From Lake Quinault, highway 101 turns sharply west, allowing you to beeline right to the coast. These 40 miles to the beach fly by, as you enter the national forest and then the national park. Again, clear cuts are prevalent, but soon, the road becomes dark, even on a sunny day from the overhanging canopy of the upcoming rain forest. The greens of the trees is near black and ferns and other native plant species are seen everywhere. Few houses dot the landscape, showing you just how remote this drive really is.
As the road turns north, the trees on the west clear and you have stunning views of the Pacific ocean. A few miles pass along the coast with good pull out spots to play on the beach, but keep driving past these, as there is a much more scenic area coming up. Soon, you reenter the national park and pass by the Kalaloch Lodge. This lodge is scenic enough and a good place to stop to buy little trinkets, have a nap or just stretch your legs. The staff is friendly, the goods and rooms are overpriced, but again, it is a unique, scenic place to stay so definitely check it out!
Past the lodge, you will come up to another beach access road, called Ruby Beach. This is where you MUST go! Ruby beach allows you good beach access with views of small rocky islands, as well as the lighthouse at Destruction Island. The island, looking like a tabletop or plateau, sits about a mile out, and was built in 1888, one year before Washington became a state. While still operable, it is now fully automated instead on needing employees.
With a good pair of binoculars, you can see a smaller island just south of Destruction Island, which is home to rowdy, noises seals. If the wind is blowing in toward shore, you can hear the obnoxious seals talking. Closer by, if the tide is low, you can explore the rocky enclaves and see star fish, otters, muscles, razor clams and sea anemones. Also, bald eagles, great blue herons and even pelicans frequent the area, so anticipate spending many hours walking the beach and being in awe from nature.
I showed up at the beach as the tide was going out, helping to give me an ever expanding area to explore and photograph. Upon arriving, I watched as Bald Eagle cleaned itself on a rock. Daring to get close, I slowly walked toward the rock until the eagle was scared and flew directly over me. No more than 10 feet over my head, I could hear the flapping g of its wings. Ruby Beach always gives me unexpected surprises. Last time, I was climbing on some of the cliffs on a small island when 2 otters swam below me. This time, an eagle decided to let me photograph it up close.
Ruby Beach is a must see. In rough storms or even on gorgeous days, you will come across very few people, allowing you to fully appreciate the isolation that the Washington coast can bring. However, as beautiful as it was, I needed to make sure I had enough daylight to enjoy the Rain Forest. I took more pictures, walked back up the hill and got in my car to drive the 30 miles to the Hoh Rain Forest of the Olympic National Park.
The drive to the national park again allows one to see the timber industry at its finest and also at its worst. Following the signs to the park, I soon passed the vacant entrance fee ranger station and weaved and wound my way down the road until I reached the Hoh visitor’s center. The visitor’s center is decent, with a small museum and some trails. If you know the area, ignore the visitor’s center, as it is pretty small. Also, as a personal note, don’t expect too much information from the rangers who work there. National Park rangers, while intelligent and wonderful people only have a small amount of knowledge, and many are not local to the area. However, no matter what else you do at the visitor center, take full advantage of the bathrooms, as they are not port-o-potties but real bathrooms with hot water and toilet paper.
Once you are set, do what I did and walk along the Hall of Mosses Trail. If you are here during the first few weeks of December, sockeye salmon are returning home to spawn, making the small streams a great place to see the ancient fish swim to their death. They are swimming in shallow water, allowing you to see their radiant colors and odd behavior of swimming upstream quickly, only to relax and drift back down stream. I was here early in the run, so only a few salmon were swimming upstream. Never the less, it was beautiful and amazing to see the circle of life right before my eyes. With dark greens from the trees and moss, the reds and oranges of the salmon were highlighted perfectly.
After the hike, the sun was setting. I snapped a few more pictures and decided to drive to Forks. The drive back to highway 101 allowed me to see many elk, as well as beautiful sunsets. (Pictured below)