Washington National Parks Road Trip

August has been a wild ride! I visited all three national parks in the state – North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Olympic. Once again, the trip of a lifetime. Living in an Airstream affords these opportunities and I relish them. I love sharing my adventures and welcome you to join me in recapturing them here.

I finished my Birch Bay camp host gig at the end of July. On August 1 I headed for Howard Miller Steelhead RV park – a county park, on the Skagit River in Rockport, WA. I had a clear view of the beautiful turquoise water. I could hear it rushing by all the time. A good-sized ridge stood behind me and trees ran from top to bottom. The scale of the PNW always surprises me – the volume, height, and land mass of the natural features.

I spent the next day fully immersed in North Cascades and what a day it was. This is an outdoors-person park – hiking, boating, and wilderness backpacking and climbing. The park sits on the edge of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and its famous namesake. More on that later.

Finally got here after several years of trying to make this trip!

NCNP has its own jewels. The mountains and their glaciers send water cascading downhill and a series of three dams have created a hydroelectric power source for the entire Seattle region. Two of the dams are on natural lakes – Diablo and Ross, and the third is on the Skagit River. The lakes feed into the river and the snowpack melt feeds everything. The glaciers pummel the rock and jettison minerals that turn the water the distinctive turquoise color. Sorry, but the pictures don’t do it justice.

Route 20 cuts through the park and is the only vehicle road available from west to east. No tourist buses, no park shuttles, just cars and not many of them. This is one of the least visited National Parks. I drove from one end to the other, stopped at all the walking paths and overlooks, and had lunch at the Diablo Lake overlook picnic area.

Magnificent lunch spot!

There are interpretive boards at most of the lookout points telling the history of the place or other tidbits. The last stop overwhelmed me. Most people know I am a fiction writer in addition to my travel articles and this blog. My inspiration for my writing journey and jumping into an Airstream is Jack Kerouac who wrote, On The Road, the quintessential work of the beat generation. See the picture for the last interpretive plaque. He spent a summer living in a fire tower in the park and it was the inspiration for another one of his books, Desolation Angels. He was moved by being in the vast stillness, gazing on Mt. Hozomeen every day. The lookout positions you to see Desolation Point and Mt. Hozomeen beyond it. I experienced what he did and it was moving.

Hozomeen Mt. in back, Desolation Peak in front, Ross Lake below

Because I was writing a travel article about my trip, I took side trips to historic Newhalem and the Mt. Bake-Snoqualmie National Forest to see some interpretive sites and campgrounds. I went to the Trail of the Cedars in Newhalem and the Shadow of the Sentinels in the National Forest. Walking in an old-growth forest is walking back in time. These trees can be upwards of 1000 years old.

As I continued driving, quite by accident, I came back across a wide creek that sometimes is a raging torrent, and there it was – a magnificent view of Mt. Baker. Luckily, there was a turnout area to park and a pedestrian side of the bridge. The mountain was so close I thought I could walk right up to it. The glaciers were visible and a cool breeze came down through the forest opening along the creek. Amazing views of the glaciers and a stillness that quiets my soul. It’s as if I’m running and finally arrived.

View of Mt. Baker from Boulder Creek Bridge

I returned to Seattle and rested for a few days, sitting through a heat wave. These are becoming more frequent in the PNW. A sad commentary on climate decline. I finally got to Mt. Rainier for three glorious nights in the Forest Service campground – The Dalles. This is on the east side of the mountain in an area near where I stayed a couple of years ago, again on the White River.

I got up very early in the morning to drive to the Sunrise Visitors Center. You must go early to get a parking spot and to avoid the swarms of people that come later. Up, up, up I went to 6000 feet at Sunrise Point – a parking lot and expansive lookout point with views of the Cascades and the near mountains that flank Rainier. It also overlooks an alpine lake and there’s a trail to go down and of course, back up to see it firsthand.

I parked, walked around, gawked, took photos, and pressed on, driving another 1000 feet up in elevation to the visitor center that sits in an alpine meadow adjacent to the mountain.

It was a majestic view as I pulled in. Rainier is 14,000 feet at the summit, so I was halfway there. The early morning clouds shrouded the peak but there was plenty to see. I was certain I could reach out and touch it – it seemed so close.

Glaciers cover all sides. I could see the blue ice of the Emmons glacier. I did two hikes that morning – half of the Sunrise Nature trail through the meadow and three-fourths of the Silver Forest trail that starts at the glacier overlook and continues on a ridge that looks out over a forest and ravine with unbelievable views of the Cascades. I thought I was in The Sound of Music and yodelers would start singing at any second. I hiked three miles – a personal best.

The next day I attempted to go to lake Tipsoo at Chinook Pass at the southern edge of the park and was thwarted because there was no parking. I did get great scenery of Stevens Canyon and a different view of Rainier!

Sadly, the road that connects my side of the park to the other side was closed for road repaving (a constant I experienced in all three parks). Summer is the only time some of these roads are open and must be worked on to survive the winter. Consequently, I didn’t get to the Paradise Visitor Center on the western side. Next time.

The last trip was onto the Olympic Peninsula and the Pacific side of Olympic National Park. There’s one road that goes around the entire park – US Highway 101. US 101 cuts through coastal towns and then into the Olympic National Forest. Near Queets it cuts back to the coast and suddenly, you get glimpses of the Pacific Ocean through the trees. The road is two-lane, winding, hilly, and bumpy. It was an arduous journey. And of course, the journey was slowed by repaving…

I passed Kalaloch, part of the park but also part of the Native American presence on the peninsula (many tribes have land here). Finally, I got to the Hoh turnoff. Another 18 miles to the campground with more winding, two-lane road adventures, more repaving, and then I see the Hoh River.

It’s very wide and rocky. This time of year the water does not fill the space as it does in the spring. This river is fed by glaciers on Mt. Olympus and the snowmelt travels 7000 feet down to create this river that empties into the ocean. The landscape changes into a rainforest. Exceedingly tall trees drip moss and are covered in lichen. Ferns cover the forest floor and the peaty smell is quite noticeable.

This is remote camping. Snippets of space near the entrance gate 8 miles away captured a bit of cell signal, but once you drive on, you lose all your connection. It is a step back in time as this mysterious and otherworldly landscape is your reality. I walked the nature trail that took me to the edge of the river and back and it was well worth the effort.

I walked early in the morning before anyone else was out. It was immensely quiet. The stillness in all three parks was overwhelming. It’s an intoxicating experience. I’ve come to learn that Hoh is one of a dozen places in the lower 48 states that qualify as a “quiet place” free of human-created noise.

There was a bit of a heat wave on the last day there. I decided to grin and bear it and keep as cool as possible. I was rewarded when a family of deer came through the campground. First large animals I saw. Sadly, I did not see or hear the herd of Roosevelt elk. Happily, I saw no bears or cougars which only appeared on the many notices around the park and visitor center.

On the way back to the Seattle area, I stopped at one of the US 101 overlooks to get a smell and view of the ocean. Now that’s my scene. Wow. I would have liked to stay at Kalaloch on the ocean, but that campground is booked solid. A bucket list item for sure.

Three parks in three weeks. I am an intrepid traveler! Next week I’m off to Memaloose State Park on the Columbia River in Oregon for two months as a camp host. The park is just outside the National Gorge Area but is forested and on the river. Water and trees suit me.

People sometimes ask me how I manage to do all this. Sometimes it’s exhausting. I build in downtime. Three parks in three weeks is a lot. But they are right here and I had to travel north to south anyway, so why not? I am very intentional about how I spend my time. I read, write, and plan entertainment time. I am intentional about keeping up with friends and family as the center of my life wheel. Without connections, I am truly adrift. I’m enjoying the best health I’ve had in a long time, so this lifestyle must be working for me. Purposeful living takes planning, focus, and intention to align what I say, do, and be. I’m finding this to be a wonderful time of my life. No meetings, no dissertations, and no students or faculty clamoring for attention. It gives me time for this kind of practice. Now if I could only get all the RV supplies I need and some maintenance done, my life would be a breeze. LOL. It’s a wonderful ride.


  1. Thanks for sharing your time at these national parks. I have just added Washington to my bucket list of travel sites. Enjoy you blogs. Keep them coming.


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