Soak in the Hot Springs
From the minute I arrived at Sol Duc, I was completely disarmed by the mystical feeling of this cozy mountain sanctuary. That’s saying something for me because my internal “to do” list is almost impossible to turn off. During the 3.5-hour journey from Seattle, I’d been slowly shifting into a much lower gear. Within minutes of arriving, I was actually feeling calm (not a feeling I experience very often).
It was a warm fall afternoon, the sun was peaking through the clouds, and a delicate mist hung in the air. There was a faint smell of sulfur from the mineral pools, and, we were surrounded by total stillness. I'm sure there were people walking across the parking lot and other ambient noises, but I don't remember hearing them. I do remember checking in quickly and heading straight for the hot pools in my robe and flip-flops.
I can’t think of too many things I enjoy more than soaking in hot water, except soaking in hot water with my cute boyfriend while watching wisps of opaque mist swirl around the tops of mountain pine trees. It was lovely to just sit in silence and feel the waters work their magic. It was even sweeter watching my boyfriend bliss out, floating on his back in the water.
If you’ve never soaked in a natural spring before, it’s nothing like sitting in a hot tub. For starters, there’s no creepy guy trying to hit on you. People were respectful and kept to themselves. Again, I don’t remember hearing anything although I’m sure couples and small groups of people were engaged in conversations while we soaked. Also, the pools are much larger than a hot tub, so there’s more room.
Another difference: the water in a hot spring pool feels sort of silky from the high mineral content. It’s beyond soothing; it’s a sublime warmth that goes to your core. The pool water isn’t chlorinated so it’s good for your skin, too. During our weekend stay, we started each day with a soak, revisited the pools late in the day, and then came back for a final soak at night: a luxurious treat to punctuate our days of hiking and mushroom hunting.
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Hiking Around Sol Duc
One of the things I loved about Sol Duc was the variety of hiking options.
I was there to relax, so I was all about short hikes with scenic payoffs. Sol Duc Falls is an easy hike, just 1.6 miles round trip, that leads to an observation bridge where hikers can gaze at the falls.
Unlike most of the waterfalls in the Olympic National Park, Sol Duc falls can be viewed from above. I liked that we were able to get so close; it was exhilarating to hear the water rushing under the bridge and feel the mist against our faces.
I knew at the trail head I'd enjoy this hike when we were greeted by five deer nibbling on the greenery. We also saw several chipmunks scampering around and dozens of banana slugs as we made our way along the trail..
Still, what kept me venturing back into the forest every day was the intense kaleidoscope of green--so many shades of leaves, moss, and plants--and the massive old-growth trees whose trunks were wider than the front of my car. With every step I felt more enchanted, and, at the same time, more serene. Of course, knowing there was a hot pool ready for me to soak in when I returned only added to the magic.
Longer hikes around Sol Duc...
Visitors wanting a bit more exercise can start their hike to the falls at the Sol Duc Resort, and wander along the Lover's Lane Trail (6 miles round trip), which follows the Sol Duc River and takes hikers through the Sol Duc campground. There are also more strenuous hikes, accessible from both trails mentioned here, with 1500 feet elevation gains, that deliver hikers to Mink Lake and Deer Lake.
Visit the Olympic National Parks site for information on Sol Duc hikes and lodging.
Wild Mushroom Harvesting : Chanterelles!
A tisket, a tasket, a cute little mushroom basket. My boyfriend is an expert forager, so off he went into the forest while I soaked in the hot springs... He emerged a little over an hour later with his basket brimming with chanterelle mushrooms.
Lucky for me, he also knows how to cook. A little bit of olive oil, fresh rosemary, and shallots, and we had a lovely side dish with our grilled salmon. Yum.
Chanterelles aren't the only fancy mushroom in the rain forest. We (and when I say we, I mean my boyfriend) also found hedgehog mushrooms, which are similar in taste to Chanterelles, and on our last day, he scored a giant cauliflower mushroom, which he brought back to Seattle and dried. (Click on image to see a larger image.) We've been eating it for weeks. CAUTION: Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you know what you're looking for!
For more information on mushroom picking in the Olympic National Forest, read these guidelines. Also, here's a link to the Olympic Peninsula Mycology Society.
Salmon Cascades : Fish Out of Water
One of the highlights of my Sol Duc weekend was the Salmon Cascades, an observation point on the Sol Duc river. I've been awestruck by the majesty of a bald eagles gliding across the sky near my home in Seattle and by the grace of 60-foot long sperm whales breaching in the South Pacific, but I think watching salmon swim upstream might be my new favorite nature experience.
A fish is a small thing, really, until you see it do something amazing -- like jump through rapids that would knock you over in a second.
Salmon don't just swim upstream; they jump, shimmy, and flail through crushing rapids and waterfalls until they make it home to spawn. They keep trying, and trying, and trying. It's really very exciting to watch...and impressive. It's a long, hard journey for them, and once they spawn, they perish. (Click on image to see larger image.)
The Salmon Cascades is just off the entry road to the resort. It's worth a stop! According to the Olympic National Parks literature on the Sol Duc River, chinook and coho salmon travel up the river in late summer and late fall; steelhead and cutthroat trout spawn in fall and winter, sometimes in the spring, too.