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State is off the radar for Brits who flock to Orlando and California to see
Mickey Mouse and his friends. But American parks are not just the themed
variety, and with the National Parks Service celebrating its 100th
anniversary in 2016, this is the perfect time to take a walk on the wild side.
a branch unexpectedly snapped behind us in the dense forest of Olympic National
Park, for a fleeting moment we wondered if we were about to meet a celebrated
US creature of a very different kind. Our guide had related stories of the
legendary giant ape Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, said to inhabit the remote interiors
of the region dubbed the ‘Evergreen State’.
woods are dominated by some of the world’s largest trees, and as we craned our
necks to the top of towering conifer trees and majestic Douglas firs standing
more than 200ft tall and with circumferences of more than 30ft, it felt as if
we were in some kind of enchanted forest.
Situated on the Pacific coastline near Canada’s
border, with a mild climate that’s ideal for walking and sightseeing,
Washington State is the most north-western state in the US, and not to be
confused with the US capital Washington DC on the east coast. The airline
gateway Seattle, served by direct flights from the UK, is popular for Alaska
cruises, yet the mountainous heartland is relatively unexplored.
Home to three of the country’s 59 national parks -
Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades - special events, including
exhibitions and themed walks, are taking place throughout the year to
commemorate the park service’s centennial milestone.
After a couple of days in cosmopolitan Seattle,
with attractions including the landmark Space Needle, bustling Pike Place
Market on the waterfront, and a lesser claim to fame as having the first
Starbucks, our adventure in the green heartland began with a scenic ferry ride
across the large Pacific inlet of the Puget Sound. On the opposite side it’s
easy to plan a driving tour taking in Olympic and Mount Rainer as both these
parks are situated on the western side of the state.
The onward journey takes us through delightful Port
Townsend, one of only three Victorian seaports in America. Whilst they’re
doubtless a pest to local garden-loving homeowners, we’re charmed by the sight
of deer roaming in the streets; proving you don’t need to go to Disney to see
Bambi. A short drive takes us to our lunch stop, Fort Worden, which was built
in 1897 to defend the Puget Sound. Film fans will recognise it as the backdrop
to scenes from the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, starring Richard Gere,
and several of the original officers’ homes have been converted into
Covering nearly one million acres and with three
ecosystems - the Pacific coast, mountains and rain forest - Olympic is a
paradise for anyone who loves the great outdoors. Its many inhabitants include
black bears, bald eagles, mountain goats and the magnificent Roosevelt elk,
named after president Teddy Roosevelt and the largest elk species in the US.
Viewing wildlife is a matter of luck and patience, but we were rewarded with several
sightings of elk, black-tailed deer and goats. Olympic’s rivers are home to
all five species of Pacific salmon, and although there are salmon migrations
throughout the year our autumn visit coincided with the largest and most
dramatic upstream journey, easily viewed by the side of crystal clear rivers.
on the road, our next stop is Hoh Rain Forest. It’s of the largest temperate
rain forests in the US and flamboyant ranger John Preston, who divides his time
between guiding and making space rockets (really), leads us through the
ethereal emerald-green ‘hall of mosses’ that’s watered by more than 12ft of
annual rainfall. Another short drive, rubbing shoulders with huge trucks laden
with timber, takes us to the spectacular sweep of Ruby beach, with its
spectacular rocky sea stacks, hidden caves and piles of bleached, surf-tossed
meet another idiosyncratic character at nearby Forks, also famous as the
setting for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight
novels. A hobby snowballed into a 40-year passion for retired plumber John
Anderson and last year he opened the Beachcombing Museum. There’s a real fascination in seeing
thousands of miscellaneous items washed ashore, including debris from the 2011
Japanese tsunami, a mammoth’s tooth, and messages in bottles through to a
mundane assortment of clothes and household items, all presided over by curator
George – an affable cat.
nights are spent at rustic early 20th century park lodges, old by
American standards, with log fires and creaking wood floors. Accommodation
spans the main buildings and modern cabins in the grounds, many of them free
from the modern-day disturbances of TV, Wi-Fi and telephones. We’re not the
only ones to relish the peaceful locations, as most are said to have a resident
the name implies, the high spot of Mount Rainer National Park is the 14,410ft
namesake peak which is the tallest in the Cascade Range. On a walk along one of
the well-marked trails we see deer and marmot just a few feet away. There are
plenty more photo opportunities at Reflection Lakes, replicating exact mirror
images of the mountains on still days.
a meal with a view, a gondola from Crystal Mountain Resort leads to Summit
House, Washington State’s highest restaurant at 6,872ft. The outdoor life
certainly works up an appetite and the state is also a breath of fresh air when
it comes to places to eat. Of course, being the land of the ubiquitous burger
there are plenty of cheap fast-food joints, but there are also many unexpected
delights. Tucked in the foothills of Mount Rainer is the small town of
Enumclaw, with tempting independent book shops, stores and restaurants such as
Kelly’s Mercantile serving beautifully prepared wild-caught fish, American kobe
beef and lighter bistro-style dishes. At Alexander’s Lodge in
Ashford the chef will cook trout you’ve caught in their lake, but if that’s not
to your taste you can opt for an amazing choice of Indian dishes, with plenty
of vegetarian and vegan options.
don’t need a certain cartoon mouse to add a touch of magic to a holiday in this
neck of the US. Washington State opened our eyes to many natural wonders and is
really big on sights and experiences – even if you don’t get to see Bigfoot.
informationAmerican Sky offers a 12-night Washington and Oregon self-drive itinerary
that starts and finishes in Seattle and includes Olympic and Mount Rainier.
Available from May to September, prices start from £1,809pp on a room-only
basis, including flights, accommodation, car hire and maps.
Silver Travel Advisor
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