3-Day Olympic Peninsula Trip (May 2023)

Trip Map

Renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, the Olympic peninsula is home to an array of stunning landscapes. The centerpiece of the region is Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses vast wilderness areas, rugged mountain ranges, temperate rainforests, and a rugged coastline. Hikers, nature photographers and outdoor enthusiasts are treated to an abundance of trails that wind through ancient forests, alongside cascading waterfalls, and up to the majestic peaks of the Olympic Mountains. With its diverse ecosystems and rich biodiversity, the Olympic Peninsula offers a remarkable opportunity for landscape photographers and nature lovers to explore and connect with the pristine natural world.

My friend Dharshan from the Bay area and I spent 3 days photographing the rainforests and the rugged coastline. We photographed streams and waterfalls within the Quinault rainforest, its bigger sibling, the Hoh, and along the Sol Doc Falls trail. We grabbed good sunset shots at the Ruby Beach and at the First Beach in La Push.

May 5, 2023

After picking up Dharshan at the SeaTac Airport at about 130 PM, we drove to the Quinault Rainforest after a quick lunch in Kent and a short break at Aberdeen. We reached the Rain Forest Resort Village and checked in at 630 PM. As sunset was at around 830pm, we had at least one hour of waterfall photography. We ended up spending 1.5 hrs at my favorite waterfall at the Quinault, the Merriman Falls.

The Quinault Rainforest is a gem nestled within Olympic National Park. Walking through the Quinault Rainforest feels like stepping into a fairytale world, where towering Sitka spruces, western red cedars, and Douglas firs create a dense canopy that filters the sunlight, casting a magical glow on the forest floor. Mosses, ferns, and epiphytes drape the landscape, adding to the ethereal atmosphere. I consider the Quinault as one of the best places in Washington State to photograph waterfalls.

It was a good opportunity to test out the focus stacking feature of the newly acquired Nikon D780. I have to come to realize the importance of focus stacking when shooting intimate landscapes where depth of field is paramount. Going over my old images, I noticed that some of the images lacked sharpness either in the foreground or in the background.

Focus stacking is a technique used in digital photography to achieve a greater depth of field in an image. It involves capturing a series of photos of the same subject, each with a slightly different focal point. These images are then merged together either in Adobe Photoshop or focus stack processing software like Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus to create a final photograph that is sharp and in focus from the foreground to the background.

By blending multiple images with different focus points, focus stacking overcomes the limitations of a single photograph’s depth of field. It is particularly useful in macro photography or landscape photography, where getting a large area of the scene in sharp focus can be challenging due to the shallow depth of field at close distances or with wide apertures. Focus stacking allows photographers to create images with exceptional clarity and detail, ensuring that all elements of the composition are sharp and well-defined.

Below is an image of the base of the Merriman Falls created by stacking 3 images in Photoshop.

Merriman Falls Base (3 image stack)
Nikon D780 24mm f9 4 sec ISO 100
47°30’1.86″ N 123°47’4.56″ W

May 6, 2023

Starting at sunrise, we embarked on a morning drive along the South Shore Road, immersing ourselves in the beauty of Quinault. Although overshadowed by its larger sibling, Hoh, located 70 miles to the north, Quinault holds its own charm. The weather graced us with perfection for capturing mesmerizing waterfall photographs. The cloudy skies and occasional drizzles added a touch of ambiance. For about four hours, we pursued our passion, encountering only a handful of other individuals throughout our journey. Amidst this tranquil solitude, we had the privilege of photographing three waterfalls and two creeks, relishing each moment undisturbed by the presence of another soul.

Our first stop was at the Bunch Creek Falls located at the north end of the South Shore Road. There is a small creek about 100′ west of the falls that is worth photographing.

Bunch Creek Falls
Nikon D780 26mm f8 2 sec ISO 100
47°31’46.43″ N 123°41’45.76″ W
Bunch Creek
Nikon D780 38mm f8 1.6 sec ISO 200
47°31’46.43″ N 123°41’45.76″ W
A tiny creek next to the Bunch Creek Falls
Nikon D780 35mm f11 3 sec ISO 200
47°31’46.6676″ N 123°41’47.4975″ W

As we retraced our steps towards Merriman Falls, a delicate fog gently embraced the red cedar, Douglas fir, and spruce trees lining the banks of the north fork of the Quinault River. We stopped to grab a few shots.

Fog over the evergreens along the Quinault river
Nikon D750 120mm f8 1/25 sec ISO 100
47°31’44.3388″ N 123°41’51.2484″ W

We also stumbled upon an abandoned truck along the roadside within a farm. I couldn’t resist to grab a shot of it.

Rust In Peace
Nikon D750 50mm f9 1/30 sec ISO 100
47°31’42.4308″ N 123°43’28.7004″ W

We returned to the Merriman Falls at around 7am. The light was a tad better compared to the previous nite. We got some good shots.

Base of Merriman Falls
Nikon D780 32mm f10 0.8sec ISO 200
47°30’1.86″ N 123°47’4.56″ W

Our next stop brought us to the bridge over Inner Creek, a spot I had photographed countless times since 2012. Despite my previous attempts, I had never managed to capture it quite as beautifully as that day. In April, the creek had surged with excessive water, while in mid-June, it had dwindled to a mere trickle. I tried again but I don’t think I succeeded due to changes to the trees since then as well as the lighting.

Inner Creek
Nikon D780 29mm f11 0.6 sec ISO 100
47°30’11.3823″ N 123°46’52.1923″ W

Below is the 2012 shot from the same spot.

Inner Creek

We returned to our hotel, packed and checked out at around 10 AM. As it was still cloudy, we decided to check out the Willaby Falls located near the entrance to the rainforest. It was a short hike to get to the spot.

Willaby Falls
58mm f13 1.6 sec ISO 100
47°27’37.8049″ N 123°51’37.6935″ W

We stopped at the Quinault Internet Cafe on US 101 about 4 miles north of the rainforest to have brunch. We then continued to drive north to the tourist town of Forks where we spent 2 nights at Pacific Inn Motel. After checking in at 230 PM, we relaxed a bit and planned for sunset photography.

At 430 PM, we left the hotel for an early dinner. Dinner options are somewhat limited at Forks compared to Port Angeles which is a bigger town. We grabbed an average pizza at Pacific Pizza and then drove south 24 miles to Ruby Beach. Low tide was at around 8 PM and we reached the beach at around 7 PM. We hiked down to the beach and scouted a few spots to shoot sunset. I succeeded in avoiding rocks and driftwood along the shoreline.

The breathtaking sunset at 8:30 PM was a sight to behold. The absence of clouds along the horizon allowed the radiant colors to paint the sky with pure splendor, while wisps of clouds gracefully floated just above, adding a touch of drama to the scene.

View of Abbey Island from Ruby Beach @ dusk
Nikon D780 52mm f11 1/15 sec ISO 100
47°42’38.3292″ N 124°24’58.5576″ W
Nikon D780 38mm f10 2 sec ISO 100
47°42’36.9252″ N 124°24’51.8004″ W

We left the beach at 915 PM and returned to the motel and called it a good day.

May 7, 2023

Temperate rainforests are relatively rare ecosystems found in a few select regions around the world. Hoh and Quinault are the only ones in the US. Walking through this enchanting landscape, visitors are surrounded by towering ancient trees, including massive Sitka spruces, western hemlocks, and Douglas firs, adorned with vibrant green mosses and ferns that carpet the forest floor. The constant moisture in the air nurtures a diverse ecosystem, supporting a myriad of plant and animal species.

After a slightly delayed start to our day, we had breakfast at 7 AM before setting our sights on the Hoh Rainforest. We arrived at the entrance around 8:30 AM. As we journeyed towards our destination, we scanned the landscape for signs of picturesque creeks. Willoughby Creek caught our attention. It was clear that water levels had dwindled since April, and we anticipated that many creeks would be reduced to a mere trickle by July. We grabbed a few shots.

Willoughby Creek
Nikon D780 46mm f11 0.4 sec ISO 100
47°49’21.0648″ N 124°11’54.7872″ W

At the Visitor Center, there are two short/easy trails. The famous one is the Hall of Mosses trail. It is a magical pathway enveloped in emerald-green moss and ancient trees, creating a serene and enchanting atmosphere. It offers a glimpse into a fairytale-like world, where vibrant moss, ferns, and wildflowers paint a picture of natural beauty. The other trail, the 1.2 mile long Spruce Nature Trail, is a lovely walk along the river and through the coastal rainforest. We started the walk at around 10 AM. I have always found photographing the Hoh landscape rather challenging as most of the vegetation is green and difficult to locate patterns. I have captured 3-4 good images after walking the Hall of Mosses trail a few times but the Spruce trail was harder. Light was getting harsh as well limiting our options. One of the images I captured was that of some moss attached to a spruce tree.

Moss on a spruce tree
Nikon D780 75mm f11 1/4 sec ISO 400
47°51’29.1816″ N 123°55’42.1032″ W

Nurse logs are fallen trees that serve as nurseries for new plant growth in forest ecosystems. As they slowly decompose, nurse logs provide nutrients and a favorable environment for seeds, seedlings, and various organisms, contributing to the cycle of life within the forest. About three quarters of the way, we came across a huge nurse log.

A Nurse Log supporting 8 trees
Nikon D780 35mm f14 0.4 sec ISO 100

We completed the loop at around Noon. We dropped our camera equipment in the car and walked the Hall of Mosses trail to scout for interesting spots at a later time. We were planning to visit the Hoh again the next day but our plans changed as Dhashan wanted to explore the Sol Duc falls trail near Port Angeles. We got back to our motel at around 230 PM.

La Push, 12 miles from Forks, is a picturesque coastal village known for its stunning natural beauty. It is part of the Quleute Tribal area. Situated on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, it offers visitors breathtaking ocean views, pristine beaches.

After having an early Mexican dinner at 5 PM, we drove to the First Beach at La Push to shoot the sunset. I believe the Second Beach offers more photo ops but it requires a 2-mile hike each way but having done two hikes at the Hoh in the morning, I was too lazy. First Beach photography doesn’t require any hiking as you can capture compelling images right from the parking lot.

We reached First Beach at around 7 PM. Although the sunset was not as good as the one the previous evening, it didn’t disappoint either. The cloud cover was rather thick above the horizon.

Sunset @ La Push First Beach
Nikon D780 78mm f11 1/10 sec 200 ISO
47°54’30.6612″ N 124°38’23.352″ W
Sunset @ La Push First Beach
Nikon D780 50mm f11 1/5 sec ISO 200
47°54’30.6612″ N 124°38’23.352″ W

We got back to our motel at 930 PM and hit the sack.

May 8, 2023

After a productive 3 days in the Olympic Peninsula, it was time to get back home. We had two options, either go back to the Hoh to hike the Hall of Mosses trail or go to Sol Duc falls near Port Angeles. Although the Sol Duc is considered by many to be the best waterfall in Washington State, Dharshan and I were not impressed with it. But we were enamored with a beautiful creek at about halfway to the falls. We decided to go for it.

We checked out of the motel at 545 AM and drove the 42 miles to the Sol Duc Falls Trailhead and reached the trailhead parking lot at around 7 AM. We did the 20-minute short hike to the creek and spent about 90 minutes. There were 4 photographers escorted by a famous landscape photographer who had written a photo book on Yosemite. After the group left, we were just the two of us at the creek for about an hour.

A creek along the Sol Doc Falls Trail
Nikon D780 22mm f8 1.3 sec ISO 200
47°57’11.7121″ N 123°49’43.5268″ W
Nikon D780 35mm f8 1 sec ISO 200
Nikon D780 32mm f8 2 sec ISO 200

We returned to the parking lot at around 9 AM and started to drive to Port Angeles for a late breakfast. After breakfast, we drove back to SeaTac via Sequim, Gig Harbor and Bremerton and reached the airport at around 2 PM. Total distance driven on the trip was about 600 miles.

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