Salt Creek Recreation Area may not be part of the national park system but it lacks not for scenic beauty. It's actually a county park on the northern side of the Olympic Peninsula, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Vancouver Island. They have a nice campground very suitable for families with a good size kiddie playground. Rangers at the Olympic National park suggest the park not only for tide pool exploration but also for taking showers. The showers at the campground are pay by coin and open to the public. We used the facility a couple of times and it's clean and quite pleasant. If the camping in the Olympic NP was not so great we might have stayed here. For those seeking a less natural and more organized campground, Salt Creek is a great choice.
There are a few trails and a number of tide-pools to explore. While we were there for our showers, we decided to check one of them out and it was a truly beautiful place early in the morning. Tides vary from place to place and rangers at Olympic will give you a free tide chart with times for various spots on the peninsula. They will make suggestions on where to go and when which is very handy if your time is limited. If you only have between 10 and 12 to check out tide-pools, you want to give yourself the best opportunity to find one at low tide.
It is 15 miles or a half hour west from Port Angeles, WA. Follow Highway 101 to Highway 112, fork to right. After approximately 9 miles turn north onto Camp Hayden Road (near milepost 54). Travel approximately 3 miles, and the Park entrance will be on your right.
Entrance is free. Showers are timed by amount of quarters. $1 each was more than enough for us.
When you go to Africa, there are certain animals you want to see. Some are common, some less so. Everyone wants to see an elephant and they generally do. Not everyone sees a leopard. Sea otters are perhaps the most sought animal sighting in the Pacific Northwest. The rare and illusive creature is generally active at dusk and dawn which accounts for its not being seen by many park visitors. Though they are making a comeback from near extinction thanks to conservation efforts, they are still nowhere near their peak population of 300,000. Sadly, they were hunted down to a mere 1000 by 1911 when the practice was internationally banned.
Living near shore but almost entirely in the ocean, the largest member of the weasel family can reach up to 100 lbs and feeds by diving to fetch crustaceans, mollusks, and sea urchins. Though shaped a bit like sea lions, they do not have a layer of blubber for insulation, relying on the thickest fur coat in the animal kingdom to stay warm in their frigid water habitat.
We had spent the afternoon walking the full length of Second Beach. The weather was gorgeous and we were very satisfied with our two days at the Olympic National Park beaches. We had gotten lucky with the weather, seeing Rialto in its typical atmospheric fog before it burned off in time for late afternoon light for photos followed by a stunning sunset.
Second Beach had been a bit anti-climatic but was a pleasant place for a late afternoon stroll. It was now low tide once again and we meandered over to check some tide-pools but after seeing so many sea stars the days prior, it no longer held the same excitement. I joked that all we hadn't seen was a sea otter which would make our visit perfect. Just then, a couple nearby motioned for us to come over. We did as quickly as we could in lieu of the slippery terrain. Once there, they pointed over to a pair of sea otters playing on a rock. I was never so happy to have a 450mm image stabilized lens in my life. They played on the rocks, jumped in and out of the water and if anyone believed animals do not have the emotion of enjoyment, just watch a sea otter frolic. We should enjoy ourselves that much. Sea otters' numbers have rebounded but they are still considered endangered. Consider yourself lucky to see one and hopefully the experience will make you realize how man is just one creature on this planet, one meant to be shared by all.
The mountain goat seems to elicit much debate with regard to it belonging in Olympic National Park. Park officials argue that the animal is wrecking havoc on a fragile ecosystem and threatening to destroy one endangered plant in particular. They have used chemical sterilization but on an animal that rose from a group of 11 introduced in the 1920s to over 1000 in the 1980s, they claim perhaps rightly that the only way to eradicate them is to kill them. Proponents of the goats say the plants are not at threat and that the goats play a role in the changed landscape of the park. Animal lovers everywhere are up in arms and pretty much anyone who has seen one while hiking can't imagine the park without them.
I think the goats likely do no more harm than do humans in the park. It would have to be proven irrefutably to justify their mass extermination. I remember my first time seeing one and to the novice I assumed it was a native animal. It sure didn't look like any goat I had ever seen. These beautiful and powerful animals are so well-suited for the mountains that even the best human climber would admit their right to share the peaks.
Backpackers may find the goats a bit of a nuisance as they come into camps looking for anything salty, including surrounding vegetation that has been urinated on. It is fairly typical for backpackers in need for such relief to pee outside their tents rather than walk often a fair distance in the dark wilderness to a pit toilet. I have to admit to doing it myself on occasion. On telling a ranger about a goat coming all too close to our tent one night, he explained that the goats are just looking for salt and that urine has a high concentration of it. By peeing around the tent, we're basically putting out a welcome sign for the goats to stop by for a midnight snack! Of course, without such offerings, goats may look for their salt fix elsewhere like on the straps of your backpack or in your boots, all full of your tasty sweat.
My take is we put the goats here not exactly of their own free will and just because we didn't like the way the experiment worked out, they shouldn't be wiped out on what to them is certainly a similar whim. Maybe we need to think about our effect on the environment before acting. That goes for more than just the National Parks.
Sea stars are a favorite of children and adults alike with their more than fitting name. Very much from the sea, there is something from outer space about them beyond their five pointed name. These colorful creatures vary greatly with over 2000 species living in all the world's oceans. They can reach sizes of up to 10 inches and over 10 pounds. Their bony calcified skin is quite rough to the tough and protects them well from predators which they are very much themselves. These carnivores eat their prey in a most otherworldly fashion, prying clams and oysters open with their formidable suction-cupped feet, oozing their stomach into the mollusk, and digesting them outside their body. Sounds like a marine flying saucer to me.
If you have never seen one in the wild, you are in for a treat. If you go to tide-pools on the Olympic Peninsula at low tide you are bound to see hundreds of them. Orange and purple seem to be the flavor of the day.
While not as spectacular as the sea star, the sea anemone is another interesting and color predator. This seemingly harmless creature looks like a blob of jelly and for good reason, they are closely related to the jellyfish though have none of its cousin's bad reputation for stinging us. Though they are quite adept at stinging and paralyzing their prey, some species seem immune to their powers like the clown fish who seek refuge in their host's tentacles. They luckily have no effect on us either aside from a sticky feeling produced by the nematocystes released to stun prey. It's a strange feeling to stick your finger into one and see it close on it but not an altogether bad one. Go on, try it. It evidently does not harm the creature as park rangers demonstrate it and tell you to give it a try yourself.
Olympic National Park is not as noted a wildlife viewing park as Yellowstone but actually has one of the most diverse ecosystems of any park due to its many terrains. While many associate the park primarily with the coastal region and therefore have images of sea-based animals, the park is home to many inland mammals such as the Roosevelt Elk. In fact, the park was originally established primarily to protect them and remains home to the largest herd in North America. Olympic Elk bulls can weight up to 1100 lbs and feed on a variety of plants depending on their habit. Often found grazing in the Hoh Rainforest, they often move up to higher elevations in the heat of summer to cool off.
One day while hiking on the High Divide Trail, we stopped to have a drink of water. The trail was narrow so we stood sideways next to each other to share the bottle. Admiring the view, I noticed what looked like logs on a huge snowy patch across the valley. I pulled out my camera with its zoom and was surprised to see a huge group of Roosevelt Elk smartly lounging on the snow. I guess air-conditioning has been in use long before we “invented” it.
Deer Park may be one of the worst 11-mile drives in the world. It's one-lane all the way, with a steep dropoff while going up. At the end of the road, you can stroll the Rainshadow Trail for views of the area, as well as summit Blue Mt. If I ever go again, I'd hike in from Hurricane Ridge.
One of the things that makes the Olympic Peninsula beaches so rugged is the preponderance of driftwood. I grew up on the groomed beaches of New Jersey and anything that man didn't need on the beach was just taken away, including much of the dunes before they realized the devastating effect that had on beach erosion. Driftwood was something they sold in gift shops on the boardwalk. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw the real thing, often massive trunks of trees dried with salt from the sun and wind. While it can be a nuisance for man on public beaches, posing great danger to swimmers and a lack of space to spread out the old beach towel, it does provide shelter and nutrients as shipworms and bacteria decompose it. It is very much part of the natural order of things and this being a National Park dedicated to preserving such order, the driftwood belongs just where it is. Along with providing natural benches to sit on and make-shift bridges to cross engorged streams running to the sea, it makes for some very haunting photographic opportunities.
Among the same ridge as Mt Ellinor is Mt Washington - so named because of the mountain's profile is supposed to have the appearance of the Nation's first President when viewed from the Puget lowlands below. At 6255 feet/1896 meters, Mt Washington is much taller than Mt Ellinor and represents a step above in climbing difficulty, as well. You will grab many more bushes on the way up this one. To avoid snow, you need to go a little later - mid-July, though with the knowledge of an ice axe and crampons, going early can be safer with hard snows to face in one crux part which become very loose scree later. For the loose scree, I recommend collapsible ski poles. The views are better here than Ellinor, but not by a lot. Do this peak to improve your skill. If it is just views you seek, Ellinor is fine.
Mt Ellinor - 5944 feet/1812 meters - is a climb and it is actually just outside of the southeast corner of the Park. But it is an easy climb - a bush here and a rock there to grab - and your most dramatic views are over much of the southern and eastern sections of the Park. This climb is best done after late June to avoid snows - unless you are comfortable with an ice axe and crampons, in which case go before for the grand glissade you get on descent. Your view is grander than Hurricane Ridge, since it is a 360 view. You have literal seas of peaks to the north and northwest. Far away, you can glimpse the icy oceans of Olympus. To the south and east, the huge glacially-created Puget Trough. Ancient glacial sheets separated the Olympics from the Cascades to the east. After the Ice Ages ended and the glaciers had withdrawn, the ocean invaded the lowest areas forming what is the Puget Sound and the Hood Canal. It is all visible from up here. As are the skyscrapers of Seattle - not so tall from here, but glinting sometimes in the sun - and the smokestack of Tacoma - the 'aroma of Tacoma'. Mt Rainier looms, dwarfing everything in the far southeast distance.
Salt Creek Park, just outside of Port Angeles, is a quiet little campground and picnic area that is far enough off the beaten path that the crowds never find it. If you are camping, look for sites along the forest loop, especially those along the edge of the low bluff. These camp sites are only a few yards above the waves.
It think the beach is one of the most picturesque in Washington. The point shelters a small bay with grassy meadows that lead to the base of tall tree-covered peaks. There is a small island in the bay that you can walk to during low tide - but you better be a good swimmer or patient if you linger too long!
You can find Salt Creek by taking route 112 thirteen miles west from Port Angeles. Turn right on Camp Hayden Road and follow it three miles to the park.
Grab your hotel provided walking stick and go for a walk in the woods and find that largest banana slugs in the North America!. Best time of year is May, June, or October. They range in size up to eight inches long! The slug has two sets of antennae- long ones are for seeing and the short ones are for smelling. The slugs leave a mucus slime trail as they move. You can find them on trees, branches and under logs.
Banana Slugs are scavengers of the forest. The typically eat only decaying organic matter and turn it in to a more usable waste for the forest floor. The practice of putting salt on the slug is "cruel and unusual!" When this happens the fluids in the slug flow to the outer mucus covering of the creature and it just dies of dehydrate as it tries to neutralize the salt. If the slug is in the way, simply scoot it off to the side and it will find a place in indirect light.
The Banana Slug(ariolimax columbianus) lives in the moist forests on the west coast of the United States. It feeds only between the temperatures of 10-16C(50-60F) and eats in 48 hour cycles- Eats for 24 hours, the fasts for 24 hours. Typically eats fallen leaves, lichen and mosses or other organic decaying materials on the forest floor.
Oh Canada. Just across the waters from the Park is another country. See it in a day or tarry longer in the faux British atmosphere of Victoria. If you listen closely, you will notice that they all speak a bit funny up here. Victoria has plenty to keep you occupied and the best way to first see it is from the Inner Harbor, which you can only get to via floatplane from Vancouver or ferry from either Seattle - Princess Margaurite - or the Coho from Port Angeles. There many fine pages covering Victoria. I will refer you to those of rmdw and ann75.