We left on a Sunday and spent 5 nights exploring the Olympic Peninsula. We had sort of intended to spend 7 nights but with Friday being the 4th and all, it was a little not-our-style to be in a packed out campground and the idea of driving home in the soft rain seemed much more appealing than setting up a tent.
Before our trip I did extensive googling on ‘exploring the olympic peninsula with toddlers’ and ‘family activities in the olympic peninsula’ and such. The biggest advice I got was DON’T GO ON LONG HIKES and CHECK OUT THE EXCITING MARINE LIFE AT LOW TIDES. Both great advice. And so here is our version of a family camping trip in the Olympic Peninsula.
Our first decision we made was that we were going to do the trip in a clockwise direction. Most advice online suggests doing the trip in a counter-clockwise direction but the dates we wanted to book at Hobuck didn’t line up so well if we did the trip that way.
So our first destination was Lake Quinault.
We packed up the car like expert Tetris players (something I find so strangely satisfying) and made a quick stop at Fremont Market for some lunch before making the 3 hour drive all the way to Lake Quinault.
What we packed for Mika
3 books, bubbles, a box of chalk, her blankie and 2 of her tiny dolls (Mimi and Lulu). We also packed the iPad in my bag but to our actual huge surprise, we didn’t use the iPad ONCE, until she discovered it by accident on our last day. Somehow she managed the 600 miles or so of driving with just this awesome music CD (found on Spotify) and small talk with her imaginary friends Snake and Monkey.
Lake Quinault is gorgeous. We set up a tent at Falls Creek (no reservation needed) for $20 a night and almost had the entire place to ourselves. The water was swimmable and we cooked some veggies with pasta for dinner and had hot cocoa before sleep.
The next morning we did some little hikes opposite the campground. There are many tiny trails of less than a mile each that you can kind of join together to make your own distance. Mika walked for 1.4 miles of trail and then we carried her for another .6. Super great family spot that was definitely not too busy on a Sunday afternoon.
Our second night we spent at Kalaloch which did NOT live up to the hype. It is one of the only campgrounds in the peninsula where you really need to reserve a site and we managed to grab one a week before we left. The campsites are all on gravel, so it feels sort of like you are tenting in a parking lot. And the ocean view is nice I suppose, but it’s pretty windy and once you make it down to the beach it is quite spectacular but not we-should-spend-the-whole-day-here-building-sand-castles sort of lovely, more like this-would-be-a-romantic-windy-wild-beach-walk sort of lovely which, of course, we were not able to really make the most of. So Kalaloch was meh.
From Kalaloch we drove up the coast to Mora Campground via Ruby Beach which is wow beautiful and perfect for a half-full day excursion with toddlers. We walked to little rock pools and saw huge starfish and beautiful colors.
We stayed at Ruby Beach until we were hungry for lunch. Our next stop: the Hoh Rainforest. The Hoh Rainforest is pretty spectacular and we happened to be there on the hottest day of the week (92F/33C). We hung out in the visitor centre for a while, mainly for the air conditioning, and then set out to do the Hall of Mosses trail. The trail is easy, Mika walked 3/4 of it, but despite the beautiful moss and trees and nature, I was being followed by some nasty stinging flies/bees that would NOT leave me alone. We had left the bug spray in the car so I sort of just swatted and walk/ran most of the trail and felt flustered and hot by the end of it.
Back in the car, we stopped at Forks (Twilight famous) for some supplies and continued to Mora Campground. We found the best camp spot in Loop E (closest to the river) and set up our tent nestled amongst huge trees.
You can’t walk to the river because apparently it’s moved over the years and so we had to hop back in the car and drive to the beach (4 minutes). The beach was Rialto beach and it is covered in gorgeous drift wood and amazing rocks (not much sand).
We did the hike to the hole in the rock – we strapped Mika in the Ergo with the intention of making it a good-paced trip, but with mistiming the tides and and walking mostly on piles of sinking rocks (not packed sand) it turned out to be about 3.5 hours round trip. The wild coast is so beautiful and towards the end of the walk Mika fell asleep on Ivan’s back so the whole thing felt sort of magical.
For dinners at Mora we had hummus sandwiches one night and the best ever easy-to-make bean burgers the next night.
From here we were joined by some friends and we made the 2 hour drive to Hobuck Beach Resort. We had booked a cabin for a night which didn’t have ocean views but was a 2 minute stroll to the beach. The vibe of the place is very Indian Reservation as opposed to hot tourist spot and it was definitely one of our favourite places so far. It reminded us a lot of the top of the north island in New Zealand (like a much bigger version of Spirit Bay).
We swam in the ocean, played frisbee and buried the girls. We took our first shower in a week and felt so fancy and clean that we decided to go out for dinner. The sun was low and hot and we drove to Neah Bay and found what seemed to be the only dining spot in town and right on the water. It was almost suitably named Warm House Restaurant.
If you are ever up that way and you get the urge to dine out – DON’T. Steph and I shared a seafood platter and there wasn’t anything on our plate that wasn’t deep fried in the most repulsive batter you can imagine. The place is really just a small town Denny’s or a glorified seafood version of KFC. It’s not worth it.
The next morning we drove out to Cape Flattery and told the girls they would need to walk the whole thing. I actually had no idea what the walk would be like or how long it was, but the girls managed marvelously and the trail itself is extremely toddler fun/friendly. The views at the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States aren’t overly spectacular, but it’s more just the sort of feeling one gets when standing at a point that is the ‘most’ of anything. (Glorious).
From here we headed back down through Neah Bay and stopped at Pat’s Place for some Indian Tacos which is something I WOULD recommend because the place is small and run by Pat herself and the food must be bad for you but is delicious.
And this is where we made the decision to head straight home instead of trying to set up a tent at Lake Crescent. It started raining lightly and we decided we would stop at Sol Duc hot springs so we could swim in the rain and then drive back to Seattle.
Sol Duc Hot Springs is nice but not really the greatest place for a 3 year old. There are 3 small thermal pools, more just like hot tubs, and only one of them allows toddlers. There is also a big non-thermal swimming pool that is ‘warm’ but definitely not toddler warm and so at 4pm when they closed the toddler-friendly pool for an hour for cleaning/resting, M really had nothing to do. So she and Ivan went inside to get a beer and I swam for another 15 minutes in the colder pool before hopping out.
There is supposedly a lot of great hikes around the hot springs and so I think the ideal thing to do would be to stay in a cabin next to the hot springs, sans toddlers, hike all day and relax in the hot springs in the afternoon before dinner.
So that was the whole trip. Camping with a toddler was, in our case, easy and enjoyable. We had such a good experience and we can’t wait to do more. On the way home M asked us when we would go camping again and we told her that we plan to do it as MUCH as possible before her little sibling arrives at the end of summer.