New Year’s on the Sol Duc River

January 5, 2011

After the gift-giving madness and family parade of Christmas, everyone in my crew was ready to get away from the city (and our familial obligations) for some much needed R&R in a quiet, somewhat wild setting.

View from our Cabin

Earlier in the month, we’d searched high and low for a cabin in a snowy, skiing area with little luck. When we stumbled upon a few places out on the Olympic Peninsula, it took some persuasion to get everyone on board. However, I made the point that, yes, there would still be snow (we’d just have to drive to it) and there would be a lot more to do on the peninsula (snowshoeing, beach combing, fishing, clamming, mushroom foraging) than trapped in a snow drift covered cabin.

While to my memory I’ve never been on the peninsula in winter, I understood we were taking a decent risk that the weather would be just god awful and rainy. However, the point of the trip was to relax and the place we found sounded awesome!

Back deck of the cabin with the infamous "party hot tub"

Unlike every other place we’d looked at, we had plenty of room for all 8 of us by renting two cabins right next to each other and were right on the Sol Duc River. Everyone had a real bed to sleep in and we had two full bathrooms, two full kitchens, two full hot tubs, and our own backyard looking out on the mossy trees and icy water. The best part was that for 3 nights the total cost per head was only $145.

When December 30th arrived, we left town mid-morning and as usual were only about two minutes away from missing the Edmonds to Kingston ferry. The day was crisp and completely clear and the Olympic Mountains were out in all their glory and calling our names. We ran into some traffic at the Hood Canal Bridge, made a quick stop in Port Angeles for a few dinner items (the cabin was about 40 minutes from the nearest grocery store), and four hours later pulled off Highway 101 onto a street with a row of about ten riverfront houses. We used our key code to get into the “River Runs Through It” cabins and they were even better than I thought.

While we were just off the highway, it was still incredibly quiet with only the sound of the river and the cabins felt so private since nearly all of the main windows faced south towards the water. One cabin was a little bit older with a rustic, homey vibe. It had a big open area where we could all sit and eat dinner or play games and lots of funky little touches like antique fishing rods and American Indian art. The other one was newer and a little brighter with purplish walls and a stained-glass window. It also had a neat, pull out bed that was hidden in a false book case.

Both cabins side-by-side

Both cabins were well equiped with barbecue grills, washer and dryer, and fully stocked kitchens, including toasters, coffee machines, a dishwasher (in one) and even some oil, spices, flour, and sugar. When I saw that they also had tons of board games, electric fireplaces, and direct TV, I knew even if the weather went south we’d still have a good time.

Since this was a trip over the New Year’s holiday (and there wouldn’t be any corner liquor store), we pretty much brought a well-stocked bar with us on the road. So that first day we just kicked back with a few beers, some yahtzee, an awesome Hawaiian barbecue dinner, and a soak in what we came to call the “party hot tub” due it its color changing lights and miniature waterfall.

The next morning we had a big group breakfast and then headed back towards Port Angeles for some snowshoeing at Hurricane Ridge. Due the huge breakfast and the pace of our trip so far, we made it up to the Wilderness Information Center just before noon and discovered that Hurricane Ridge on a perfectly clear New Year’s Eve day is like some exclusive night club. It was so packed in the parking lot, they were only letting one car in when one went out.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

As you can imagine this was a huge bummer since the views would have been amazing. However, we decided not to wait in line and back tracked to the road towards Elwha Campground up to the Appleton Pass Trailhead. There was definitely snow up there, but the trail had seen some traffic so there was a perfect little cat track down the middle of the path and no need for snowshoes.

Frozen Icicles in the River

I’ve never seen the weather so cold, clear, and dry in this area and we had fun playing in the snow, checking out all the crazy icicles, and hiking the mellow 2.5 miles to the Olympic Hot Springs. The most challenging part of the trail was crossing a super icy log bridge over a creek, otherwise the trail was pretty family friendly.

Icy Log Bridge Crossing

It was really cool to see clouds of steam rising off the big hot spring pools and even some bubbling in the water. I’d never even known these hots springs were here! We did see a few people get in the pools, but with the strong sulphur smell, we deferred our soak until later that night in the party hot tub.

Hot Springs Pool

Bubbles in the Water

It was an easy 5 miles round trip, but we had some nice views on the drive down from the trail and it gave us a chance to stretch our legs and work off our breakfast before heading back for a rich New Year’s Eve dinner of lobster risotto and many, many drinks.

Elwha River Valley

That night we played tons of party games and whistled in 2011 with the Seattle fireworks on TV and some hot tub time. One person was so insistent on having his New Year’s Day polar bear swim, that he jumped in the river at 2 am (to the protest of all of us, especially his girlfriend) before quickly jumping back into the hot tub.

The next morning was even slower than the first (as you might imagine) and we had another nice breakfast and watched a movie before finally deciding to get some fresh air. Somehow it was another perfectly clear day, and we felt that even in our current state, it couldn’t be wasted. We drove back towards Port Angeles around Lake Crescent to the Storm King Ranger Station and did an even easier hike to Marymere Falls.

All the ladies in front of an old growth tree

It was a very pretty walk through old growth forest before turning off the main trail and heading towards the falls, which to my amazement were mostly frozen (and as some joked, looked like a certain part of the female anatomy).

Guys in front of Marymere Falls

The bluff surrounding the falls was a cathedral of icicles. It was really cool to see the way the water had frozen in whatever direction it had cascaded down. It was pretty romantic and I had to linger there a moment. That is until the spray from the chilly water still roaring down the falls got the better of me.

Icicle Cathedral

The spray had also covered and frozen all the foliage and the path so we were very grateful to the hand rails along the trail as we shuffled and struggled up a small hill. Then we spent a long time at the creek just before the falls doing what you always do along a stream: making rock piles, skipping rocks, and throwing rocks at stuff. We took turns practicing our aim to break off big chunks of ice and knock over each others’ piles. On the way back we even found some edible oyster mushrooms (though they were seriously frozen) and took pictures of the intense hoar frost, which only forms in this kind of weather.

Hoar Frost

That night we had yet another great meal, played some more games, soaked some more in the hot tub, and generally let the relaxation sink in since it was our last night at the cabins. Our final morning, I walked around the property a bit since it was another nice day and to my surprise saw a fly fisherman standing precariously on a boulder on the other side of the river. It made me picture this area in summer and daydream about coming back again sometime. The huge backyard would be perfect for barbecuing, croquet, soccer, frisbee, and flag football and the river would be warm enough to at least wade in if not swim.

“Ah, another time,” I thought before having to head back and start packing. On our way back towards Port Angeles (we were really getting to know the contours of Lake Crescent by this time), we decided that no trip to the peninsula is complete without visiting the beach.

Dungeness Spit with Mount Baker in the distance

Not far off Highway 101 between Port Angeles and Sequim, you can find the Dungeness Spit Reserve. Here you can do a short hike along the bluffs for a view and then walk down on to the sandy spit, which is extends nearly 5 miles out into the ocean and ends with a light house.

We walked along the spit a ways and saw several ducks, some bald eagles, and some really crazy looking driftwood logs.

Driftwood

It was still very cold (there was frost on the sand), but you could see all the way to Mount Baker. We felt incredibly fortunate since (contrary to my post) you don’t get weather like that this often. In other words, it was absolutely beautiful and a fitting way to end our trip before reluctantly heading back across Puget Sound to the city.

View toward Port Angeles

Ferry Ride Home

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