National Parks are something I am a huge fan of. Crowds, not a huge fan. We all know it's hard to immerse yourself in the beauty of a landscape when you're surrounded with the chatter and technology that accompanies people experiencing something new.
Another thing I am not a huge fan of is cold, rainy weather. The people who know me were surprised to hear that Corey and I would be spending a long weekend in early December along the Washington Coast. In winter. And with plans to camp and backpack, no less.
But of course, with enough Gore-Tex in your backpack, the weather will be sure to do anything but rain. We were graced with a gorgeous weekend; sunny (short!) days, and clear nights. And since most people aren't crazy enough to plan a December trip to the coast of the Olympic Peninsula, we had almost every sunrise, sunset, and stargaze to ourselves.
Here's a list of my favorite things we did:
• Kalaloch Beach (pictured above)
After quite a drive from Seattle, we made it to the coast and jumped out of the car at Kalaloch, our first opportunity to see the ocean. We were just in time for sunset (at 3:45pm...), and let me tell you, there is nothing quite like walking a few steps from the road and watching the sun go down on a misty, pink, endless winter ocean horizon.
This was the backpacking trip we did, and my, was it perfect for us! We didn't have the time to commit to a longer backpacking trip, and wanted to maximize the microclimates we could experience, so the Ozette worked out great. The trail follows a flat 9-mile triangle loop, starting at Ozette Lake, where there is also a campsite. The first 3 miles of the trail are mostly-boardwalked trail, meandering through rainforest out to the coast. Then an additional 3 miles follow the coastline on the beach, littered with tide pools, sea stacks, and views for miles. The final three miles cut through forest similar to the first leg and return you back to Ozette. It is by no means a strenuous hike, but offered a perfect variety of environments and convenience.
• La Push (First Beach, above)
Okay, I'll admit it. I really had only heard of La Push before because of the Twilight movie. But after some research, I knew I wanted to check it out and see if it was worth the hype. While I think there are nicer and more secluded beaches, I'm glad we saw it – the sea stacks at La Push really are incredible, and it was a great place (albeit windy) place to watch the sunrise and ogle at some sea spray.
Other tips for a winter trip to ONP:
• Prepare for lots of driving! This park covers a lot of land, and is incredibly diverse. Know what you want to see, figure out how long it will take to get from point a to point b, and adjust accordingly! There are few roads and we often had to drive pretty far inland to get on a road that would take us just north of where we started.
• Take advantage of the (few) daylight hours. I don't think I got used to how short the days were the whole time we were in Washington! With +/– 6 hours of daily sunlight, you really have to prioritize your daytime activities. Thankfully, as photographers, Corey and I really appreciated how low the sun stayed all day. It made for some dreamy light. But when it's 6pm and dark as night and you've already eaten your camp dinner (and dessert)... we really wished we had a deck of cards or some firewood that wasn't water-logged. Thankfully the stars were outrageous, and we got lots of sleep that weekend!
• Plan ahead. With lands designated as both National Park and Native American Reservation land, there is a fair amount of regulation and permitted required throughout the Olympic Peninsula. This was a little confusing – in some areas you need a backcountry permit, in some just a day pass, and some places there are walk-up cash deposit boxes. The NPS website is a great resource, as were the rangers, but be aware that a lot is closed for the winter months!