The whole reason I traveled to the PNW was to visit my best friend, Cassandra, while she was living there (she’s since relocated to Philly after an epic cross-country camping road trip — shouldn’t she blog too!?). We spent the first few days hiking around Portland (Angel’s Rest Trail with a great view of the Columbia River Gorge was awesome), eating Voodoo donuts, drinking tequila (Aalto Lounge is recommended), taking in Multnomah Falls, eating the best brussels sprouts of our lives at pFriem Family Brewers, and marveling at how green everything was in early March. After our road trip through Washington and a day-trip to Bend, we ended with a gorgeous sunrise overlooking the city at Pittock Mansion, a short hike in Forest Park, more donuts at Blue Star Donuts (better than Voodoo, just sayin’), and a fantastic brunch of shakshuka and hot tea at Tasty N Sons before I flew back to Pittsburgh that afternoon. It was the perfect spring break for me in the middle of my first year of grad school. Mountain air! Pine trees! GREEN! I loved it so much, as I do all trips I take with my favorite travel partner. Time to start planning another one.
After our epic Olympic National Park and Cape Flattery adventure, Cassandra and I took a day-trip to Bend, Oregon, for more hikes and brews. Bend is only a little over three hours from Portland, so it could also make a nice weekend camping trip as well — the hiking is gorgeous and there are breweries everywhere.
We spent a few hours at Smith Rock State Park at Cassandra’s suggestion, which was a change from the lush green we had been hiking in so far. I couldn’t get enough of the reddish rocky terrain, the river bending through the park, the steep cliffs that are perfect for rock climbing (someday I’ll do it, someday). After hiking all day we went to Sunriver Brewing Co. and had the best meal of fried avocados, grilled fish, and beer. A perfect day.
For my first trip to the Pacific Northwest in March 2016, I knew I wanted to go to Olympic National Park. Cassandra and I planned an epic week of driving through Oregon and Washington, camping, hiking, and brewery visiting. After a few days in Portland, we started our road trip. First up: Cape Flattery.
Cape Flattery is the most northwest point of the contiguous 48 states, and it is stunning. A gorgeous drive through Forks (a la Twilight), Port Angeles, and part of a Makah reservation leads to a brief but beautiful hike up to a couple of epic views. I knew it would be gorgeous but the clear blue water, piney trees, cliffs, and caves were unbelievable.
After taking in the views we drove south again to camp in Ozette, a gorgeous park on the coast. Unfortunately it poured all night, so we set up our tent in the rain and did nothing but lay in the tent until we both fell asleep. That night was a bummer, but thankfully the next day was better weather for our one long Olympic National Park hike.
We drove to Lake Crescent and hiked Mount Storm King (which sounds like something out of Game of Thrones), which was not many miles but much elevation gain. At the time it was the most difficult hike I’d ever done. It started sprinkling right as we started, but then we reached a break with a magnificent view of the lake and all of a sudden the rain stopped, the sky turned blue, and a rainbow appeared directly above and across the lake. It was magical and totally worth it.
Next we attempted to drive Hurricane Ridge, but as it was early March it was still snowing, and hard. We only made it up a few miles before the roads were covered and we had to turn back.
We thought about heading to Seattle for a day or exploring more of the park, but in order to get a full PNW experience we decided to head back to Portland before a day-trip to Bend for more hiking the next day. I still can’t get over those lush greens, moss and ferns everywhere, the smell of the piney trees, and how beautiful everything was. I’m looking forward to my next PNW trip already planned but still to schedule: Seattle, the North Cascades, and Vancouver!
I’ve been dreaming of going to Arches National Park since I stumbled on images of Delicate Arch a few years ago while researching US road trips. I saved a couple images of the arch to my computer and decided that it was the first place I would go when I could take a trip out west. When Katie and I started planning our road trip beginning in Boulder, CO, I immediately looked up the distance from Boulder to Arches and told her it was my number one destination to include. She happily obliged.
We planned to spend half a day at the park and continue on to Canyonlands, but once we settled in Moab the evening before we realized we wanted to take our time and see all of the park. After days of camp food the burgers and fries we ate at a restaurant near our hotel tasted like heaven. We settled into a motel room with boxed wine and Mary Oliver poems and it felt like the most luxurious night of my life at the time, ha!
The next morning we packed up and headed to Arches early. We stopped at every arch, hiked (nearly) every trail, and I finally got to stand in the presence of Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch was sort of excruciating for me for some reason — I had a terrible headache that no amount of water could fix and at one point begged Katie to stop in the one place of shade we could find so I could rest before we got there (as 10-year-old kids passed us…). Once we rounded the corner, though, all pain was forgotten. We climbed around the area and then sat near the arch and watched it for over an hour. I was completely mesmerized, and between that and my exhaustion I never wanted to get up again.
After a full day exploring the park we drove back to a random campsite we found in Moab (photos from the campsite directly above). It ended up being one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and we were the only ones there. More wine, a spectacular sunset, more fireside chats, and then we laid on the huge rock formations and picked out planets and constellations for what felt like hours. It was the last night of the camping trip so I was determined to soak in every last drop of goodness. I can’t recommend Arches or camping in Moab enough; it was the highlight of our trip.
Mesa Verde National Park, the land of Ancient Aliens. We arrived at Mesa Verde around 6:00 one evening, tired after a long day of driving and talking and generally being overexcited. I reserved a campsite for us a week or two in advance, so we drove into the park, checked into our site, purchased some firewood, and then signed up for two different cliff-dwelling tours the following day.
That evening Katie and I made a fire, drank red wine and ate the most delicious instant mashed potatoes we’ve ever tasted, and stargazed for hours and hours. The sky was so dark we were able to see the Milky Way; the universe appeared to unfold before us.
For most of the next day we hiked through two different cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace and Balcony House. I just about peed myself when I saw Cliff Palace, the iconic Mesa Verde cliff dwelling, for the first time, casually below an overlook I had been standing on for 10 minutes prior to noticing the dwelling. It’s bigger and more intricate than it seems in pictures, and there’s really no way to describe the way it feels to see a home of Ancestral Pueblos from so long ago in a place so desolate. The dwellings were abandoned around 1300, and although drought is suspected to be the reason, no one really knows. There are over 600 dwellings in the park, but visitors can only explore a small handful of them. They are all incredible.
It was at this park that Katie and I learned about the Junior Ranger program. At every national park site there is an opportunity to become a Junior Ranger of that particular park. There is a short guidebook of questions and activities to complete, and then the Junior Ranger takes an oath to protect national parks, pick up litter, etc., and she or he receives the Junior Ranger badge for that park (there’s a unique badge for every park). What started as a joke became one of our favorite parts of visiting the parks. The activity books facilitated learning and interacting with the park, including asking the rangers questions, looking around for different types of plants and animals, and remembering historical facts we learned along the way. The Rangers of the parks have huge enthusiasm that was endearing and infectious, and Katie and I were both so proud to earn our badges at Mesa Verde and Arches. You can also collect park stamps in a passport book, which we both bought at Mesa Verde, so the whole situation made me want to visit every national park site in the country to earn my stamps and Junior Ranger badges.
*Katie and I camped at Morefield Campground, which was really nice and a convenient spot for the tours the following day.