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JOKER'S PEACE | An accidental day trip into the Olympics
With fall on its way, I’d been longing for one last trip to the Olympics before the weather turned.
And so had my son.
For weeks, he’d been saying in that 4-year-old dialect, “Dad... I hope we can go camping soon.”
It’s funny how the summer gets away from you sometimes. How the weekends can get booked up so fast. How quickly the days pass. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we were traipsing along the forgotten stretch of Highway 101, soaking it all up in advance the Hood Canal Bridge closure, which threatened to virtually cut Kitsap off from the Olympic Peninsula.
It’d been almost four months since the bridge reopened, so it was high time we got up that way and made use of the link.
So we packed our tent, our dog and supplies in the back of the van and set our sights on the Elwha.
Comprising nearly 20 percent of the Olympic National Park landmass, The Elwha River Valley is the one of the largest and most well-known watersheds in the forest. With its mouth located near Port Angeles, "where the mountains greet the sea," the river is something of an Olympic wilderness super highway. It’s been delivering visitors into the Olympic wilds ever since the Press Expedition blazed a route into the mountain range’s interior more than a century ago.
Because I usually trek into the Olympics from the south, I’d never been there. I had remembered reading something about the Elwha River Dam a few years back in Popular Mechanics. It was trumpeted as the world’s largest dam dissembling, but that didn’t seem a very exciting daytrip for the family.
Situated amongst the uber-traveled and fairly easily accessible attractions — like the nearby Hurricane Ridge and the Olympic Hot Springs — there’s also a whole host of day hikes and quieter trails less-traveled along the Elwha River. Which is exactly where we would’ve been heading, had someone told us that there are no dogs allowed in Olympic National Park.
Well, at least, if you’re planning to hike anywhere.
As we pulled up to the Elwha River toll booth — our pooch anxiously hanging her head out the window after the hour and half drive from Bremerton — the stately camp ranger informed us that dogs aren’t allowed on any trail in the Olympic National Park.
“They’re cougar bait,” he said.
But at least it was a free-admission day. So, at least we wouldn’t have to pay to enjoy the park from the inside of our car.
Next time, I’ll have to use that hokey “plan your trip” button on the National Park Service Web site. Sure enough, I checked when I got back, the Web site says pets aren’t allowed on any park trail or beach — other than three specific locations: Rialto Beach, north of Ellen Creek; the Kalaloch beaches; and Peabody Creek Trail on Hurricane Ridge. That also would’ve been nice to know. Instead, I was left to take my family to the dam.