Pals, Parks, and Portland – the three P’s of the PNW

We ended up planning over two weeks of travel between our two long stays in this leg because there is a lot of the Pacific Northwest (aka, the PNW) we wanted to see. So after three nights at Yellowstone and a quick stop in Missoula, we were on to beautiful Washington State. This required driving across the panhandle of Idaho, which is gorgeous. We’d briefly considered making Kellogg, ID, one of our long stay spots, and had the opportunity to drive through. We’d have been happy there, but I’m glad we chose Libby. 

Pals

Dungeness crab dinner

We started our time in the PNW with a week on Camano Island, about an hour north of Seattle. We had thought this island would represent a bit of rural on the edge of the Seattle suburbs. It definitely had a rural feel, but Seattle was not as sprawling as we’d expected and it ended up feeling pretty far out of the city. Also, our Airbnb there was a bit strange (review below). Though it did have a water view of the Puget Sound and close to a rocky beach to walk on and our host gifted us with some Dungeness crab that made a wonderful dinner one night. However, if we were doing it again, we’d choose to be closer to the city, and to our friends.

The highlight of our time in the Seattle area was getting to spend time with our friends, Ryan and Katie, who live there. Katie cooked two amazing meals for us, we went for a great walk in their lovely neighborhood, and they got us a little bit hooked on baseball again since Ryan is a huge Dodgers fan. We watched one NLCS game with them (the best one) and Chad and I have continued to tune in here and there (at present, the Dodgers lead 2 games to 1 in the World Series). 

We also managed to spend one afternoon in Seattle, though since we’re avoiding indoor spaces, we stuck to seeing the views from a couple of parks and the exterior of the house used as the intern house in Grey’s Anatomy (we didn’t make a special trip for this; it is a block from Kerry Park). Gas Works Park in Fremont was really cool and the view from Kerry Park was great as promised and we really enjoyed the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is operated by the Seattle Art Museum. Someday when it isn’t COVID, we’ll go back to Seattle and check out some of the indoor attractions. It is an impressive little city.

Parks

After Camano, we planned to visit Washington’s three national parks on three successive days. But, the weather at North Cascade National Park didn’t look very amenable, so we decided to skip that one to be able to space out our Olympic National Park activities. So we headed south from Camano to the Olympic Peninsula, with a brief stop in Olympia for a picnic lunch, and on up to the Hoh Rainforest in the northwest corner of Olympic National Park.

We LOVED Olympic (especially me; in a fit of exuberance and recency bias, I even posted on Facebook that it is my new favorite, briefly forgetting my beloved Bryce Canyon). We did the Hall of Mosses trail, which was rainy but really magical. Then we drove onward to our motel in Sequim for the night (review below). It was fine, but the town of Port Angeles was much more charming and closer to our next day’s destinations, so I ended up wishing we’d spent a little to stay there. That said, the family running the motel mentioned how hard things had been and that they were grateful we chose them, so it was probably all for the best.

For our second day in Olympic, we drove down to the Storm King Ranger Station on Crescent Lake to hike the Marymere Falls trail. It was already busy when we arrived after 9 a.m., but still plenty of parking. This was not the case by the time we left three hours later – people were circling for parking spots. After hiking up to Marymere Falls, we took an empty side trail called Barnes Creek to get a little more mileage in and enjoy the forest. We picnicked near the ranger station before driving on to our final Olympic area (it is a big park).

It took about an hour to then drive to the Hurricane Hill trailhead. There, the two closest parking lots were full, but there was plenty of parking in the overflow at the second picnic area and the trail was wide enough to not feel crowded. We had to walk about half a mile to the trailhead and at elevation, it was chilly, but the air was fresh and the surroundings were nice. After another easy half-mile, the trail starts a pretty steep 1-mile assent. It is all paved and switchbacks, but still enough to make me winded. And, it sleeted a bit on us. But, the views were beautiful and we had a great time. I definitely recommend all three areas of Olympic National Park that we visited, even if the weather isn’t great. After the hike, we drove three hours to a hotel in Lakeview, outside Tacoma, to put us closer to Mount Rainier National Park, and got fantastic Thai food delivered using my credit card DoorDash credit.

The next morning, the weather was still not great, so we took our time in the morning departing for the Mount Rainier National park. We arrived around midday and conditions at the Paradise area we planned to hike were pretty bad – sideways rain (we’d been expecting snow, which would have been better) and wind. We found a spot for a car picnic, admired the pictures on the park map, and decided to see if we could find a trail to hike nearer the bottom of the mountain on our way out. We ended up stopping near an entrance to the Wonderland trail and got a pretty nice two-mile hike in, culminating at a waterfall. It was steep but good to stretch our legs. 

Portland

I had been to Portland YEARS ago for a conference (I think my first real work travel event; I think it was in 2005) and had managed to do a bit of solo sightseeing back then, but this was Chad’s first visit. Of course, COVID makes everything strange, so we limited our activities and Chad wasn’t able to go into Powell’s City of Books or to the Japanese Garden. But we had a fun day exploring.

Our motel (which was great, review below) was close to the Yellow MAX line, which seemed to have excellent protocols (I’d expect nothing less from Portland) so we decided to take it. It was so nice to be on public transportation again and you can get a day pass for just $5. We started at Pioneer Square, which is all boarded up as were many of the other downtown buildings (from the summer protests, though I’m not sure whether it was preemptive or if there was damage done). The city itself was virtually empty, with most people likely still working from home. Still, it was a nice day and walking around downtown was enjoyable, and we were able to get lunch from a food cart and eat outside. 

We walked up the riverfront park and then over to Chinatown, then took the Blue MAX line over to Washington Park to visit Hoyt Arboretum. The fall colors were not quite in full swing, but it was a beautiful place and a lot of fun to walk around (and had a good free public restroom). When we’d had our fill of the park, we took public transit back to the Pearl District so Chad could see the outside of Powell’s, then were going to try to find a patio or beer garden for a drink. It turns out there was a great one in our motel’s neighborhood, so we transited back up there (Overlook is the name of the neighborhood) and walked over to Prost, a German beer garden. It was exactly what we wanted. Though Portland is known for good restaurants, we decided to eat in both our nights there, and it was really nice that the motel room had a full kitchen.

Before leaving Portland the next day, we did one more walk on the Wildwood Trail, this time to a little structure known as the Witch’s House. The trail and destination were both quite crowded, but it was nice to have one more walk in those woods before heading to the beach for our long stay.

Summary

Spending over two weeks doing so much moving around was as intense in America as the few times we’ve done it abroad, but A LOT more driving. But we were able to see most of what we wanted and had a great time. It was refreshing to not work quite so much and though grading papers in the car was not my ideal, it worked out when needed. But mostly, we just hope to come back to the PNW again for more pals, parks, and Portland when there isn’t a 4th p – pandemic.

Lodging Reviews

Camano Island, WA Airbnb – Sall is a great host, very welcoming and thoughtful. I don’t think I realized from the listing that this is her main home, since we usually would only book that for a shorter stay (she travels or stays in the backyard bungalow when she has guests). I probably just didn’t read closely enough. We were there for a week and although the kitchen is very functional and well-equipped, it was understandably packed with her stuff (which she offered to move, but we just worked around it). The home itself is very comfy and the proximity to the beach is wonderful – you can literally see the water from the front window. Excellent wifi! It was clean enough in the ways that counted (bathroom and bedroom), though the doors and the kitchen felt a little sticky. I still gave it five stars because I think I should have been more attentive when booking to know ahead of time that this is someone’s full-time home, and Sall works so hard to make her guests feel welcome. 

Sundowner Motel Sequim, WA – Solid motel, clearly well run. The room was very comfortable and there were enough TV channels that we were able to find the EPL soccer match we wanted to watch in the morning. Basic motel that is a little older, but clean and the management clearly tries hard.

Best Western Lakeland, WA – Great place, especially during the pandemic. Excellent COVID protocols in place; best of any hotel we’ve stayed at during the pandemic. They really go above and beyond with the to-go bag breakfast they’re providing due to present circumstances. The room was spacious and very clean. Plenty of parking and a quiet place overall. 

Monticello Motel Portland, OR – Great hotel, loved the in-room kitchen and being on a MAX line. Spacious room with a full kitchen with enough pans and plates for a light meal. Great price in a lovely neighborhood right on the MAX line. It was very clean, had a comfortable bed, and the person at the front desk was friendly. Really perfect for our short stay in Portland.

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