As military families we all know how cool it is to be able to call such unique places home. My family loves exploring each area the Navy takes us, and what better way to do that than with a road trip!
Welcome to our Western Washington road trip where we hit up all three of Washington’s National Parks, explore unique towns, and support small local businesses. Be sure to scroll through the photo galleries for more pictures from each day of our adventure!
We reside on Kitsap Peninsula so that is where our trip began. First stop on our list? Mt Rainier National Park!
We packed up and headed out, even before the sun even thought about waking up. During the summer and early fall it is extremely important to arrive EARLY to Mt Rainier National Park, especially if you are headed to Paradise! The parking lot fills up fast and hours-long wait times to get in are not unheard of! Military members and dependents have access to a free America the Beautiful pass which grants you access to National Parks and National Forests throughout the U.S. Find more info on how to get yours here, under the "Military Pass" section!
It was a cold foggy day and we feared Mt Rainier wouldn’t make an appearance. We had decided to hike the Skyline Trail, a moderate 6 mile loop trail. We started the trail clockwise which has its pros and cons. Con: you gain all of the 1700+ ft of elevation almost immediately. Pro: you gain almost all of your elevation immediately! Being one of the highest elevation trails I had ever done, my lungs were definitely feeling the burn, but as we rounded the corner where the trail finally flattened out a bit, there in all her fantastic glory, Mt Rainier decided to make her appearance. All of a sudden my lungs didn’t hurt so much now.
Skyline trail has become one of my top trails I’ve done in Washington. Being so close to the mountain that called my name ever since I landed in the state was magical. The trail winds around the mountain, through year-round snowcaps, across rivers and by waterfalls.
After this trail we headed to our hotel in Ashford where we enjoyed their Cannibal Hot Tub! Warmed by a fire underneath, this unique experience was definitely one for the books!
Every duty station we have a tradition of getting professional photos taken, Washington was no different and we enlisted the help of Rachel Jobst Photography to shoot a sunrise session for us. We headed out for another early morning and met up at Tipsoo Lake for a two hour session that involved a chilly morning breeze, gorgeous mountain views, and a hat that liked to fall off my head.
We then continued our journey driving through Yakima which looked to be a completely different state. We went from roaring mountains and towering green pine trees to dusty hills and sand stone vibes. It was really interesting to see all the different areas Washington State has! We headed on up to Leavenworth, a cute German-inspired town where I convinced my husband to regularly try new beers (he is more of a cider kinda guy).
Right outside Leavenworth, a town nestled in the mountains, is Wild at Heart, a barefoot and bitless stable run by an Army vet! We enjoyed a 2 hr ride through the mountain meadows. The fall colors had JUST started, and the oranges and yellows beginning to peek out made this even more gorgeous. With small group sizes, this is an amazing operation if you ever want to get in the saddle!
Afterward, we headed back to Leavenworth where we enjoyed the trails around Blackbird Island before taking in a local recommendation of SOUTH…a Latin American restaurant in a German town, nothing wrong with that! I still dream of their Peruvian Chicken!
This is the area I wish we had planned an extra day for some true hiking. We unfortunately couldn’t get a permit to hike the Enchantments (bucket list gem right there) - we would’ve loved to check out Icicle Ridge!
Off to our next National Park, the North Cascades! We passed through Twisp and had to make a stop at Cinnamon Twisp…their name sake pastry is amazing and I highly recommend! Next, we completed our first hike in the Cascades, the Blue Lake Trail. It was the most quintessential Washington hike - completely foggy and pouring rain the whole time. But in true Washington fashion, that didn’t stop us! The moderate 5 mile out-and-back trail was absolutely gorgeous. The larches had just begun to turn their famous fall yellow and Blue Lake was true to its name!
Here we stayed in Winthrop, a tiny little western town right on the Methow River. If you ever head through, stop at East 20 for some AMAZING pizza!
As we ventured out further into the Cascades, I begged to stop at every viewpoint. Even with the rainy fog the views were so dreamy. Though we had a handful of hikes planned for this day, the first VERY EASY trail we had planned, Trail of the Cedars, put a stop to that. It wouldn’t be a real vacation if I didn’t get hurt, so on this 1 mile trail my shin decided to rip down the edge of a tree stump…pain and swelling were immediate and I was very thankful for the ice pack I keep in my first aid kit! A throbbing leg and rainy weather made us think twice about hitting up Stetattle Trail and Thunder Knob Trail.
Instead we decided to take in part of the Cascade Loop and stopped at every roadside waterfall and overlook…Washington Mountain Overlook is top notch!
With the rain pushing through and the temperature dropping faster and faster in the mountains, we made the full pass-through in the Cascades to continue our road trip! The fall colors in the mountains were out to play with golds and reds a plenty.
We made our way to Anacortes where we took an extra detour to check out Deception Pass, where we watched the seals play before heading back in to town for some heart warming Italian food and an extra stop at Indulge Wine and Dessert Bar.
This was one day I had been dreaming about since moving to Washington and finding out about Predators of the Heart. This is an amazing sanctuary that is all about conservation, education, providing a home for domesticated wild animals, and soon-to-be rehabilitation! They have a variety of animals on site from giant anteaters and sloths, to hairy armadillos and coatimundi, but the wolves were the highlight for me! Talk about running with the wolves, we got up close and personal to Max and Kakoa, two of their older ambassadors, as well as several younger pups!
We then headed off to Fort Casey, finishing up all the forts in the Triangle of Fire (Fort Worden and Fort Flagler are the others). Accessible with a Discover Pass, all are Washington state parks complete with old creepy military buildings for you to explore!
We hopped on the ferry to Port Townsend to hit up the last National Park in Washington, the Olympics! We have explored this area the most over the year we have lived in Washington. It's always our go-to adventure spot, but it was nice getting a chance to explore a little more! We decided Port Angeles would be our launching off point.
Centrally located and easily accesible, Port Angeles was a perfect launch point for all the places we wanted to see in the park. We chose to rent a small secluded cabin to enjoy, but there are plenty of camping areas and cool AirBnBs to choose from as well!
Our first stop was at Salt Creek Recreation Area right on the coast - picturesque and the perfect spot to take in the ocean. All the trails in this area are short and circle around the camping area for both RVs and tents, so they're easy to explore for all ages and activity levels. The cool eroded islands, plentiful tide pools, and old military fort buildings make this a great spot to check out.
Our second day in Olympic, we checked out one of the most popular spots, Hoh Rain Forest! One of the finest remaining examples of a temperate rain forest in the US, Hoh has a myriad of trails. We decided to check out the Hoh River Trail to Mineral Creek Falls. Following the Hoh River for majority of the hike, this was an easy 6 mile hike with minimal elevation. The out-and-back trail led us to Mineral Creek Falls where we explored some more…okay I explored, husband took pictures.
After this easy early morning hike, we headed out to Kalaloch Beach, where we intended to take in the Tree of Life. Take our lesson learned here - download and ensure you fully review the trail BEFORE you loose cell phone service. Even though we missed the Tree of Live heading 2 miles in the wrong direction, Kalaloch Beach was an easy beautiful find. With a short wooded jaunt down to the coast, it opened up to sandy pieces and perfectly rounded rocks.
Before heading back to our cabin, we took a detour through Forks, WA. Even if you aren’t a Twilight fan, this cute town has some amazing restaurants. Be sure to stop by Forks Outfitters to pick up some local souvenirs!
Another popular spot in Olympic National Park, we finished up our trip with Hurricane Ridge. We set out to complete the moderate Hurricane Hill Trail, unfortunately as we began to make our way down to the trailhead from the parking lot we were turned around by rangers. They explained there was a bear and cub sighting and that trails on this side were closing. Safety first! As a military family, at least we know how to roll with the punches. So we switched gears and did some of the easier trails closer to the visitors center and enjoyed the surrounding views! Even if you can’t get out on the trail, the drive and visitors center have some amazing views you don’t want to miss!
That rounds out our 10 day adventure through the gorgeous state of Washington! Since we've spent so much of our time stationed here exploring the Olympics, it would be a shame not to mention some other fantastic hikes and places to check out!
Mount Storm King is a fantastic hike that feels like you're on top of the world! A difficult hike around 5 miles that includes rope climbs and sheer edges.
Mount Ellinor is another great climb that is a popular favorite among local hikers. A hard 6+ mile out and back trail, if the views aren’t enough for you, you may get lucky and spot a mountain goat at the peak!
Murhut Falls for a change of pace. An easy two mile, well-pathed out-and-back to some gorgeous towering falls. If you are adventurous (like me!) climb on up and explore behind the waterfall at the top.
I hope my adventures inspire you to plan your own, whether that is in Washington or your own neck of the woods. Exploring the area you get to call home (even if it is only for a year) is what Military Wild is all about! Don't forget to join the Military Wild Outdoor Community to share your own adventures wherever you call home, and if you're in or headed to Washington, be sure to join our Military Wild | Washington chapter!