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Originally published November 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 9, 2008 at 7:50 AM

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Washington's Olympic National Park makes a gorgeous, low-budget getaway

I abandoned my dream of an autumn European vacation and instead went to play close to home — in Olympic National Park. It was a low-budget and gorgeous getaway on Washington's far side that cost me about $500 for the four-day trip including accommodations, food and gas from Seattle.

Seattle Times Travel staff

Olympic National Park

History: The national park was created in 1938. Its 922,000 acres include mountains and glaciers; lowland rain forest such as the Hoh; and a 73-mile strip of wilderness beach on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula where areas such as Rialto, Second Beach and Cape Alava are found. On the northwest edge of the peninsula, the Yakima-raised William O. Douglas, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and conservationist, was a leader of a three-day protest hike in 1958 along the ocean beaches that helped keep a coastal highway from being built.

If you go

Olympic hikes

Forks

The Forks Chamber of Commerce has a useful Web site on lodging and recreation, including maps and photos of sites in the "Twilight" novels: 800-443-6757 or www.forkswa.com/ Forks, Clallam County, is about 135 miles from Seattle (plus the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry or Edmonds-Kingston ferry).

Park information

Get information on visiting Olympic National Park at www.nps.gov/olym/ or 360-565-3130. For a hiking guidebook, I used "Day Hike: Olympic Peninsula" by Seabury Blair, published by Sasquatch Books, $16.95. (Note that the Hoh River Trail is listed in the book as the Happy Four Shelter trail, after one of its landmarks.)

Tips for travelers

• Looking for entertainment? There's not a lot besides the outdoors and a few taverns in Forks. Or go bowling at Sunset Lanes in Forks (360-374-5323).

• Don't take your dog hiking; pets are not permitted on Olympic National Park trails or beaches. They are allowed in the park's parking lots if leashed.

• One of the richest archaeological excavations in North America was on the remote northern Olympic Peninsula coast near Cape Alava. It revealed thousands of years of Ozette native life, including hunting and whaling artifacts and village longhouses that were buried by a mudslide hundreds of years ago. Excavation began in the 1960s; many artifacts are now in the Makah tribal museum at Neah Bay (www.makah.com/mcrchome.htm). The Ozette archaeological site, reached via the Cape Alava trail, has been filled and revegetated.

Kristin Jackson, The Seattle Times

When the economy gets tough, it's time to get going on cheap trips.

I abandoned my dream of an autumn European vacation and instead went to play close to home — in Olympic National Park.

It was a low-budget and gorgeous getaway on Washington's far side that cost me about $500 for the four-day trip including accommodations, food and gas from Seattle.

My main entertainment — daily hikes in the park's rain forest and wild Pacific Ocean beaches — was almost free. All I had to pay was the $15 national-park entrance fee, valid for seven days, that gave me access to some of the most scenic wild places in North America.

I stayed in Forks, a good base, since it's equidistant from some of the best beach and forest walks. The town of about 3,200 won't win prizes for charm, though. Its main street is a highway strip of motels and small restaurants; beyond are miles of clear-cuts and second-growth forest, testament to the logging that has been Forks' lifeblood.

But tourists increasingly sustain the town, including hikers, RVers, fishermen and fans of the "Twilight" series, the best-selling vampire/teen-love novels by Stephenie Meyer that are set in Forks. Devoted fans flock to see the books' locations, from the Forks high school to police station. The first "Twilight" film, to be released on Nov. 21, should bring even more fans (although most of the movie was shot in Oregon).

For hikers or "Twilighters" who want to combine some outdoor recreation with vampire sightseeing, here are some of my favorite hikes in Olympic National Park near Forks. These routes have virtually no elevation gain, and walkers can go for a half-mile or all day year-round, although rain gear is crucial in winter. The Hoh area gets about 12 feet of rain a year and at the Pacific beaches, meccas for winter storm-watchers, the unprepared can get soaked in an instant by wind-driven downpours.

Hoh River Trail

The Hoh is the rain-forest primeval, a misty temperate jungle of centuries-old fir and spruce. Everything is cloaked in moss; even the light is green as it filters through the old-growth forest.

Begin at the park's Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, about a half-hour drive southeast of Forks. Short nature trails loop from the small visitor center. But take the time to walk part of the long Hoh River Trail; it winds through the rain forest along the glacier-fed Hoh River. Backpackers can go more than 17 miles to the flanks of Mount Olympus.

But day hikers can enjoy the first few miles (or more) of the mostly flat trail. Besides meeting fellow hikers on the popular trail, you might also meet wild things. Hearing a strange snuffling, I turned to find a half-dozen Roosevelt elk sauntering parallel to the trail, just 50 feet away. I hustled out of their way — this is their turf.

Second Beach

If you can only hike one trail, make it this one near the Quileute tribal village of La Push. The gentle path winds among forest giants for about two-thirds of a mile to the wilderness beach. Clamber across the driftwood and enjoy jaw-dropping views of thundering surf and sea stacks — sheer rocks that jut out of the ocean just offshore. You don't need to walk any farther, but the energetic can continue south on the beach for about 1 ½ miles to a headland.

The Second Beach trailhead is about a 25 minute-drive west of Forks. If you want a cup of coffee or a meal after hiking, drive a few minutes farther west to tiny, oceanfront La Push. ("Twilight" fans will want to visit First Beach in La Push where the heroine learns about her vampire boyfriend's true nature.)

Cape Alava Loop

This is a much longer hike, but well worth it for the wild beauty of this roadless, coastal wilderness and the sense of adventure that walking here gives.

The Cape Alava Loop is a triangle, with two three-mile sections of boardwalk and a three-mile stretch along a remote ocean beach in between. The boardwalk, a wood-plank trail about the width of a sidewalk, winds through boggy forest. It's almost spookily quiet in the dense woods, the only sound a few echoing bird calls.

The wide-open beach is a welcome change. Waves tumble onto the shore; deer graze at the forest's edge, barely taking notice of hikers; bald eagles soar overhead. Try to time the beach walking for low tide, otherwise hikers may have to scramble up short, steep trails over several small headlands when high tide cuts off the beach.

The trailhead is at the park's Ozette Ranger Station, about an hour's drive northwest of Forks at the end of the Hoko-Ozette Road.

Rialto Beach

This is the place for people who don't want to or can't hike far (although hikers can go for miles along the beach). Park at Rialto Beach's oceanfront lot, just a 25-minute drive west of Forks. Take the paved, level path from the parking lot — it can be used by people with wheelchairs — that skirts the driftwood-edged beach. It's a wild-coast feel that's accessible to all.

The paved path is just a few hundred feet long. Some visitors keep on hiking 1 ½ miles north to the Hole-in-the Wall rock formation and its rich tidepools. Others happily stay close to the parking lot, sitting on a beach log and watching the pounding surf or, if they're lucky and hit good weather, a Technicolor sunset.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2271

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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