Most of you know I tend to travel rather suddenly. I find a deal, book it, and usually leave within a few days. I don’t tend to stay in one place for too long, which I know seems weird but honestly it’s because most of my travel is alone and I can pack quite a bit of sightseeing/photography into a short amount of time…which brings us to my sudden quick trip to Olympic National Park in Washington last month!
(real quick, if you want to watch the video version of this instead, please feel free to check out Part I and Part II on the official Andy’s Travel Blog YouTube channel, to which you should subscribe!)
How did I hear about Olympic National Park?
I’m embarrassed to admit that most of my exploration has been international when there are so many absolute gems to discover here in the United States! The US National Park system, in particular, is a treasure trove of authentic and wonderful sites for everyone to enjoy. My favorite National Park to date has been my visits to Zion National Park (done as a day trip from DFW to Las Vegas to the top of Angels Landing and back, all in 24 hours, I know I know that’s ridiculous) and it absolutely whetted my appetite to see more.
My good buddy Richard visited Olympic National Park in northwest Washington state once and his pictures were incredible. I helped him edit a few of them to be printed out and ever since then I’ve been fascinated with it and wanted to visit myself.
Last month I did just that.
How did I figure out when to go?
The Independence Day holiday was a bit weird in the USA this year with the 4th of July falling on a Wednesday. Normally I’d take advantage of the free vacation day and hit the road but had some parties to attend which kept me homebound (I prefer this, gotta remind myself to be social sometimes!). On July 5th I went into the office to do a normal day’s work and, as I am wont to do, checked flights on Google Flights. I wasn’t too particular about where I wanted to go so I just put DFW as my departure point and scrolled through the map to see if any cheap fares were available.
Of all cities, Seattle popped up on my radar as being oddly cheap. If I traveled Thursday-Sunday it was expensive but going Thursday to Saturday dropped the price by quite a bit, to around $250 on American! Ok, got the flight figured out, now where to go in Seattle? I have a good friend who lives there and figured I could see her but really I wanted to go to Olympic National Park. I went to the park website just to check if there were any accommodations available, assuming there wouldn’t be (since it was a holiday weekend and very much the high season for visitors). Shockingly there was a room available at the Lake Crescent Lodge for a very reasonable ($150) rate! Ok, that solidified it, I booked the flight, the hotel, said adios to my coworkers, went home, threw random bits of clothing and oodles of photography gear into my luggage, and made my way to the airport!
Getting to Olympic National Park
I landed in Seattle and picked up my rental car (I forget who I rented from, I think it was Dollar) at the rental car center, a short shuttle ride away. It then occurred to me that I didn’t really check to see how far away Olympic National Park was from Seattle, so I casually put in the lodge’s address into Waze and…oh
Ok no big deal. I picked up my rental car at about 5pm so I figured I’d get there about 8:30pm. Sunset in those parts at the time was around 9:15pm so I figured I’d have enough time to get to the lodge, check in, and still grab what I hoped to be an epic sunset picture.
The drive to the park was absolutely beautiful if not a little trafficky. I love seeing more rural parts of the USA and to be this rural with the enormous trees all around was just wonderful…plus there were randomly Dairy Queen restaurants everywhere so I could get a Blizzard.
Arriving at Olympic National Park
I pulled into Lake Crescent Lodge at just after 8:45pm, went to the check-in desk and threw credit cards and ID at the check-in lady in an effort to check in quickly so I could go out and photography the sunset and that’s when I found out how lucky I was to get a room: the attendant said there was a family who had left a night early from their reservation so they put the room back in inventory at 8am local time…the same room I booked about 4 minutes later! They were booked solid for weeks otherwise!
Anyway I said “hahanowaywhatrandomluckokthanksbye”, threw my stuff in my room, grabbed my 18 tons of photography gear, and made my way out to the dock sitting on Lake Crescent. I set up for my shot, put on my new Lee 105mm circular polarizer, added my Lee Big Stopper neutral-density filter, and was blessed with one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken.
Sometimes you just get lucky and everything works out. My trip to Mexico did not work out, as it rained the whole time. Getting to Olympic National Park, one of the rainiest areas in the USA, and experiencing a rainless and windless evening was about the best thing ever and used up all the luck I had or will have for the next 27 years, no doubt.
I’m not really one for selfies but figured this was a pretty good place for one, so I set up my tripod on a long timer and sprinted out to the end of the dock and tried to look as majestic as I could.
I took a few more pictures to make sure I got what I needed and then crashed hard in my ever-so-tiny room at the Lake Crescent Lodge (which I forgot to photograph, sorryyyyyyy). I had to sleep hard and fast because sunrise was early the next morning!
There’s a certain art to shooting sunrises. I’m still not sure I have it down but in any case I had some new toys I wanted to use (the aforementioned polarizer and neutral-density filter) to make some really good images. I awoke with a smile at just after 4:30am and made my way outside, a little groggy but excited, as I realized the sunrise would indeed be epic.
The first composition I found was with a super wide angle lens. When shooting with a super wide angle lens it’s always best to include a distinctive foreground element to give a sense of scale and perspective to the scene. Once I had found that I manually focused my lens, put on the Lee Big Stopper, opened the shutter of my camera, and waited. Neutral-density filters, in case you don’t know, are big dark pieces of glass you can place over a camera lens, requiring more time for the sensor to gather enough light to make the image. This is useful when there are clouds moving across the sky, as the extended shutter time will lead to streaky clouds which can be used as leading lines.
As an example, normally my camera tops out at 30 seconds for exposure length/shutter speed. With the 10-stop neutral density filter attached to the lens this exposure ended up taking 538 seconds, almost seven minutes!
Satisfied with the long exposure image I walked along a path to see if I could find a better view of the actual sunrise, since the previous picture faced away from the sun. Along the way I found a bed of wildflowers. I always try to use nature to frame my shots if I can (notice the trees framing the image on the left above) and I thought the wildflowers would be perfect for this. It was an incredibly still morning with no wind, I still can’t believe how lucky I was!
The end of the path put me right in front of the great sunrise. It was still, quiet, and one of the most peaceful places I’d ever been. I made sure to sit there and enjoy the moment before getting out my camera to document the serene, bucolic scene.
After that I finally got to have breakfast! The restaurant at the Lake Crescent Lodge was quaint, full, and the only thing better than the service was the food (which I ate faster than I could get a picture of it unfortunately).
After breakfast I had to pack up, because this trip was super short. On my way out of the lodge I remembered there were some falls nearby so I quickly walked out to them for a picture (about a 3-minute walk from the parking lot).
Grove of the Ancients
My buddy Richard had gone to a small trail called Grove of the Ancients, which I thought sounded metal AF so I decided to visit there. If I’d have had my druthers I would’ve gone to the Hoh Rainforest but that was on the opposite side of the park and I wouldn’t have had very long to spend there before heading back to Seattle (my car was due back to the rental car center at 5pm that day).
Just west of Lake Crescent on US 101 is Sol Duc Hot Springs Road. I paid the entry fee to get into Olympic National Park (the lodge the night before is just outside of the actual park boundary), which stung a bit as it was $35 and I’d be in the park for a grand total of 80ish minutes). A few miles into the park there was a sign which said Ancient Groves. I pulled off, parked, camera geared up, and walked into the wood. (it’s a super short trail and is incredibly easy, just so you know)
It felt like I was transported into a different world. Even though I was still basically next to the main road all of a sudden everywhere I looked where trees, moss, more trees, a bit more moss, and an ever-so-small trail guiding my way. Off in the distance I could hear rushing water and closer to me all manner of birds chirping and bugs buzzing. It was a scene this city boy isn’t used to experiencing, that’s for sure!
I loved all the layers of the forest and started snapping pictures.
Even though Olympic National Park is far north it’s still very temperate and is technically a rainforest. The tree canopy completely blocked the sun in areas, meaning lichen and moss covered the ground and any trees it could find in order to gather as much energy as it could from the little light available.
When I’m taking pictures I love looking for leading lines in nature and the path gave me some great ones. I decided to do a panorama for this next image so I could capture the enormity of the scene and all of the trees I was casually walking past. It ended up being 7 shots and the final image was about 83 megapixels but I’ve shrunk it down to web resolution for you here.
From there I headed towards the sound of rushing water, hoping to find some rapids. I ended up alongside a cliff with the rapids I had heard ending up about a hundred feet below. While I was disappointed I didn’t find the rapids I was looking for I realized I was in the exact place that Richard had taken a picture of his son. I set up my tripod, put the camera into its remote shutter mode, and used my phone to fire off a picture for him.
I sent the picture to him and he was plenty chuffed. Ok, back to the pictures.
There was a random bridge in one of the more shaded areas that I saw. Where a bridge would normally go over water this one went over a bed of shrubs and bushes, which I thought was a nice juxtaposition, so I set up my tripod and waited for some light to shine through the tree canopy. My patience was rewarded with this lovely shot.
I made my way back to my car and started the long drive back to Seattle. Just before I left the park, though, I heard some more rushing water and stopped to see if there were any rapids I could photograph. Luckily there were! There were some people fishing in the rapids (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t allowed) and they panicked a bit but realized I was just there to take a picture. I put my tripod partially into the stream and shot up into the rapids for another great water image.
Back to Seattle…and Dallas
It ended up taking about 4 hours to get back to Seattle, thanks to some awful traffic around Tacoma, so I was a bit late returning my car, but nobody seemed to care too much. I stored my luggage at the left luggage facility and then went into town to meet my friend Melissa, who I hadn’t seen in a minute. She showed me around the Lake Union area and we watched floatplanes take off and then we met her boyfriend for dinner and drinks. After that it was an Uber back to the airport and a 1:30am flight home!
Man what a great part of the country. After seeing so much nature it was really hard coming back to Dallas and seeing…well, highways I guess. I absolutely cannot wait to return to Washington state, Olympic National Park, and all of the other incredible places the Pacific Northwest has to offer!
Which was your favorite picture? Have you been to Olympic National Park? What did you think? Tell me in the comments below!