Staircase at Olympic National Park

Deep in the forest

It’s been a while since I blogged! So where do I begin again? Let’s start with an “How I spent my summer vacation!” essay. Here you go!

Our Hiking Vacation (with kids!) Begins

The treadmill and stair machine at the gym are no match for real life hiking. So although I’d been working out regularly, starting our hiking vacation at a place called “Staircase” was a little intimidating to my out-of-shape legs. Fortunately for me, Staircase is named after steps that have rotted away and no longer exist to torture untrained tourists’ quad muscles. The Staircase entrance to Olympic National Park is on the southeast side of the park, and it is less popular than the entrance by the Hoh Rainforest. However, the hiking is spectacular, and this old growth forest ended up being the perfect place to kick off our 12 days of exploring Washington.

Staircase Rapids Loop

The travel guide I was using during our trip said that this hike, the Rapids Loop Trail, was 4 miles, which was misleading. It was only about 2 miles, with mild elevation changes on the trail. The path was gorgeous, with huge, old moss covered trees and boulders. At the halfway point, hikers cross the river on a suspension bridge, which was built to replace a smaller bridge washed away by a flood. Although technically this is not a rainforest, I thought that the lush mosses that surrounded us were more beautiful than the mosses in the famous “Hall of Mosses” in the Hoh Rainforest. This is definitely a trail that should not be missed!


Hoodsport and the Hood Canal

We spent the night in Hoodsport at Glen Ayr Hotel and RV Park. The hotel owns a dock on the Hood Canal, where we sat for a little while that afternoon and saw a seal popping its head up out of the water. That evening, Emmy picked The Tides restaurant for dinner. She wanted to eat seafood, and assumed correctly that a place called “The Tides” would have some choices. The hotel also had a very nice hot tub in a separate building from the hotel rooms, which we took advantage of.  Hood Canal is popular with divers and as we sat outside our room, we watched three divers suit up in hotel parking lot. They went diving in the evening during high tide. The next morning during low tide, we went back out to the doce and walked on the rocky beach. A family was bringing crab traps up on the dock and showed us a rock crab they had caught.


Mount Walker and Rainbow Canyon

Our handy guidebook said that the view from Mount Walker is incredible, with views of Seattle and also Mount Rainier. As we were driving up Mount Walker, all we saw was a curious deer and more and more fog. By the time we arrived at the viewpoint, we could barely see the trees in front of us. So much for the incredible views! We had also planned on hiking the Rainbow Canyon Nature Trail, but we couldn’t find the trail head! Supposedly, it was at the back of a campground in the same area as Mount Walker, but there were no signs for a campground or the trail. We were persistent, however, and stopped by a Ranger station to search the map for the elusive trail. The map showed that the campground entrance was right across the street from the entrance to Mount Walker. We drove back and parked by a gravel road that had been blocked off. As we walked back into the forest, we could see campground sites that we hadn’t noticed before because they were completely overgrown. This was obviously a campground that wasn’t in use anymore. At the very back of the campground, just like the guidebook stated, we saw the trailhead sign.

The trail was very narrow and closed in. No one else was there, of course, since it was so hard to find! As we descended into the canyon, wet ferns brushed up against our legs, and we felt as though we were walking in a Jurassic era forest. The girls were a little freaked out by the quiet, dense trail. The youngest started to look quite anxiously  around the forest for mountain lions. That is the one thing we didn’t want to see!

Have you been to Olympic National Park? If you haven’t, add it to your vacation list!







Where We Begin Our Summer Adventures

Summer! It’s so hard to believe that summer is almost over and the school year will begin soon. We have been traveling all over the country in our minivan, with lots of road trips adding miles to the odometer. Our first trip was out west, to visit my family in Des Moines, Iowa during Memorial Day weekend.

We have visited my family so often in Iowa that I thought we had done nearly everything near the Des Moines area. We’ve looked for bison at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Preserve, biked the High Trestle Trail, and walked along the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. Lily has fed the giraffes at Blank Park Zoo and we even took a paddle boat onto Gray’s Lake. And yet, when my dad mentioned visiting Ledges State Park, this was the first time I had even heard about it!

Our plan had been to go on Saturday, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with our plans and it rained almost all day. Sunday was a beautiful day and perfect hiking weather; unfortunately my dad had to preach that Sunday and my stepmom had to play the organ at church. (Let’s just say I’m looking forward to my 75 year old dad retiring soon!)  Since Ed, the girls and I had attended church Saturday evening, we headed up to Ledges on Sunday morning.

Part of the road leading to the park had been washed away by a storm, so along with other visitors to the park, we needed to park in the parking lot at the entrance and then hike down the road into the canyon. There is also a parking lot on the other side of the park for visitors who would rather not hike down into the canyon. The road down, however, was a short and easy hike, and while the road wasn’t safe for cars, it was very safe for walkers. When we reached the bottom of the canyon and saw the water from Pea’s Creek flowing intentionally over the path, the girls were ecstatic! They love wading in the water!

The creek curved around throughout the park, crossing the path several times. There were also a couple of nice bridges going over the creek and steps going up to trails on the top of the bluffs. With only 4 miles of hiking trails, the park is relatively small and easy to explore, especially with kids. I’ve been looking at the trail map while writing this post, however, and I see we missed a trail down to the Lost Lake. The trail head is is a different spot from the main trails, so perhaps that’s why it’s called “Lost Lake.” We certainly didn’t find it!

This arched stone bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.

After we hiked up and down the bluffs, we saw people wading up the creek and decided to do the same! We weren’t prepared for this part, however, and took off our shoes and socks. The creek had some sandy spots but was also rocky, so next time we’ll bring our water sandals! Hiking in the creek was really fun and showed us more of the bluffs from down below. Since this park is often flooded by the Des Moines River, however, it may not always be possible. The water was only up to our ankles when we were there in May.

Hiking up and down the bluffs was great practice for our next road trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. And it also made us hungry! We knew of a barbecue place in Ames that my stepmom had taken us to, but here was the challenge. We didn’t remember the name of the restaurant, and we didn’t know what street it was on. (And we don’t use our smart phones when we’re roaming!) But we figured, what’s the worst that could happen? So we drove to Ames and wandered around for a little while…and just as we were heading back to the highway, we found it! Hickory Park has great barbecue, and even more exciting to the girl, a candy counter! The candy ranges in price from a nickel to a quarter, so the girls had fun picking and choosing some candy for the road trip home.

Just a few weeks later, we got in our minivan again and headed East…to Maine!



The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The first time I saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was the summer before Ed and I got married. I had never seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona before, and while the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was smaller than the Grand Canyon everyone knows about, it was still very impressive. Now that I have seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona, which is so massive and amazing that it defies description, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is still so impressive and so amazing that it, too, defies description! But I will try to describe it for you the best that I can.


The Yellowstone River flows through the canyon. The canyon has two waterfalls; the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls.

Upper Falls
Upper Falls

The Lower Falls, the highest in the park, gets a lot of attention and is photographed often. There are a lot of trails to view both of the falls. One of the most strenuous trail and yet rewarding is Uncle Tom’s Trail. It’s actually a long staircase that goes down the side of a cliff to view the falls. Just like all of Yellowstone’s trails, going down is easy; climbing back up is hard!

Lower Falls

To access Uncle Tom’s Trail, we were walking on the South Rim of the canyon. The next day, we hiked along the North Rim, and we could see Uncle Tom’s Trail on the side of the cliff.

Uncle Tom's Trail; look carefully, and you'll see steps going down the cliff with a platform at the bottom left.
Uncle Tom’s Trail; look carefully, and you’ll see steps going down the cliff with a platform at the bottom left.

When looking at the canyon from the North Rim at Grand View, the cliffs are so yellow, you are positive that is how Yellowstone National Park got its name. But you would be wrong! A ranger told us that Yellowstone is named after the Yellowstone River, which is named after yellow cliffs in Billings, Montana, a couple hundred miles away. Hmm.


While on the North Rim, we also spotted an osprey’s nest, perched on top of a rock pinnacle. We watched the osprey for a long time through our binoculars. We don’t own a camera with a good enough lens to capture the osprey, so I’ll show you this picture instead:


We stayed in a cabin in Canyon Lodge for two nights, and each night we were so happy to get to our cabin so we could fall into bed! The cabins are very basic; no TV, no phone, and no wifi. But they are very clean and very comfortable, so staying in the park suits us just fine!


Keep up with our road trip:

The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park
Leaving the Badlands and Entering Wind Cave National Park
Not National Parks: Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower
Driving Through Wyoming
Struggling Upward: Climbing Mount Washburn
Downs and Ups: Tower Fall


Downs and Ups

We had finished our hike up Mount Washburn and back, ate our picnic lunch, and it was time to explore more of Yellowstone National Park.

There is one thing that all the amazing photos of national parks don’t show you; they are very, very crowded, especially during the summer months! We stopped at Tower Fall, and due to the amount of people there, I couldn’t get a good view or a picture of the falls. I saw some steps going down, and I thought they would lead to the bottom of the falls. So I started walking down. Ed and the girls are always up for exploring, so they followed me down. We kept going down and there were a lot of switchbacks going back and forth and back and forth. You know what that means, right? When you go down, you must come back up. Eventually.

At the bottom of the trail was the Yellowstone River. A big, beautiful river. But no waterfall to be seen. The river curved in such a way that the steep bluffs hid the water falls from us.



After looking at the river, it was time to go back up the trail. Ed and the girls bounded ahead of me. I always keep in mind that Aesop’s tale about the tortoise and the hare; slow and steady wins the race. Well, I never win any races, but slow and steady will get me to the top of a mountain, or a bluff, or whatever I’m climbing. The day had gotten quite warm, and remember, we had already walked 3 miles up to the top of Mount Washburn and back down again that morning. By the time I reached the top of this trail, I was hot, tired, red-faced (literally) and a little cranky. I had to go search for my family in the gift shop, and I was not happy about going into a crowded and hot gift shop feeling the way I felt!

All I can say is thank goodness for my mini-van with air-conditioning! I was soon back to my pleasant self after cooling off.

But the day was not over yet! Why yes, that seems like enough exploring for just one day, doesn’t it?

On our way back to our cabin, we spotted our first bison in Yellowstone! We had been wondering where the bison were hiding, since it’s not easy for them to hide.


For this section of our trip, we stayed in Canyon Village and we explored the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which I will share more about tomorrow. Yes, more hiking was involved! I was a very tired mother….

Keep up with our road trip:

The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park
Leaving the Badlands and Entering Wind Cave National Park
Not National Parks: Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower
Driving Through Wyoming
Struggling Upward: Climbing Mount Washburn


Struggling Upwards

After seeing bear scat on the trail to the natural bridge in Yellowstone, we decided to rent some bear spray for our morning hike up Mount Washburn. Bears scare me, and for good reason. We looked into buying bear spray at the park, but it was $50, and renting it was much more reasonable. All four of us watched a video about how to use bear spray, and Ed and I practiced pulling the trigger with an empty can of bear spray.

Not a bear, but a chipmunk

And we were off to climb Mount Washburn! It is one of the more popular trails in Yellowstone, but since we got an early start, there weren’t that many people on the trail yet. We were basically going to climb three miles up at about a 10 percent incline, and then come back down. Ed and the girls, of course, were faster than I was. Even with all my training for the 2 day breast cancer walk, and working out at the gym, I still felt woefully out of shape. However, I think because I had been exercising, when we rested after a steep climb I recovered faster, and walking on the treadmill at an incline strengthened my ankles, so I felt strong as I was climbing.


We ran into another group stopped at a logical resting place, and started chatting with them. One of the fun things about being a tourist is meeting new people from different places, although if I remember correctly, they were also from Illinois! The daughter was working at Yellowstone for the summer, so her family came to visit her and she was showing them around. She took the picture up above.

At the top of Mount Washburn is a fire lookout tower. We got warm while we were climbing, but then at the top the wind was blowing and it was really cold!


Before we headed back down the mountain we warmed up inside the lookout tower and used the bathroom. (I was so happy there was one up there!) We saw some bighorn sheep in the distance, and also a little yellow-bellied marmot. We spent some time looking at them through our binoculars.

I love how you can see part of the trail in this picture!

On the way down the mountain, we ran into a number of people walking up the mountain. The day was getting warmer, the path was getting busier, and I was glad that we had started so early that morning! Unfortunately for me, however, we still had a lot of time to explore Yellowstone. I’ll tell you what we did next tomorrow.

Keep up with our road trip:

The Great American Road Trip: Badlands National Park
Leaving the Badlands and Entering Wind Cave National Park
Not National Parks: Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower
Driving Through Wyoming


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...