Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Travelogue: Taking the Oregon Trail to Olympic National Park...and beyond

Just returned last Friday from a two-week journey from Colorado to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

Boulder to Brigham City, UT - I-25 to the 287 cutoff west of Fort Collins meant we didn't make it up to Fort Laramie, one of the rest/refuel stops on the Oregon Trail so I had to be content with following the contour of the trail as it arced up to Casper, WY and then dropped down to cross the continental divide at South Pass. We crossed the Divide ourselves after Rawlins (where we ate lunch in pretty Washington Park) and before Rock Springs.  We hooked up with the trail at Ft Bridger, and then left it to stop over at Brigham City (north of Salt Lake) where we spent a glorious morning at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and a glorious afternoon at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met on May 10, 1869. We talked to an awesome ranger there who told so many entertaining historic stories.

Brigham City to Boise, ID - A short drive to Boise took us along the Snake River, which the trail followed closely.  We had a wonderful stop at Glenn's Ferry (Three Island Crossing), where thousands of pioneers attempted to cross the Snake, and some made it. We got to Boise with plenty of time to visit the World Center for Birds of Prey, which has a successful condor breeding program, helping to bring condors and other endangered birds back from the brink of extinction.

Boise has loads of charm - We stayed at the Modern, which is a revamped 1950's era motel, and felt hip and healthy (one of the very best hotel breakfasts ever!).  We enjoyed walking around the downtown area, watching lots of people catching Pokemons.

Boise to Hood River, OR - Mostly followed the trail, and had a great stop in Baker City, OR where we visited the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center and bought way too many books.   Lunch in Pendleton at the Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Company, which is a favorite stop on our frequent treks to WA.  Then, we hit the Columbia--what a gorgeous river.  By the time we checked in at our river view room at the Vagabond Lodge, we didn't want to leave so we just hung out, watching the river slowly fade to darkness (it gets dark late up here in the summer!).

Hood River to Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park - Hood River was also a charming little town and we explored it a bit before heading down river, only to get sidetracked at the Bradford Island Visitor Center, just west of Cascade Locks on the river.  They have underwater viewing of the fish that migrate upstream, lots of info on locks and dams and other nerdtastic stuff.  After leaving the trail at Portland, we headed directly to the coast and had lunch at the Buoy Bar in Astoria, before heading up to Lake Quinault, our first stop on the Olympic Peninsula.

Lake Quinault - Absolutely gorgeous.  Two days of hiking through temperate rainforests with enormous trees that were shaggy with moss.  Stayed at the Lake Quinault Lodge--love the national park lodges, and this one had tons of charm and personality (i.e., almost non-existent wifi, tiny bathrooms, windows that don't want to open, but lovely and old and mellow).

La Push  - Moved on to stay oceanside in the fishing village of La Push, which is part of the Quieleute (pronounced Quil-lay-ute) reservation.  Hiked on the beaches, which were rocky, saw at least a dozen bald eagles, and lived without wifi!  Visited the Hoh rainforest and the Sol Duc falls, both of which were magnificent.  Drove up to the Makah reservation in the nw corner of the peninsula, and walked out to Cape Flattery, the most nw point of the contiguous 48 states.  Spotted a river otter grooming on a rock, more bald eagles, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, cormorants, and a murder of crows and a conspiracy of ravens!

Port Angles - Three nights here, with hikes up Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park, and whale watching in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The captain of the Puget Sound Express (out of charming Port Townsend) heard we were birders (or twitchers as our UK friends call us) and he swung by Discovery Island so that we could see puffins!  For dinner, let me recommend the Next Door GastroPub - a fun place, with outside dining, great service, and outstanding, upscale pub grub.  We went there twice!

Heading home - we stopped in Tacoma, one of our favorite towns, and where our oldest went to college for a wonderful stay at the awesome Silver Cloud Inn.  We did a pass through Point Defiance Park, with a walk through the bloomless rhododendron garden, and then we did more walking along the shore of lovely Commencement Bay.  We spent the night in Boise again, and retraced the Oregon Trail back to Fort Bridger, stopping this time in Park City instead of Brigham City.  I wasn't thrilled with Park City--I think Colorado does the mining town to ski resort thing better than Utah, but then I am prejudiced and probably ready to be home!

Loved, loved, loved our trip.

Happy trails to you!


  1. It seems like you had a great trip.

    I also love to mix history with explorations of nature in my travels.

    You also got some great pictures.

  2. What a fun trip! Thanks for sharing your amazing photos. And I love The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge...I go every spring because that's when they have the most birds...and the most water. :)

  3. Fantastic! Amazing sights - I love the tree with exposed roots! How funny to see people catching Pokemons with all that real beauty all around!

  4. What a fantastic trip!! I would love to do this one day and will refer back to your post for guidance. On our recent trip from Albuquerque, to Santa Fe, to Colorado we saw several Santa Fe trail sites. After the wedding, we ended up going up to Estes Park, through Rocky Mountain National Park, to Steamboat Springs for a few days. I am in awe of the natural beauty... no wonder you are partial to Colorado. I might have to at least give Utah a chance next time though ;-)

  5. Very cool! It's been over a decade since I've been out to either the Oregon or Washington coast (not counting the north end of Puget Sound and a jaunt to Vancouver Island. We really should roam more!

  6. Great travelogue! and brilliant photos. Glad there were some of you too! We have relatives who moved to Boise and they love it. I will keep that Modern Hotel breakfast in mind, if we ever visit them!

  7. Great travelogue! and brilliant photos. Glad there were some of you too! We have relatives who moved to Boise and they love it. I will keep that Modern Hotel breakfast in mind, if we ever visit them!

  8. Wow what a wonderful trip. I'm quite envious of your route. I have stayed in Lake Quinault and even Forks, Washington back in 1999. I would like to follow the Oregon trail too and go to the interpretative center and spend time in Boise. I have spent time in Colorado and Montana. Beautiful places.

  9. What a wonderful trip!

  10. What an awesome trip! I am not familiar with National Park lodges but now am very curious. I remember my fourth grade teacher reading us On to Oregon and most of the class sobbing during the sad parts (I also sobbed later when, inspired to do the first self-initiated library research I learned of the terrible end to Narcissa Whitman). Definitely a better trip by car than by covered wagon!

    1. Narcissa Whitman's diary is on my reading list. Yes, the ending to her story and that of her husband and children is so sad.