One of the things that continues to amaze me even after years of being a resident here is the diversity of experience that can be obtained on a day trip to just about anywhere. There is a never ending list of adventures to try and the best way to find them is pick a general area or a single point of interest and to head in that direction without any real agenda. For my sweetie and I today was one of those days. We had the whole day to play and we left from Olympia and headed up the 101 highway with exploration on our minds.
Our destination was the Skokomish River Rec Area in the Olympia National Forest. Although designated and regulated by fee and pass, this area is basically undeveloped and undiscovered in many respects. A few miles west of 101 the road goes from meandering curves through farmland to sharply heading up into the hills. The climb is steep, and what is immediately noticeable is the change in vegetation as the world becomes the forest that many have only read about in books. There are no homes up here, there are no businesses, just woodland for miles and miles. Eventually even the pavement gives way to gravel and you find yourself in what can only be described as pristine surroundings.
After little more than an hour of driving we came upon Brown Creek Campground. A spacious dirt and rock beach spread out next to the creek and beckoned us to stop and stay a while. With the water laughing and bubbling, the warm sun filtering lightly through the trees, and the quiet peace of a private beach inviting us we could not resist. We spread out a picnic and relaxed into the day. This is a place of stunning rugged beauty. And with the absence of other people (and phones and distractions) it became the quintessential romantic spot to spend the afternoon. Just being there sparked a state of utter enjoyment and bliss for both of us. Even the air was fresh, warm, and comforting. It was like being soothed. We stayed for a while, picnicking, taking pictures, hiking a little way on the nearby trails, and playing with our dog who was also having a marvelous time exploring the creek.
Finally the heat of the day pressed us to explore further. We did some back tracking to a Y in the road and took the other path, this time toward Spider Lake. Initially, we missed the turn for the lake. Be advised that nothing is well marked this far into the woods. It is easy to get lost so take your GPS or obtain a detailed map from the ranger station. Our mistake had us climbing up, and up further, well into the hills. The road thinned to a single lane with a sheer drop off to one side. Hundreds of feet high, it had us hugging the inside of that lane as we peered cautiously over the edge for a look into the canyon. A breathtaking and frightening experience all at once, but one that I revel in; the views in these places are incomparable!
Eventually we turned around and found the route to the lake. Unlike the creek the lake cannot be approached by car. It can only be reached by parking along the road and climbing down a very steep trail about ½ mile long. The path goes through dense old growth trees, in some cases phenomenally tall and wide, which create a canopy overhead. It is so thick and filters light so well that the temperature dips several degrees from that of the road area. It was getting hot and the change was a welcome one. We climbed carefully all the way down to the water taking in our surroundings as we went.
The lake was also empty, and it appeared small. There were some pathways, but this is the kind of place where you need really good shoes and if you are going to explore you need to have gear and the ten essentials, so we stayed close to the entrance. We let our dog play some more and just sat in the shade taking in the cool air, which smelt heavily of the pine and cedar trees. It was nice just to sit together and enjoy the moment. We stayed till the light began to fade a bit and we felt it was time to trek back down to civilization. As we were leaving the wild part of the area and coming back down into the farmland we were treated to incredible unadulterated view of Mt. Rainier in the distance, which stopped us long enough to take one last breath before completing the descent.
When we reconnected with the meandering road we noticed a farm stand and stopped in for ultra-fresh local veggies and fruits. The stand had squash, greens, melon and much more and of course we did not pass up the opportunity to purchase. Something you will regularly find here is innovative people running things like farm stands and specialty shops right at their homes. They are often well off the regular path, on the side of the road, and you may never have known about them had you not happened by at the right time. But my advice is to always stop and check it out. I have found some of the best kept secrets in Washington just by driving around the back roads.
Back at the main highway we were only a few short miles from Hoodsport, and now hungry again from all that relaxing and exploring. So we took a chance and went to town. Hoodsport is cute and tiny, and borders the hood canal on its east side. Together with Potlatch, the town directly south of it, there are about two to three miles of touristy shops and businesses. The selection is small but perfect for the area. This is the place where you can turn and go back up into the woods toward Staircase, the most southeast corner of Olympic National Park. This is also the home of the award winning Hoodsport Winery.
This winery is known locally for their fruit wines, especially the Rhubarb. But they also produce standards like Chardonnay and Merlot. They offer complimentary wine tastings daily from 10-6 and they are very friendly tend to share information about the area and attractions. We stopped in for a tasting and got a lesson about the wine. From there we went to one of the only restaurants in town which sits right on the water, and enjoyed the gorgeous waterside view while we ate in contented silence.
The day was winding down now and it was time to head home. But before we could end the trip we had to make one more stop right by Potlatch State Park to pick blackberries. Blackberries grow wild here and you will often see people gathering the bounty right at the end of summer. Since it has been cold this year they are late and just now coming into their juicy sweetness, making them a perfect dessert and a perfect ending for the day. We gathered many and then ate them as quickly as we got them. They were superb!
All in all this was an amazing and full day of delving deep into real Washington culture. It is the type of day that I have been blessed with many times. The experience of Washington happens when you leave the conventional behind and head out into the undiscovered country. Our unmarked, untamed, unadvertised treasures are the real reason people come here and never leave. And these expeditions are the real reason that I Love It Here!
Happy Exploring to all of you!
References and Resources:
The places we visited can be found by following directions on the official forest site:
More Hoodsport local information can be found at:
Potlatch and all state park info: