Washington Road Trip: Snoqualmie to Seattle

Enumclaw/Snoqualmie

I wake up thinking, yeah I definitely did too much yesterday. We sleep in the latest we have all week. I’m ready to be lazy and I’m still craving a view of Mount Rainier, and there’s a clear forecast until noon, so we decide to take the gondola from Crystal Mountain Resort. We arrive within minutes of it opening, and it’s just us and about a dozen or so snowboarders hanging around.

Have I ever mentioned I’m terrified of heights? Probably once or twice? The gondola is an enclosed glass cube with two bench seats, and I manage to stay pretty calm during our 2,400-ft vertical ascent. At the summit, we’re greeted by a view of Mount Rainier through some wispy cloud coverage. Victory! The wind is whipping our hair around and I am extremely sketched out by the lack of railings around the brick walkway, but we get our summit photos then boot-scoot-boogie over to the restaurant at the top of the mountain for breakfast. We’re seated at a window facing Mt. Rainier so I get to stare at it to my heart’s content as I have my coffee and BLT. I live in Illinois; I’m going to savor this moment.

Mount Rainier

With our first mission accomplished, we leave Enumclaw and drive for an hour towards Snoqualmie. I’m extremely excited for this part of our trip because I’ve been a massive fan of the David Lynch/Mark Frost-created TV show Twin Peaks since it first aired (I was in sixth grade and didn’t really know what I was watching but I was intrigued. I later binge-watched the series on VHS in high school, and multiple times since). First thing first, we go to Twede’s Diner (a.ka. The Double R) so I can order a damn fine cup of coffee, black as midnight on a moonless night, with a slice of cherry pie.

“This must be where pies go when they die!”

I have an internet-gleaned list of filming locations on my to-do list, so one by one, we check them off. Ronette’s bridge, check. The Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station, now a rally driving school with a view of the Packard Sawmill, check. (The incredibly nice woman at the front entrance even let me sit at Lucy’s desk for a photo.) The Salish Lodge & Spa (a.k.a. The Great Northern Hotel) and Snoqualmie Falls, check. Oh Diane, I almost forgot, got to find out what kind of trees these are! They’re really something.

“I believe I was visited by a Giant last night…”

We are staying at a bed&breakfast in Snoqualmie for the night, and our room overlooks the river with a view of the forest and mountains. Also, there’s a gigantic boulder in our room, which feels appropriately Twin Peaksian (also doesn’t hurt that behind the boulder we have a private sauna room).

The Rock and Rose Room

Snoqualmie/Seattle

The b&b owners drop us off a hot breakfast in a wicker basket in the morning (this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a MacDowell residency experience). We eat our French toast bake, breakfast sausage, and berries and cream while drinking in the last of the view. It’s the last full day of our trip (sobs) but I’d like to live here in this exact spot forever if someone can please fly our dog and cat over for me.

our view of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River

The first task of the day is to return the van to the rental place. Goodbye, Kung Fu, you were a fantastic home for the past week. We take a Lyft to the Capitol Hill area of Seattle and drop our stuff off at our final Airbnb. I have one more pilgrimage I want to make; I want to visit the graves of Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee at Lake View Cemetery in the nearby-ish Volunteer Park. It’s gotten quite warm out, and I begin to get tired, sweaty, and grumpy. I kinda forgot until now that it’s summer. Whose idea was this? (Mine). Maybe we should quit (I shouldn’t quit, we’re almost there). My feet hurt and my back is sweaty. I’ve had a weird time managing my moods ever since I had covid. We reach the cemetery entrance and notice a steady stream of people headed in the same direction. The small crowd grows quiet and respectfully somber. From what I’ve read, Bruce Lee’s family chose Seattle as his resting place because it’s where he fell in love and spent the happiest years of his life. It’s moving to see and experience with strangers and fellow fans. I’m glad I didn’t give up just because my feet hurt.

For the rest of the day, Kurt and I take it easy sampling local beers, eating fresh poke, and topping everything off with a cocktail. My Gen X heart enjoys and appreciates Seattle. It gave us one of the best seasons of The Real World (“Kirrrraaa! I love you! It kills me!!! and you don’t even knowww!!!!”) Ironically, the first time I visited Seattle back in 2012 I was getting over whooping cough; hopefully someday I’ll come back here totally free of any sort of respiratory issues.

Final Thoughts:

  • Every part of Olympic National Park is so different and worth seeing. If you can, build time into your itinerary to get each kind of experience: the lakes and mountains, the Pacific Coast, the rain forests, etc.
  • If you plan to stay at the Kalaloch Campgrounds (and you should!), book as early as possible for the best chance of getting one of the cliffside sites with a direct view of the ocean.
  • The National Park webcams for spots like Hurricane Ridge are a handy way to check if visibility is good or not before trekking over.
  • I’ve also found the NPS Instagram and Twitter accounts helpful for updates on parking lot wait times, road closures, and weather events.
  • I upgraded my rain jacket a year ago and was definitely glad to have a good one for this trip. Along with rain pants, weather didn’t stop us from exploring.
  • We used the app Tide Alert to check for low tide/negative tide for the day we explored tide pools.

Washington Road Trip: from the Peninsula to Mount Rainier

Lake Quinault

The morning is drizzly with rain, surprise. We make breakfast at camp, then head to the Rain Forest Nature trail right by our site, a short 0.5-mile trail along Willaby Creek. I hadn’t looked up anything about the trail and am blown away by the view of the Gorge and the old-growth forest flanking it on both sides. It feels like we’ve stepped into an ancient world and I almost expect a pterodactyl to swoop through the sky. The trail winds along high above creek level with a wooden railing hugging you to the side of the mountain, and I’ll continue my habit of making hyper-specific Chicagoland references by saying that it made me think of Tropic World Asia at Brookfield Zoo. Even more surprisingly, we barely see anyone else out on the trail, a stark difference from the packed parking lot at Hoh the previous day. Since the trail is so short, we join the Quinault River Trail for a bit to get a little more time in at this beautiful spot.

Rain Forest Nature Trail

Kurt and I both love a scenic drive, so we embark on the Quinault Rain Forest Loop, a 31-mile route around the entire lake. It takes about 2 hours to complete due to gravel roads and stopping to see all the waterfalls. It is also popular with bicyclists, and we see quite a few out and about. Kurt and I make a few stops at trailheads to stretch our legs on some easy hikes, including the Maple Glade Trail, which ends up being one of Kurt’s favorites. The mile-long trail takes us through a grove of ancient towering maples; I am in awe of trees and their resilience to survive centuries of extreme elements. I’ve always felt that nature is more than a little but supernatural.

Maple Glade Trail

Back in the van, the road takes us into a thick forest surrounding us on both side. This area seems prime for elk sighting, so Kurt slows the Kung Fu to a crawl and we scour the trees with our eyes. Within minutes, we spot the backs of two female elk grazing deep into the woods. The forest eventually opens up into the Quinault River valley, with a peek of snowcapped mountains in the distance. If you’re planning a trip to Olympic National Park, I’d recommend setting aside a full day for exploring the Quinault area; it’s pretty magical.

Kung Fu and the Quinault River

Once we’ve finished the Loop Drive, we say a wistful goodbye to the Olympic Peninsula. Our next destination is Mount Rainier National Park, and we have a three-hour drive ahead of us to reach Packwood, where we’ve reserved an Airbnb for the night. I’m eager for my first shower in days and a chance to wash our dirty laundry. Fueled by gas station corn dogs, we forge on to Packwood.

Packwood/ Mount Rainier/ Enumclaw

I wake up in our A-frame cabin in Packwood as the early sunlight streams into the loft sleeping area. Waking up in a real bed feels pretty great, and Kurt and I both have a pile of freshly cleaned and folded camping clothes sitting atop our bags, ready for the second half of our trip. The cabin is my dream house—rustic and cozy with a wooden deck overlooking a babbling stream. We’d sat outside the previous night eating carryout pizza and drinking canned white wine while our clothes tumbled clean in the washing machine.

Packwood cabin

This day should be interesting; as we spent last night researching trails in Mt. Rainier using the cabin’s wifi, we learned that most of the park is currently closed due to late-season snowpack. Out of our planned stops, there are only a few trailheads we can access right now. We’ll figure it out as we go. But first, coffee and breakfast tacos.

“You know of the closures?” the Ranger asks us as we enter the National Park. Yep, we tell her, we’re headed to Silver Falls, one of the few accessible trails. She nods and offers us a park map.

The Silver Falls Trail is a 4-mile loop with 705 ft of elevation gain—a moderate hike that would’ve been no big deal for me a few months ago, but more challenging than all of the short, flat hikes we’ve been doing all week. I’ve been feeling better lately, so we pack up a daypack with water, snacks, and rain jackets, and set out.

Silver Falls

Silver Falls turns out to be a pretty large, roaring waterfall, and the trail leads us across the river via footbridge twice before ascending up the ridge, into the woods, then back down. It takes about two hours for us to finish and end up back at the van. Where to next? The nearby Grove of the Patriarchs (ancient four-stories-tall Douglas firs, hemlocks, and red cedars) is temporarily closed due to the bridge being washed out. Both the route to Paradise and the road past the Sunrise entrances are closed. We get into the van and take the road up the eastern side of the park, hoping to at least catch some good views of Mount Rainier, but a thick fog settles in. As the road winds up into higher elevations, snowbanks appear, then grow in size up to what looks like over six feet high. From what locals have told us, this is highly unusual for June.

Mount Rainier National Park

The road eventually deposits us on the north side of the park, not far from our reserved campsite. We pull over and check our phones for options. Kurt finds a recommendation for a good view of Mount Rainier, sixteen miles up a forestry road. I’m antsy to do something so I say yes, but once we’ve begun rambling our way up the potholed, washboard-riddled gravel road, my anxiety spikes. I get pretty extreme acrophobia on any steep trails or roads with sheer drop-offs (see my previous blogs from the Smoky Mountains, Iceland, the Grand Canyon, Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, basically everywhere). We’re a few miles from the top when we come around a corner and see that the road ahead is covered with snow for the remainder of the way. At this point, I pretty much have a panic attack and ask Kurt to take us back down. He has to turn the van around carefully on the narrow road while I squeeze my eyes shut.

It’s now raining steadily and visibility is poor. We decide to hit up another trail, the Snoquera Falls Loop. It’s 3.9 miles with 975 feet of elevation gain, similar to our early hike but a little steeper. This is going to be a lot for me but I can always quit, as I just proved. Normalize quitting all the time!

We’ve barely gotten into the forest before we spot a big cat poo; there are signs warning of cougars in the area. So that’s exciting. The trail starts heading uphill pretty quickly, giving us a view of the forest floor. The ground is wet but thankfully not slippery, as the trail is on the narrow side, hugging the side of the ridge. I start feeling not great—lightheaded, tired. We stand in the middle of the trail as I chow down two chocolate almond butter bars and a bottle of water. I focus on breathing. After a few minutes, I tell Kurt I’m OK to keep going. The trail continues to climb via switchback, and I take a few more breaks to catch my breath. Finally, we can hear the sound of water. The initial view of Snoquera Falls after coming around the rocky corner is pretty stunning. There’s also an incredible outward-facing view of the mountains through the mist. I’m relieved to have made it.

thumbs up for not dying!

The online trail guide says you can either cross the falls and continue on the loop or turn back and come down the way you came. I’m in no mood for a scramble over wet rocks, so we turn around. Thankfully, the downhill trip is much easier for me than the uphill.

We pull into the Silver Springs campgrounds (yes, I had Fleetwood Mac in my head the whole time), which are half-empty, a stark difference from the fully booked sites in Olympic. Our site is directly next to the rushing White River. It’s a gorgeous view but unfortunately, we don’t get to sit outside and enjoy it very much, as it’s gushing rain. Kurt and I sit inside the Kung Fu at the table and have an indoor dinner and cocktail hour. We even figure out a way to convert the table to a bed without having to open the doors (mostly consisting of me tucking myself into the front seat hugging the cushions until handing them back to Kurt to put back onto the opened wood platform. We spend our last night of van camping listening to the rain and the river.