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Washington wonders: Exploring the coast and Hoh Rain Forest

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Photo by Lauren Vasatka
Photo by Lauren Vasatka

I often hear Washingtonians discussing trips to Las Vegas or California when considering where to vacation. While traveling to these popular destinations is very desirable, here in the Evergreen State, we have many opportunities to explore without the stress and expense of boarding an airplane.

Port Angeles
My fiancée proposed to me in Ape Cave on Mount St. Helens during the 2022 Memorial Day weekend. Since then, we've planned to visit every national park.

So, for the 2023 Memorial Day weekend, we traveled along the Washington coast, heading toward the Hoh Rain Forest. Our first stop on Friday night was Port Angeles, where we escaped the Seattle traffic with one of our dogs in tow and slept soundly in our hotel room.

If you find yourself there, I highly recommend kayaking near Ediz Hook with the seals and star gazing on Hurricane Ridge. At the latter destination, look up when the Olympic Telescope astronomers group will be there — on my visit in 2019, they were kind enough to show me the rings of Saturn.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Neah Bay
Port Angeles was our pit stop before beginning the rest of the journey. So when we awoke on Saturday, we loaded back into the car and drove down the winding Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway to Neah Bay.

We had many miles ahead of us, so our visit to the bay was short. Our goal there was to walk along the forested trail to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States. When you reach the end, you'll find yourself on the edge of rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. Watching the roiling waves crash against the cliffs as the wind pushes against you is a sight to behold.

Forks, Washington
Next was Forks, a city famous for its association with the Twilight series. We checked out the visitor center and watched as gaggles of young women took photos with a cardboard cutout of the character Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson.

Finding the Twilight T-shirts not our style, we made our way to our true objective, the Forks Timber Museum, which resides in a cozy wood cabin. Walking through the displays of local logging history is a short and quiet experience — after trying to weave through the vampire enthusiasts in the visitor center to get to the bathroom, I was glad for that. I recommend stopping by on your way to your next destination.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

First attempt at the Hoh Rain Forest
The drive was calm, and we thought it wouldn't be busy, but as we approached the last mile before the gate, we realized reaching the fabled rain forest would be impossible that day. Car after car was bumper to bumper in a line so long that you could not see the entrance from the back.

We waited a while until we spoke to someone walking down the road. They explained that the expected wait time was five hours — and that that estimate was most likely very optimistic. We learned from this experience that to visit Hoh, you'll have to avoid the crowds. We vowed to return and went on to our Ocean Shores hotel.

First night in Ocean Shores
We arrived at the Shilo Inn, which I'd recommend for its proximity to the beach. We wanted to eat at the hotel's restaurant, but unfortunately, it was closed due to understaffing. Down the road was the only sushi place in town, so we ordered some prepared by a chef with a pistol on each hip. I don't recommend choosing sushi in Ocean Shores, though. You will fare much better with a clam chowder.

Sunday morning, I started my day with a scare. I showered and turned on the old hair dryer affixed to the wall. Suddenly, it started pluming with smoke and refused to turn off. I was afraid it would begin to spit flames, but fortunately, it burned itself out and stopped. Hotel maintenance removed it and put a backup hair dryer in its place. On a whim, I decided I preferred air-drying my hair and would do so for the rest of the trip.

Astoria, Oregon
We drove along the rest of the Washington coast and stopped in Astoria, Oregon. We had completed half of our goal and decided to celebrate in this unique city between the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.

Astoria is famous for being a shooting location for several films, such as The Goonies, and so is home to the Oregon Film Museum, a favorite for cinephiles.

We arrived in town during a street festival and perused the arts and crafts stalls. Afterward, we went to Godfather Books, a must-see for the avid reader. The atmosphere in the store was very chill, and the staff were accommodating. The book selection featured robust Pride and local-authors sections.

Exploring Ocean Shores
We returned to Ocean Shores, and on Monday, we decided to spend the day there. We rented a beat-up moped from Affordable Mopeds. The process to rent was easy but not for the faint of heart. They gave us a short primer on driving a moped and handed us our helmets.

We packed our things into the storage compartment in the seat. My fiancée and I shared one moped, and she drove us along Ocean Shore's roads. I clung to her as the moped whirred, and I tried to stifle my anxiety. My advice: stick to the streets! They'll tell you you can ride along the beach, but god forbid you hit a patch of sand that hasn't been packed down by other vehicles. After a few harmless topples, we gave up on the idea of a romantic beach ride and returned to driving on asphalt.

At one point, we wanted to get our things from the storage compartment — and found that the lock was broken. We returned to the shop, and the mechanic broke the latch to open it. He said that it was okay to keep riding it after. I observed the state of some of the other banged-up rentals and wondered if some ran on the drivers' faith alone.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

We returned our moped and went to the beach with our dog, Caius. We had never seen him love a place more as he galloped across the sand joyfully. We ran along the water and played keep-away with the waves. Our collie met some other dogs, and they played together. I was happy to see our canine so happy and worn out when we returned to our hotel in the evening.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Hoh Rain Forest
Tuesday morning, we checked out of our hotel and headed for the Hoh Rain Forest. We hoped our bet that most vacationers would be headed home and that the line into the park wouldn't be impossibly long would pay off.

It was busy, but getting in only took a few minutes. We trekked into the greenery and were awed at the crystal-clear stream running under the path's footbridge. Trees and bushes beaming with dark green leaves surrounded us, and I spotted a mother duck with a line of ducklings behind her, calmly floating in the water. It was tranquil; even the wildlife that flitted about the forest floor seemed to know that this was a place of peace and showed no fear of the visitors.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

We went down the Hall of Mosses trail and came to its end, an open circle, fenced off to keep hikers from straying from the path. Like the trail's namesake, the trees stood around us, with curtains of hanging moss draped over their branches. Standing there and observing the rain forest that had been dutifully protected from the rest of the world, I felt a sense of spirituality come over me. Few places exist anymore that haven't been drastically altered by human hands.

Visitors are warned to stay on the trail and do their best not to leave any trace of their presence there. I wondered whether working at preserving this place felt anything like being a devout monk caring for a monastery.

We followed the Spruce Nature Trail and said goodbye to the Hoh Rain Forest. I'm glad that we ended the trip — which was full of gorgeous scenery and interesting towns — in the rain forest. It reminded me of the importance of maintaining our national parks. Try it sometime and celebrate the incredible destinations our state has to offer.