination platter of your choice, and they told the diners several times not to worry about being done by the 7PM closing, that they’d be there cleaning up for another hour.

Day 3 – Coos Bay Museum, Millacoma Marsh, and to Eugene
Our original plan was to go to Eugene on Day 1 to have lunch with some friends before driving toward Crater Lake, then go to the coast afterwards. But since our friends couldn’t do lunch that day and since I had also discovered that there were no minus tides at the end of the week, we decided it would be worth the extra driving to go to the coast, then inland, then back to the coast. So we spent the morning walking the Millacoma Marsh loop and visiting the Coos Bay Art Museum. The walk was generally a bit boring but not unexpectedly so since summer is not a good time for birds and animals. The museum was small but had a few appealing sea-related pieces along with an annual Maritime Art exhibit. We stopped for lunch at Café Mediterranean in N. Bend with food similar to things we ate in Egypt – a good lunch though probably a little overpriced. Then we drove to Eugene to spend the rest of the afternoon with our friends and take them to dinner at 6th Street Grill where DH and I had excellent halibut.

We drove to Roseburg that night so we could be up early the next day for the two hour drive to Crater Lake. In January I wasn’t able to get a room in the park and I didn’t take the time to check for cancellations during the spring and early summer, so we kept our BW Garden Villa “just in case” room. As we’ve gotten older, we realize that we could have to cancel trips for physical/medical reasons; staying in chain motels that can be cancelled without penalties at the last minute has become a sort of “trip insurance”. While Best Western is not our first (or second or third) choice of a chain, sometimes they are the best (or all) that is available in some of the remoter locations we visit. This BW was typical of the chain, clean and adequate, rooms somewhat larger than the one in Coos Bay.

Day 4 – Crater Lake
We drove to Crater Lake with some trepidation since we had learned that the fog on the coast was caused by the heat wave inland. Our friends had told us they hoped we would be able to see the lake. We were afraid we were going to have another near-zero visibility experience like we did on the CA coast, in Redwoods, last summer (following a convention near San Francisco, otherwise we would not have gone then). But our luck turned and it was sunny, though a bit warmer than we might have liked. There was a bit of murkiness that kept colors from being postcard pretty but it was a lot better than it could have been.

Our plan was to drive slowly down the east side of the park, stopping at all the overlooks, then end up at the Steele VC before it closed and have dinner at the Lodge. I had neglected to get dinner reservations before we left home, then forgot about it until we were on our way to the park and without cell service. So when we unexpectedly encountered some cell service on East Rim Drive, we called to see if we could get reservations. What we got was a machine that said we could leave a request and someone might or might not call us back. We left a request and figured we’d just have dinner at the “grill” if we couldn’t get a reservation. We ate more of our Safeway provisions for lunch and made our way around the lake, admiring the spectacular views, until we got to the Lodge. When we went inside to check on our possible reservations there was no one at the hostess stand; someone working in the bar told us she’d check to see if we were on the list and when she didn’t find us, she said we’d have to wait until the reservations girl came back. She didn’t know where she was or how long she’d be gone. We waited a few minutes (and I snooped through the list, finding very few names on it), then wandered out onto the porch and along the edge of the lake to admire the view from that vantage point. Still no one at the hostess stand when we got back, so I decided enough was enough and we’d check out the grill. That was a joke, it was a snack bar with prepared sandwiches and little hot food, apparently none after 3PM. The guy in the snack bar suggested we drive to Annie Creek Restaurant, claimed the food was very good, but I’ve eaten in too many national park restaurants to go out of my way to eat in the “second string” eateries. So after the VC closed and we’d walked the Castle Crest Wildflower loop, we headed up West Rim Drive, ate some more of our lunch provisions, and spent some time at The Watchman before making the 2 hr. return drive to Roseburg.

Crater Lake is certainly a very beautiful place but I’m glad we didn’t decide to try for a room there and spend a couple of days. Seven or eight hours were enough for us, and it comes nowhere near our top eight or ten national park favorites. It wasn’t like when we left Yellowstone (our #1 park) the first time and I was already planning the next trip.

Day 5 – Back to the Coast and to Newport
We got to Florence in time for lunch at Mo’s and had some clam chowder and crab sandwiches. Then we spent too much time wandering around in galleries and shops in Old Town and through a little market on a pier. That left us a little short on time to spend at Cape Perpetua; the views were great, just wish we’d had more time to do more of the trails.

We checked into our hotel, another BW (Agate Beach) in Newport and got a surprise when we found an extra sheet with two dog biscuits on top, something DH and I have never developed a taste for. It seems that if you book a room and all they have left are pet-friendly, you get one of those and then it is assumed you’re bringing Fido. The next surprise was that the room was quite warm and the hotel has no a/c, something I never think of checking on in the amenities list for a chain hotel. And who knew we’d be there when it was so unusually warm? Since it was a 6th floor room, all the heat of the day had risen into it, and since we were on the back, there was little breeze but plenty of light from the parking lot on the same level and noise from people going back and forth across the bridge to and from their cars. When we stayed there before, it was May and hot weather wasn’t a factor. (In fact, we had to go check the sales racks at Fred Meyer for windbreakers.) Other than that it was another adequate hotel and with good views if you book an ocean-side room. Not an impossible distance to the beach, either.

We had dinner at Local Ocean Seafood, pretty good food but maybe not good enough to justify the long waits, even on a Sat. night. They were quoting 60-90 min. for parties of 4 or more but we were told 20 min. for 2 and were seated in about half an hour. Maybe my experience was influenced by the excess of fennel in the cioppino. There’s not much I don’t like to eat but two things I can do without the rest of my life are rhubarb and fennel, and I found an awful lot of both on this trip. I love cioppino but found all of it had fennel on the OR and WA coasts.

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    Day 6 – Newport to Astoria
    The next morning we went back to downtown Newport to look at galleries again. Better stuff than in Florence but still nothing I absolutely loved. DH wanted to go to Mo’s for lunch but the waits were too long, so we hit the road and ended up eating at the little Mo’s at the Devil’s Punchbowl up the road, after stopping at the Darlingtonia site to see the pitcher plants again (another thing we didn’t intend to do but what-the-heck, it was right there). Between that and spending too long at the Depoe Bay Whale Center just in case the resident grays were in town (well, we did see one spout on the May trip some years ago), we ended up at Cannon Beach too late for some of the galleries there. Several of the ones I had checked were open until 6PM but after peering through windows of the closed galleries, I discovered the early closers were the ones that had the stuff I liked. Most of the later closers had more tourist-y stuff than I am interested in. In retrospect, I wish I had taken a day from the end of the trip and added it to the OR coast portion. We could have used 2 days on this 3-hour-drive portion of the trip. Would like to have had time to spend a couple of hours at the Yaquina Head Natural Area or stop by Seal Rocks State Park..

    The Hampton Inn in Astoria is on the river near where the sea lions used to be, but none are there now. Apparently many of the locals where they have congregated in the past have made great effort to run them out of town. We didn’t hear them in Newport, either, and there were a number of them basking on the docks in ’07. The hotel itself was fairly new and nice but lived up to its reputation for being stingy with upgrades for Honors guests; they claimed to be full but there were very few cars in the lot when we checked in, when we came back from dinner, the next morning….

    Dinner was at a Serbian restaurant, Drina Daisy, where we got a pretty good meal that was a little unusual, something we appreciate. The town of Astoria itself was not remarkable, but we also didn’t have time for Fort Clapsop, Clatsop Spit, the Cathedral Tree Trail. (Okay, so maybe one extra day on the coast wouldn’t have been enough, either.)

    Day 7 – Astoria to Lake Quinault
    We got a later start than usual (not that we ever get an early start) and drove up to the Astoria column after walking along the river for a bit. We stopped for lunch at the Bridgewater Bistro, a place we probably would never have found without GPS. Lunch was good and the view of the river was pleasant. Outside the restaurant I heard the distinctive chirping of a bald eagle and we saw it being chased by an aggressive gull. Then we headed to Lake Quinault for a couple of days to see parts of Olympic National Park we’d never visited.

    Although I had done time/distance calculations with online AAA triptiks, it seemed like all our driving took at least 25% longer than estimates. Which it did driving to Lake Quinault. We checked into the Lodge, then went out and walked a couple of short trails before dinner, including to the Big Sitka spruce, one of several big trees of one species or another we found at Olympic NP. Then we drove the paved length of the South Shore Rd. before having dinner at the Lodge. DH had the short ribs, fatty and bony, and I had the cod, which wasn’t great either. We were disappointed since on our last trip to Grand Canyon several years ago Aramark food there had improved greatly over earlier experiences. I’m not used to parks like Olympic with a lot of inholding on the fringes, so there are other businesses along South Shore Rd. and 101 close by; we could have tried the Salmon House or a pizza place if we’d been there longer.

    The Lodge room on the lake was another story. I have stayed in numerous National Park Service hotels and know to expect a sub-standard room at premium prices. (And I understand the reasons, particularly since many of them have a short season to “make their nut.”) But sometimes I wonder if they couldn’t add at least one additional amenity like two molded resin chairs in Mesa Verde rooms instead of one, two nightstands (that look like they came from the discount store via the second-hand store) instead of one in most park service accommodations. Well, not only did we have two nightstands in the non-renovated lakeside rooms at Lake Quinault Lodge, we had a good-sized room with a sofa (actually a sofa bed), a desk and chair, a coffeemaker, a TV, in-room Wi-Fi and a balcony with two chairs overlooking the lake. And a king bed! This is not to say the décor was anything different from the usual ‘50s motel-look, but it was a mid-level ‘50s motel rather than the typical park service budget-level. We never turned on the TV and the Wi-Fi only worked the first 26 hrs., but it was certainly a cut above the usual. When we saw Kalaloch Lodge the next day, we were glad we had chosen to stay at Lake Quinault.

    Day 8 – Kalaloch, Ruby Beach, and Hoh Rainforest (first pass)
    The next day we drove to Kalaloch. Had an early lunch at the Lodge, which was out of crab cakes and the desert we wanted but had an acceptable chowder, big and decent sandwiches, and some terrific kalamata olive bread served by a friendly and professional waitress. We stopped by a couple of beaches and walked to the overlooks but didn’t go down. The win of the day was Ruby Beach. Despite comments from a ranger about the higher low tides making the likelihood of finding good stuff in tidal pools remote, we found lots of starfish (plus tons of anemones, some variously-colored snails, and other creatures) in a couple of hours on Ruby Beach as the tide was going out. We also stopped by another Big Tree (I think a cedar) where we met a somewhat habituated rabbit (and I got an ear worm - the Little Bunny Foo Foo song my kids used to sing, which I couldn’t get rid of for 3 days – and now that I think of it, I’ve got it again!).

    Since it wasn’t late enough to go back to the Kalaloch Lodge for our dinner reservations, I decided we could get to Hoh Rainforest since we were close. Again, it took us longer than expected and as I predicted before we started up the Hall of Mosses trail, we were 15 min. late getting back to Kalaloch. To their credit, they did seat us fairly quickly but service was slow and we had 3 different, inattentive servers, none of whom seemed to very skilled at the job. DH did get his crab cakes for dinner and said they were fairly good. I had a steamed half-and-half mussel and clam combo at extra cost but the mussels outnumbered the clams 3 to 1 and the bread served to sop up the juice was burnt. No great olive bread at dinner, just some bland white store-bought type rolls.

    Day 9 – Lake Crescent via Hoh Rainforest (second pass)
    There has been some media coverage lately of research concerning people who take photos remembering less than those who don’t take pictures. If you read to the end of the article, you will see that they test memories in a relative short period of time, maybe 3 weeks. Entering the 8th decade of my life, I’ll admit that I do have to consider what I’ll remember tomorrow and in 3 weeks, but looking back, I also see the importance of remembering things from 10 or 40 years ago. I’m betting whether you took photos or not doesn’t much affect what you remember after a long time, but I know for a fact that photos do help you recall years later. (And they can help settle those pesky arguments among the long-married about what you did or didn’t do in Puerto Rico in 1973.) This was the second day I wished I’d taken pictures when we were in the rainforest in July ’99 and again about Feb. ’02.

    My Hoh memories were both of an enchanted and almost frightening forest of various mosses with almost certainly trolls hiding behind the trees. And very green. Shortly before we left on the trip I had read something about the difference in the rainforest in dry spells and wet ones. Sure enough, our first walk through the Hall of Mosses the day before had been less green, less spooky than I remembered. Any self-respecting trolls would have emigrated to another rainforest as soon as they could pack up. Was this something I noticed because of what I had read or would I have noticed it anyway? Or just thought I remembered wrong from previous trips. But rain was forecast for the night after our first visit to Hoh, so I hoped I’d have the opportunity to check out my memory. (Okay, I was naively hoping the moss would react to rain instantaneously, kind of like one of those washcloths packed to the size of an eraser that swell to full size within seconds of being submerged.) So we hiked the Hall of Mosses trail the second day, after the rain, this time from the other direction. Well, the moss didn’t react quite that quickly but I could see that moss on horizontal tree limbs and had caught more of the water were more erect and somewhat greener than the day before. It probably would have taken a day or three more for them to revert back to what I believe I saw on an obviously wetter July visit and in the winter with snow on the ground. I’m pretty sure my memory was fairly accurate but I do wish I’d taken photos the other times so I could be sure. We hiked a second Hoh trail, both in light drizzle, and then drove to Lake Crescent in the late afternoon.

    Since we don’t normally plan trips long enough in advance to get reservations inside national parks, I have learned to book chain hotels nearby and try for park cancellations starting about 3 mo. out until even a couple of weeks before. I was negligent about that this trip, but I did get a night in a Pyramid room at Lake Crescent about a month before we left. I didn’t have the time or energy to keep trying to get the second night in the same location (and having to move to a different room in another building is hardly worth it), but at least we had the one night by the lake. Not so close as at Quinault but a good view. Large room with vaulted ceilings on the top floor, rustic log furniture (but only one nightstand between the two queen beds), mattress not so great, coffeemaker, particularly nice bathroom for park service, cell service in the room but no Wi-Fi. (Normally I’d be less interested in getting e-mail than DH is but we had left a sick pet at home and didn’t want to go too long without being reachable. The building was a bit of a hike to the main Lodge, where I assume they have Wi-Fi, so it was convenient to be able to check e-mail in the room.)

    We had read comments from some people that found the lighter menu served in the lounge at the Lodge was preferable to the full dinner menu. Since we were starting to get “travel bloat” from all the regular meals when you have access to food rather than eating when you’re hungry, the light menu sounded like a good idea to us. When we talked to the hostess about reservations for dinner, she said we could get the light menu in the dining room also but they had an unusual number of large parties that night; she could seat us immediately or not till after 8. Since it was almost 6 and lunch had been cheese, Triscuits, and cherries, we opted to go ahead and eat. While we were enjoying pretty good soups and salads, a ranger came by the table, introduced himself, and invited us to his campfire presentation by the lake at 8. We thought this was a nice touch and also probably helped his attendance.

    Which it apparently did since it was one of the few nearly full-house ranger programs we’ve attended. A retired teacher who had been a summer program ranger for years, the guy was personable and amusing and gave an entertaining presentation. Got his message across through humor.

    Day 10 – Hurricane Ridge and a night in Port Angeles
    I went to Olympic NP for the day from Seattle with friends in ’99 and only visited Hoh. When DH had a winter Seattle conference a few years later, we flew out early and went back to Hoh and to the Olympic Game Farm, spending a night in Port Angeles. Neither time did I get to the beach area or to Hurricane Ridge. So our agenda included spending most of a day both places. First walked a nature trail at Lake Crescent, then went to the VC in Port Angeles before driving up to the ridge. Halfway up we drove into the clouds and were concerned that there would be no view at the top, but we emerged into a bright and sunny day. Although we had some non-perishables with us, we decided to take a chance on the snack bar, and thus paid $35 for a lunch with very little food, none of it particularly palatable. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the meadow, along the ridge in both directions, and walking along another section of ridge we found at the end of the road past the VC.

    Seeing wildlife is a big part of the reason we go to national parks and so far our sightings had included two ground squirrels and two black-tailed deer at Crater, the managed elk group at Reedsport, the mollusks and such in the tidal pools, a few great egrets or great blue herons, an oyster catcher, loads of gulls and cormorants, some ravens, and a couple of eagles, and Bambi’s mom several times at Lake Crescent. Oh, yeah, and Bnnny Foo Foo. A pretty pitiful take for over a week. Hurricane Ridge certainly made up for some of this in quantity if not diversity. I have never seen so many black-tailed deer in such a short time in one place in my life. They were pretty habituated, as deer are prone to be, but at least they weren’t begging. I was tempted to intervene in a conversation between a father and his young son regarding how the bucks with emerging antlers in velvet could be males or female since sometimes “females grow horns too.” Hope the kid doesn’t reach adulthood in the same ignorance. (Well, at least dad was right about the females growing horns part.)

    We also saw a lot of the wildflowers I’d been hoping to see in the meadow, along some parts of the ridge, and along the roadsides, though not in the masses depicted in photographs. But it gave me hope that meadows chock full of blossoms would await us at Rainier.

    We had kept the second night of our Olympic Lodge reservation after I got the Lake Crescent reservation, so we checked into relative luxury. Nicer than the Red Lion we’d stayed in a dozen years before – large room, good mattress, not newly upgraded but not shabby. We ate a very good dinner at Café Garden, the best in days and one of the top 4 or 5 meals of the trip. My halibut and DH’s pork tenderloin were both excellent and the wait staff was professional.

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    Day 11 – Dungeness NWR and Pt. Townsend, then to Tacoma
    As we had all day to get to Tacoma where we were spending the night, we started our day by going to the Dungeness Nat’l Wildlife Reserve. It took some doing to find the right place. We walked through the woods to the beach and spent some time wandering along the beach but didn’t make the 5 mile trek on the spit to the lighthouse. Saw some murres in the water and a couple of deer.

    From there we went to Port Townsend (again taking longer than expected) for a late lunch at Fin’s. Nice view of the water, not bad food but missing the beets in the pear and beet salad. (I do wish they’d tell you about being out of an ingredient – some places say “we don’t have beets” or just tell you they’re out of the menu item. Do they think you won’t notice missing bits?) Then we wandered around town looking in galleries and shops before driving to Tacoma. Along the way we passed Egg and I Road (for those of you who know what that’s all about). Were concerned about the possibility of missing the exit you have to take in order to pay the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll in cash since the default is the transponder in the rental car, for which Hertz charges an additional $5/day for every day you have the car – capped at $25 – if you use it even once. But the exit for cash tolls was well marked, unlike some (many) of the roads in WA. Our previous driving experiences in WA have led us to joke that Washingtonians believe that if you don’t know where you are, you have no business being there. Maybe not quite as bad this time but still not great, especially street signs in towns. At some intersections if you find signs on even one corner, they’re likely to be so badly worn as to be nearly unreadable. Highways seemed better marked now – this trip we didn’t have to drive 10 miles after turning on what we hoped was the correct highway before we found a sign.

    I got flashbacks (maybe the visual version of the ear worm) because of the bridge – and am having another one right now. We must have seen an 8mm loop tape version of the collapse Tacoma Narrows Bridge 100 times when we were work/study students in the UNC educational media center in the early ‘70s.

    Day 12 – Tacoma Glass Museum and to Ashford/Mt. Rainier
    Before we left Tacoma we went to the Museum of Glass for a couple of hours. Nice exhibits and amazing things done in glass, though the demos in the Hot Shop were not remarkably interesting that day. We were amused by the Kids Design pieces where their glassmakers interpret drawings by children. Loved the titles and descriptions like Tiss Ausome Land Shark Ausomeness and Alien Dude that had “a tere drop body, two half curcles, monky feet, no arms, and a froun face with sharp teeth”. Also, despite sometimes feeling that Chihuly is over-hyped, we were impressed with the Bridge of Glass. The Choripan restaurant in the museum was okay but not as good as some of the cafes you find in many art museums.

    Glass turned out not to be the only sculpture of the day. When we were about 10 miles from Ashford I suddenly spied a life-sized giraffe at the side of a road, then a sign welcoming visitors to a free outdoor museum/sculpture garden. Consisting of animals, humans, and machines mostly life-size or larger, the work was constructed of metal scrap and/or driftwood. I have a great deal of admiration for artists who can take flotsam and jetsam and create imaginative (and, especially, representational) work. I really liked the guy’s stuff and found a 4 ft. driftwood horse at a very affordable price, even if shipping cost a couple hundred dollars, but he won’t pack/ship the wood pieces himself. I figured it would take at least a day there in the middle of nowhere to find and arrange shipping – and that’s if we could get the horse in the rental car, which is unlikely. See www.danielklennert.com for his recycled iron and wood sculpture. We made a donation (he has separate boxes for conservatives, liberals, and independents) and left, sadly sans horse. But it was a fun surprise stop.

    In Jan./Feb. I was unsuccessful in getting rooms at Paradise for consecutive days, so I finally gave up and booked 4 nights at Alexander’s Country Inn a mile from the Mt. Rainier NP entrance. We had the king petite suite on the lowest floor, which meant only a few steps for schlepping luggage. It was nice enough, though more akin to park service accommodations than to nicer hotels. Code words like cozy [read “really small”], quaint [read “inconvenient”], and historic [read “few conveniences, maybe a couple of mice, and try to find an electrical outlet to recharge your camera or phone”] raise my antennae, but it could have been worse. The owners have tried hard to make it attractive and as convenient as possible and provided many books and games in the parlor. Our suite was a bit dark with a door to a small private porch off the living area, one small window in the bedroom, but that turned out to be an advantage in the continuing heat wave. We got no direct sun and it was considerably cooler, even at night, than the large parlor and adjacent smaller room with a TV where they served wine in the afternoon. The very, very warm parlor had many people at night, reading or computing, and I can only assume that their higher-floor, west-facing rooms were stiflingly hot. The queen petite-suite across the hall from us was brighter and more attractively decorated but one of the housekeepers told us it was extremely hot night and day. If I were staying there in spring, fall or winter, though, I’d pick that room. We did not avail ourselves of the day spa or the hot tub, just the bedroom window fan that brought in cool outside air and made sleeping possible.

    We had a very good dinner in their restaurant, an excellent sole preparation and melt-in-your-mouth pork tenderloin with excellent sides. Another meal in the top 4 or 5. After dinner we drove into the park and encountered the first indication of prospective trouble. – road work and signs warning of 30 min. delays Mon.-Fri. As we drove to Paradise, stopping by Christine Falls on the way, we realized that we’d better take food for lunch the next day instead of counting on trying the Sun. brunch at Paradise Inn. Even at 8PM Sat. night parking around Paradise was scarce. We also decided that maybe we’d drive to Sunrise the next day, hoping that some of the crowds would have thinned by the time we got there. Both turned out to be wise decisions.

    Day 13 – Sunrise via Reflection Lakes, Box Canyon, and Grove of the Patriarchs
    It became apparent soon after we entered the park Sun. morning that trying to park, let alone have brunch, at Paradise was going to be a headache at best and more likely impossible, so we went to plan B. Parking was crowded enough at the places we did stop: some overlooks, Reflection Lakes, and Box Canyon. We spent some time walking around the lake and took the Box Canyon loop. Then we drove on to Sunrise. Despite the stops to break up the drive, it seemed to be an endless journey from the Nisqually entrance to the Stevens Canyon entrance; the drive from Stevens Canyon to Sunrise seemed much quicker by comparison.

    We didn’t arrive at Sunrise until 2PM but the parking was still pretty difficult. We finally found a spot and had another pretty bad lunch at the snack bar before rambling (or struggling up steep paths) through the meadows. To our disappointment, while there were flowers in the meadows (and at Reflection Lakes), we did not see the postcard views, the masses of blooms and colors. The most amusing thing was the gigantic birdhouse, aka the Day Lodge. We heard squawking and finally spied a fuzzy bird head and a glimpse of body marking sticking out of a rough hole in the siding. From what I could see, it resembled a flicker. A ranger also watching confirmed this and said that one of the fledglings had left the nest a few hours earlier and was currently hiding in the nearby bushes. This last chick was in no mood to leave the nest; he wanted Mom to bring his lunch. The entire front was “decorated” with these holes, as well as parts of the sides, and even what was identified as a bluebird was seen leaving one. Even the flickers are pecking away at our tax dollars, it seems.

    We went by the Grove of the Patriarchs on the way back to Ashford. Described as a loop trail, it’s really half a mile to the half-mile loop portion, then you return via the same route. The swinging bridge over the river was fun but we were getting pretty jaded by large, old trees at that point. We returned to Ashford and tried Wildberry for dinner. This is an odd combination of Nepalese and American with some oddities like yak burgers. DH had Sherpa Stew, which tasted no different to me than beef stew but was good enough, and I had momos, which were more ethnic in flavor but a little “dumbed down” for general consumption. There were other Nepalese offerings we would have tried if we’d gotten back there, but only about ¼ of the menu was Nepalese; most was traditional American fare.

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    Day 14 – Paradise
    This was our third breakfast (included) at Alexander’s and we discovered a curious breakfast fact. Food is prepared to order and there are 4 selections (French toast, oatmeal, and two egg dishes) along with a daily special (another egg prep). DH ordered the scrambled eggs with ham the second day and got what you’d expect – eggs with a slice of ham. The third day he ordered that again and got eggs smothered in cheese with small ham bits sprinkled over the top. The last day it was eggs san cheese with somewhat larger chunks of ham bits.

    The day, Mon., was the hottest so far and we encountered the roadblock just before Longmire but got lucky – our side was just starting to move. Continued on to Paradise and encountered plenty of other cars, though not as many as on Sun., en route. We finally found parking and walked the meadow paths along the ridge trail to Myrtle Falls and parts of the Vista Trail. We tagged along for awhile with a group of people on a ranger wildflower walk. It was approaching 2 when we decided we’d better head for the Paradise Lodge for lunch before the dining room closed. The hotel lobby was pretty dark, as the VC had been due to a power outage, and it was then that we learned the whole day was a planned power outage as part of replacing utility lines under the roads. The lunch menu on the outage days consisted of salads and burgers and chicken cooked on an outdoor grill and the food was disappointing.

    I finally asked a ranger where all the flowers were and she said they’d had a late snow, so everything was running 2 or 3 weeks behind. I guess this was our year to miss flowers since we’d had the same experience in March when we took a Chicago friend to Brookgreen Gardens, expecting even more things in bloom than when we had been there 3 wks. earlier in the season a couple of years before; alas, the buds were just starting to open and the garden display was running several weeks behind due to the hard and late winter in SC. Since the power outage was till 4:30, there was no point in returning to the VC to try to catch the movie or see some of the displays requiring electricity, so we drove to Narada Falls. On the way out of the park we hit the Longmire roadwork again and waited close to half an hour to start moving again.

    We arrived at the Copper Creek Restaurant a little before 7 and encountered mobs of people. The hostess (?) said we could be seated immediately at the counter if we didn’t want to wait, so we accepted. Although we had a view into the kitchen and the servers going back and forth, we had no personal contact with anyone for about 15 min. when an employee (not our server) offered to get us drinks. Soon after we got drinks our server breezed by, telling us she would be with us in just a minute. The same thing happened about 4 more times in the next 20 min., although she began prefacing her words with “I promise”. We finally ordered and after still more delay, received our meal of chowder and Cobb salad and a sandwich that we split. The food was Denny’s quality, so we couldn’t understand the number of cars that always seemed to be in their lot and along the road the whole time we were there. (And reviews of the restaurant warned of the service issues, we were just surprised at how bad it actually was.) I suppose the American food at Wildberry wasn’t any better (though the atmosphere was), the Alexander’s restaurant prices were probably 25% more and didn’t include hamburgers and such. In the restaurant’s behalf, our server asked if we wanted desert and they comped us the slice of one of their “famous” pies that we ordered.

    Day 15 – Mt. St. Helens, Spirit Lake Hwy.
    We’d debated the night before whether to go back into Mt. Rainier. Since we’d neglected to ask if it would be another power outage day, we decided to go to Mt. St. Helens. Originally we had planned to go there the day before we flew home en route back to Portland. We’d been debating whether to go on the east side or the west. So we decided to take the Spirit Lake Hwy. to Johnston Observatory for the day, then drive to Portland on the east side of the monument.

    We’d been paying for very expensive gas compared to what we were used to at home, and gas in Ashford was even worse – about $4.29. So we decided to look for cheaper gas on the way. When we got to Morton, it was under $4, so we filled up, only to find it almost 20 cents less a few miles farther west in Mossyrock. So if you’re looking for gas in that area, it’s all over the place in price, up to 50 cents per gallon difference.

    We decided to stop for lunch at Patty’s Place that was described in a review as being “right after the intersection of 505 and 504”, in Toutle. After about 3 miles on 504, we turned around and drove into Toutle without finding it. (And the GPS knew nothing about Patty’s.) We turned around again and finally found Patty’s almost 4 miles past the intersection and actually in Kid Valley. The Sysco truck making a delivery was probably a sign that Patty’s was not a farm-to-table or gourmet restaurant. Food was okay but fried fish was pretty greasy – used up a lot of napkins from the table dispenser to squeeze mine out. Someone asked about getting gas because the station in Kid Valley was closed. Waitress told them no one had been seen there for weeks but the pumps still worked, so if you had a credit card, you could get gas.

    This was another long drive, about 2 ½ hrs. to the Johnston Observatory VC plus stops along the way. The two movies were very good and we went to a ranger presentation that was okay. Views of the mountain along Spirit Lake Hwy. were amazing, as was the contrast between that area and Mt. Rainier.

    Day 16 – Mt. St. Helens, Windy Ridge side, Columbia Gorge to Portland
    We checked out of Alexander’s and went by a little Ashford gallery I hadn't managed to get to before. Really personable guy, a teacher, who ran it and we exchanged air travel horror stories, heard about his recent trip to our area with a bunch of high school kids and his vacation in Spain last summer. He told us about kids coming in to put 25 cents in his old coke machine where they get old-style bottled cokes he pays $1 for (made with cane sugar) and their reactions when he lets them use his old rotary phone. (He said they finally figure it out.) He and the recycled sculpture guy made us wish we could have a few days just to go around and meet interesting residents.

    We took FR 52, where we saw our last glimpse of Rainier through the trees, to WA 12 and turned south on 25 to 99. On the way to Windy Ridge we stopped several places, including a Spirit Lake overlook with a herd of elk below in the valley. (We had seen some elk even farther away the day before at an overlook on 504.) You have to know they’re in the area to even know to look, but there was some sort of volunteer (not a ranger) where we stopped who told us approximately where they were. (Need binoculars. Just slowly and occasionally moving dots with the naked eye.) We actually thought the views were better and more interesting on this route than Spirit Lake Hwy. and there appeared to be more short trails if one has the time to do them. But the roads were sure worse.

    Originally we had planned, if we took the eastern route, to go out 503 to I-5 and stop by Ape Cave along the way. DH said he’d done enough lava tubes, so we decided to go to Carson and take WA 14 back through the gorge. We might still be driving around on roads named Something-or-Another-Creek Road if not for the GPS. And our average speed through much of it, as with FR 52 earlier, was probably about 30 mph. In fact, I was as close to being car sick a couple of times as I have been in over 50 years. The roads were narrow, winding, rough, and with big dips and poorly done repairs. But we finally made it to 14. The drive from there to I-205 was pleasant but not nearly as scenic as the Columbia River Hwy. in Oregon.

    We had a quick dinner in Portland, then started packing up the junk that had been floating around the rental car for over 2 weeks, plus our large collection of dirty clothes. Our boarding passes gave us the good news that we could keep our shoes on again and we hoped for on time and uneventful flights the next day. (Our wish was granted.)


    Although none of these 3 national parks made it into our top 10 of the 37 (out of 58?) that we have visited one or more times, they were certainly not at the bottom of the list, either. (Not that we’ve actually ranked them all past Yellowstone, Glacier, and Denali.) Olympic was probably our favorite this trip, possibly due to the ecosystem diversity, and might even be #11 overall. Of course, we appreciate the ones with lots of animals the most (especially big, dangerous animals or larger birds) and there wasn’t much wildlife, not even many ground squirrels, on this trip. We certainly would like to spend some time on the Oregon coast during whale and bird migrations.

    I think, though, that we’ll go back to our previous habit of Sept. visits to national parks where you have to wait for snow melt and other parks in April, May and Oct. Although the roadwork is still going on in parks with long winters, the crowds are down significantly. And I guess I won't pick my dates based on weather-dependent events.

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    Very nice review of places that are mostly familiar to me! Thanks.

    By the way, the local joke here in the Northwest is that we have four seasons: rain, rain, rain, and road construction.

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    That joke is kinda like the Oregon rain joke: it only rains once a year in Oregon, from October to June. Or one from Indianna about the 4 seasons: summer, fall, winter, and mud. I guess we all have our weather problems. Thanks for another weather joke.

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    Certain parts of Oregon get a fair amount of rain and others do not. Portland has many sunny days - as does my old home town of Klamath Falls, in Southern Oregon - but places such as Eugene get more "liquid sunshine". :)

    On the whole - one should not expect fine dining in National parks, and I/we always have a styro-foam cooler in the back seat - filled with our ice and our favorite foodstuffs we pick up at some grocery store or deli, just in case we don't find what want. I also usually have a fishing pole or two along - and nothing like fresh/pan fried trout in the morning or for dinner :)

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    We don't expect fine dining in national parks - or anywhere nearby on the "outside", either. But we've had a few fairly good meals (albeit overpriced for what they are) in the good dining rooms at Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Bryce. Maybe others that I don't recall off hand. Of course, there's not a lot of consistency - pretty good one year, not as good a couple of years later or vice versa. But it happens often enough that we still hope. Like you, Tomsd, we take a cooler and groceries as well. (Unlike you, we don't fish. And I don't clean fish, either.)

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    LOL Polly. Not many people do clean fish. No sweat really once you learn how to do it. :)

    And yes, the parks you just listed have better/more food
    options - but as you note - consistency from one year to the next can vary.

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    Polly,

    I like to travel in the shoulder season as well. We often visit Hawaii in May and Colorado during October. Our one, and only, trip to the PNW was in Sept (21-28) 2010. It did, lightly, rain most of the week which I loved but Mt Rainier was completely shrouded in fog.

    Next year is our 10 year wedding anniversary which is on Aug 6. I, too, was hoping to see wildflowers. The wildflowers was one reason not to "postpone" our anniversary trip.

    After reading your report, I'm not so sure I want to be there at the beginning of August. Lack of wildflowers (which I may catch since I will be there the beginning of August); heat (we hail from Texas so we will want to escape heat); the crowds.

    Perhaps, I shall celebrate over dinner and take an anniversary trip in September.

    Advice? Thanks!

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    Are you still checking for a response, louistraveler? Sorry, we've been gone for 5 days.

    Well, it's not like the trip was a total bust but it was certainly a reminder that Mother Nature is in control, not the calendar. Other than a couple of foggy OR coast days, it was pretty clear and we had good views of mountains, Crater Lake, etc., unlike the constant fog we encountered in Redwoods last July.

    It was photos Spirobulldog posted 2 years ago that made me decide to go in late July to catch the flowers. I knew we were probably a little early but couldn't do it later this year because of other commitments, so we decided that flowers would probably be pretty good in late July. Next year they may peak at "the right time". Weather/travel is a crap shoot. I noticed a trip report from Spirobulldog, who was at Rainier again this year (probably about the same time we were); he mentioned the wildflowers not being as spectacular as on his '12 trip. So it wasn't because we're older and don't usually hike into the more remote areas as much these days as he does. The bloomin' flowers weren't hiding somewhere, they just weren't there. Actually, there were plenty of flowers, just not the meadows crammed full like the postcard photos. Photo ops for flowers were of the close-up variety, not the long shots.

    But as you said, if you wait till fall you might lessen your chance of seeing Mt. Rainier/Mt. St. Helens (if that's on your agenda). And it's certainly not always that warm in July and August. We were at Olympic in July '99 and it was typically pleasant Seattle-area weather, relatively cool.

    The heat wasn't actually bad heat (we're in FL, so we share your wish to escape heat), it was just a little warmer than we would have liked - maybe mid-80s highest, more often closer to 78-80, so a bit warm in the sun but pretty comfortable in the shade. It was warmer in Ashford, so the place we stayed had more opportunity to heat up during the day. I know we'd have been very uncomfortable and not slept so well if we'd had another room than the one we had, which I'm pretty sure was the coolest one in the place. When we walked into the common areas, the temperature went up 10 degrees. If I'd been diligent about trying to get cancellations at Paradise and we'd stayed there, rooms there might have been cooler at night. That would also have put us well past the road work this year. Most of the time I do try to get park rooms but this year I was lazy, just didn't feel like spending the time. But you're planning early enough that you could probably get Paradise rooms now without having to play the call everyday game. You might post a question to see if people who have stayed at the Lodge (or Longmire) when it was hotter than usual can tell you about lodge rooms in the park.

    Did you read the thread here about parking in Rainier from a couple of weeks ago? I'm still not sure about whether you'd be guaranteed a spot reasonably near the hotel if staying there, but certainly by late afternoon or early evening you could find one. As regards parking, even though there were a lot of people on the weekend, we only had trouble at Paradise and Sunrise. We were always able to find at least one empty spot everywhere else. On Mon. parking at Paradise was still pretty full but not nearly as bad as Sunrise on Sun.

    I'm suspicious that you may have to go back to a given place more than once to catch the best or the peak or whatever of the various things it has to offer. And maybe one of those times will involve a few or even way too many people. But unless I have a specific objective - like the flowers - in the future, I'm definitely going back to shoulder months - Sept. and Oct. wherever you have to wait for snow melt as late as July (Crater Lake, Glacier to name two) in order to get into some of the park. We need to go back to Yosemite because we were there in April and Tioga Rd. and a couple of other areas were closed. That will definitely be a Sept. trip.

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    Thanks so much Polly for your response! I have been checking!

    I don't absolutely have to see the wildflowers but it worked out with our anniversary date. Autumn is my favorite season of the year and we don't get that here in Texas...;). I think the wildflowers will have to wait and I am going to enjoy cooler weather, fall leaves, and fewer people!

    My plan for the PNW is a loop of the following: Seattle, Lake Crescent Lodge, Quillayute River Resort, Lake Quinault, and finally Stormking at Mt Rainier.

    Thanks again!

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