Our morning starts in dense fog so heavy with moisture it casts a stream of droplets on the side of the RV. We can hear the roar of the ocean in the background, but our view is dark & eerily muted nestled as we are deep in the trees. Moss hangs all around us like the long beards of an old man while the ferns curl seductively along the forest floor. One has the feeling that if we stayed here for any length of time the forest would devour us, creeping and inching it’s way over our camp until nothing was left but nature’s green.
We’ve entered the fairy tale land of rain forest and wild coast that is the Olympic Peninsula (OP) and baby…..it is unique and it is WILD!
The OP juts up like a rebellious fist on the Northwestern corner of Washington. Bounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean, the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the Hood Canal the 3,600 square mile (9,324 square kilometer) peninsula is home to primeval temperate rain forests and wild coast all peaked by the Olympic Mountain Range in it’s center. The drive along Hwy 101 is considered one of the 500 most scenic drives in the world (at least according to National Geographic..and yeah, they would know) and it takes you through both remote coastline (on the west), stunning lakes and hip, bustling cities (in the north). You could spend a lifetime exploring this little corner of the world. We’ve planned around 2 weeks.
Enter The Squeeze……
Getting here meant finding somewhere to stay, and for a girl as big as “the beast” that wasn’t an easy proposition. We love our spacious RV, but one of the things I learned early on in this RVing journey is that her size can be a struggle, especially for the kind of wild places we like to go. There are no less than 16 national forest campgrounds along the OP with over 900 sites (!), all fabulously primitive and inexpensive (between $10-$18/night), NONE of which are rated to fit our size. Oh, bugger….
I realized all this back when I started planning for the summer in Feb and my inquiries on the forums only confirmed the situation. “40-feet, did you say? Oh, good luck with that!!”. A little more prodding & assurances that we weren’t completely mad revealed that there might, possibly be one or two campgrounds that could fit us….maybe. The two best options were on the middle portion of the OP coast -> South Beach & Kalaloch. The latter provided reservations and happened to have 3 days open for one site in July which looked, possibly, big enough. I took it.
We arrived and roared in, much to the surprise of the other campers (beastly as we are) on Monday, and after scouting out on foot inched our ample girl through the tree-covered roads and into our site. As luck would have it we squeezed a fit (with quite literally a hand to spare) and as luck would have it even further this was one of only ~9 sites in the entire 170-site campground that could possibly have fit have fit us. Can you say serendipity? Once again we are, by far, the biggest rig in the forest but darn it we’re in…and “the beast” is back in her element. Aaahhhhh!
NOTE/ South Beach is an open, non-treed campground and would have fit us too. Now we know.
Cue The Rain Forest
As soon as we’d squeezed into our site we set-out to explore. Our first target was a 1-mile nature trail that passes through the rain forest on the other side of 101 from camp. I’m not kidding when I say this place is moist. The Olympic Peninsula combines one of the wettest weather systems in the US with one of its strongest rain shadows. What that means is that buckets of water get dumped (and absorbed) on the west side of the mountains while mere sprinklings of water make it to the other. We’re on the former side which translates to 10-12 FEET of water a year.
In sightseeing terms this means the area has some of the best-preserved temperate rainforests in the US -> Quinault and Hoh. These dense, wet (and eerily cool) spots home impossibly thick masses of flora and fauna with trails completely engulfed by moss and dark blankets of ground covering. The rain forest overtakes you mere steps from the sand and the entire coastline is pretty much coated in them. We weren’t able to make it over the “actual” rain forest, but our little 1-mile trail gave us an ample sample. Can you say coooooool, baby??!
NOTE/ If you decide to visit the rain forest parks be aware that dogs are allowed on the south shore trails in Quinault, but are *not* allowed anywhere on the trails in Hoh.
Oh, And Coast? Yes, Please!
When, oh when will you get to the bleeding coast, I hear you say….? Indeed the main reason everyone comes here, the obvious reason, the most compelling reason is the wild and wonderful coastline. The short ~10-mile stretch of beach from Ruby (on the north end) to South Beach (on the southern end) is one of the most famous in Washington. Kalaloch is right near the middle and it’s mere steps from your camp to the sand.
There is really nothing here, except for the two campgrounds and the lodge so nature has reign and her wild glory provides miles of uninterrupted goodness right outside your door. Add to that six easy access points (numbered along the road) with the sea-stacked prize of Ruby Beach at the north, all of which are dog-friendly and you’ve got the perfect beach-combo. We passed three easy days wondering along the beach and experiencing her many moods. From fog-drenched mornings (a common occurrence) to brilliant, windy sunny afternoons and sea-misted sunsets the untamed beach lures you to her grasp and you are reluctant to leave.
Sadly our short time here is up and tomorrow we leave, but we’ve had a sweet taste and are hungry for more. Think we’re ready to eat up the OP? Oh yes, please!
NOTE/ The 10-mile stretch of land from South Beach to Ruby is one of the few OP coastal areas which is entirely dog-friendly (on leash). No fees to visit the beach either.
- Visiting Kalaloch and Ruby Beach -> Link to info HERE
- Camping in the OP -> List of forest service campground HERE
- Rain forests in the OP -> Link to Quinault HERE and Hoh HERE
- Book Link -> Drives of a Lifetime: 500 Of The World’s Most Spectacular Trips
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