Weekend in Olympic National Park

After nearly an entire year, I finally went hiking. I wish I could say that there was a good reason for not making the outdoors a priority, unfortunately I just let the time get away from me. My dad and I have been wanting to go camping for a while, so we took a long weekend and drove out to Olympic National Park to do some day hiking. I booked a small camper on Airbnb in Forks, WA (although I didn’t realize just how small it would be!) and planned to hit Mount Storm King and Sol Duc Falls/Deer Lake.

Mount Storm King

We chose Mount Storm King for the sweeping views and because the trailhead doesn’t require a Northwest Forest Pass – the parking lot actually requires no pass at all, which seemed to be quite the rarity. We left Forks and arrived at the Storm King Ranger Station around 9:30am. The lot was mostly full, but we were lucky enough to grab a spot as someone was leaving. This area provides a trailhead bathroom and there is a visitor center showing the day’s weather and trail conditions.

The first section of the trail is wide and largely flat, taking you through a tunnel and on to the signs for Marymere Falls. We figured we’d see how we felt after Mount Storm King and then consider going back and adding on the additional couple miles afterward. Oh, how unprepared we were!

After the turnoff at the sign pointing us up to Mount Storm King, the incline becomes much more pronounced and feels pretty similar to Mailbox Old Trail despite the numerous switchbacks. We took lots of breaks to catch our breaths – did I mention I hadn’t been on a hike since last October?! – and were unendingly grateful for the cool weather and shade the trees provided.

We continued on up, slowly but surely, until we reached the end of the maintained trail around a mile and a half up around 11:00am. Although we had seen pictures of the fantastic views from the top of the scramble, we decided to call it quits and ate lunch at this stopping point, sitting on soft moss and looking out over Crescent Lake and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Although the hike had been on my list for a while, I hadn’t done that much research on what it would entail. I’d consider coming back to attempt the scramble, but even this shortened version of the hike had kicked our butts so it was a good time and place to stop and take in the view.

On the way down, we met a mother and son hiking duo who shared their knowledge of the peeling, green/red trees that seemed to be so much smoother and cooler than any trees we had seen before. We learned that they’re madrone trees, which shed their “skin” as they grow, heal themselves and are drought tolerant, and stay cool on the surface like a natural AC. We also passed many hikers on their way up who were just as happy as we had been to waive their right-of-way to take a breather and let us go down first.

Unsurprisingly, we decided to take a rain check on Marymere Falls, and instead headed back out. We took our time, taking pictures with one of the gigantic trees along the wide trail and stopping to appreciate a doe grazing behind some ferns. When we arrived back at the parking lot around 12:30pm, it was even busier than when we started and cars were lined up down the road to the campgrounds. I’d call this hike a 7/10, but perhaps I’ll rate it higher when I return and make it to the top.

Sol Duc Falls and Deer Lake

For Day 2, the rolling, well-maintained trail to Deer Lake was a much needed cooldown from the previous hike. The Sol Duc Falls parking lot lies within Olympic National Park, so going on this hike requires a National Parks Pass or an Olympic National Park pass (you can purchase this at the entrance of the park for $50, or $25 if you only want a week-long pass). We arrived at the large parking lot around 9:30am and it was only about half full. There is a trailhead bathroom and trash/recycling receptacles for hikers and backpackers to use at the start of the trail.

Instead of being reminiscent of Mailbox Old Trail, this trail felt much more like New Trail. The first 0.8 miles are the easiest and most heavily trafficked – at the end of this initial section is Sol Duc Falls. We stopped to take pictures and appreciate the falls before continuing on the quieter path toward Deer Lake.

The trail meanders for around three miles and under 2000 feet of elevation gain beyond Sol Duc Falls, following Canyon Creek the entire way to the lake. We passed what seemed to be dozens of small footbridges, and there was more than enough running water to be set had we run out (I’m a huge proponent of bringing a water filter, no matter how prepared you think you are). We only saw perhaps 15-20 hikers the whole way there, most of them backpackers on their way out. When we arrived at Deer Lake around 12:30pm, there were already several groups there eating lunch and chatting. The lake is small, so we walked along the path to the other side to get some privacy to eat snacks and enjoy the view. We took off our boots and relaxed, watching small fish jumping out of the lake.

The hike back was easy, but still took almost as long as the hike to the lake. We passed several groups who were underprepared for an 8-mile roundtrip hike that late in the day – many didn’t bring more than a small water bottle with them, and a few were wearing sandals. One group was even hiking with a member who had a broken toe! We saw at least three groups or couples back down at the parking lot by the time we left around 3:00pm.

Deer Lake was a fun hike, with an easy grade and beautiful view. Bugs weren’t as bad as at Mount Storm King, and I would absolutely return to do the rest of the 7 Lakes Basin Loop.

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