August 25th marked the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. The celebration started on Thursday and lasted through the weekend. To celebrate, the NPS was allowing free entrance into all parks for the extended weekend. Coincidentally, Bae finished up her month working at Swedish Hospital in Seattle on Thursday and had the weekend free! We planned on going to the park regardless this weekend, and just happened to get lucky being that it was Centennial Weekend.
As usual, we set our alarms for 5:30 and were on the road by 6 o’clock! Our plan was to enter through the southwest corner at the Nisqually Entrance drive through (with a few stops of course) and exit back out through the northeast corner at the White River Entrance. Once we got off the busy freeways we made a pitstop in Puyallup for our white chocolate iced americano (PC) and Abominable white mocha (Bae) at BigFoot Java. Across the street we noticed a little donut shop and we had to stop in. It was called Epic Donut. They had a pretty cool galaxy/space theme and an assortment of donuts. Bae and I went with the maple bacon bar, and it hit the spot. They did bacon crumbs instead of the bacon strip, which I find to be quite the difference maker between an average bacon maple and a good bacon maple (shots fired at VooDoo).
Fueled up (both the Corolla and us), we were ready to make our way into the park!
Near the park entrance, Bae once again saw wildlife, deer this time, and started getting very excited, so I had to pull over. We turned into a small bed and breakfast area, and Bae got some picture of the two baby deer. Luckily, she was quick with the draw, because the people who worked there quickly came up to our car and bluntly told us to leave. Apparently, they weren’t too fond of us “trespassing” on their property to see the deer. They were old and crotchety and could have been a bit more polite, but oh well.
When we arrived we were handed a map and a park newsletter as our souvenirs of the centennial. Our first stop was Kautz Creek. we parked our car and crossed the street and got a great view of the mountain. There were a handful of other people doing the same, but it was still early and the park was still pretty empty. We then briefly checked out the Longmire Museum Visitor Center and made sure we understood our plan before tackling the rest of the park.
Next was the meat and potatoes of our trip. We settled on a 6 mile hike starting at Narada Falls and taking us east to Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake before looping back around and taking us back to our starting point. Once again, fully equipped with our WTA guide, we were ready to go!
We started out at Narada Falls and were one of two cars in the parking lot. Once again, very smart of us to get an early start, especially on Centennial Weekend. The first mile and a half was slightly uphill and in the shade and really a piece of cake. It was a good way to get the day started. We were covered in shade most of the way, and actually a bit chilly (this quickly subsided). Once out of the shade from the fir trees, we were ready to take on the lakes portion. We crossed the street and hiked through some shrubbery and made it to Reflection Lakes!
After getting taking the time for our photo op, it was back to business and finishing the hike!
Our next landmark was Faraway Rock. There was a bit of an elevation gain through the forest and when we came to the opening, it was quite the view. We could see Louise Lake below, Stephens Canyon to the east, and the Tatoosh Mountain Range to the souther horizon.
Once we took in the beauty from above, it was time to get back on our trek and finish strong. We continued on about a half mile or so and then things got interesting. We ran into a mother daughter team who were coming from the direction we were headed. They told us they just saw a mother and baby black bear about 5 blocks (wtf is 5 blocks in the wilderness?) ahead. They decided it would be best to turn around and head back down. Turning around really wasn’t an option for Bae. I was on the fence. I wanted to see bears, but on the other hand I didn’t want any trouble with the bears. We pushed forward. Eyes peeled and heads on swivels, we kept going talking loud so if we came across any bears, we wouldn’t startle them. I kept kicking my feet and Bae was laughing at me cause she thought I was being ridiculous. We reached a fork in the road and our directions told us we should go left. Bae analyzed the situation and figured 50% chance we wouldn’t run into the bears was pretty good, we kept going. Now to be honest, I REALLY wanted to see the bears, but I also REALLY sorta wanted to turn around. But I was with Bae and up for adventure, so I was 100% on board with continuing.
We kept going until we climbed over some trees and found ourselves in a valley of rocks off the trail. Now to recap, we were well past 5 blocks from where we met those woman (but still weren’t convinced that the term 5 blocks was relevant because we were hiking, not going to the local market to pick up groceries for the week) but also off the trail. After pushing forward hoping to find the trail, we turned around and headed back. About 20 feet prior to the trees we climbed over, we found that the trail veered left when we went straight. Whoops. So we were back on track.
We ran into some nice gentlemen who looked like they made trips out here quite frequently and asked if they saw any black bears. They chuckled and said no, and if we saw any we shouldn’t be worried. The black bears aren’t as “curious” as brown bears, which were all removed from this part of the park years ago (by removed, I mean transported, nothing harmful). So it looks like back at the fork in the road, the bears were to the right. We were both disappointed we didn’t get to see any black bears (although I was partially relieved). After all, experiencing the thrill of the potential of seeing bears is a bit deflating if you don’t actually get to see the bears. Hopefully next time we’ll safely run into some bears.
We made our way back through the forest and found ourselves back at Narada Falls. A couple hours had passed and the parking lot was absolutely packed with people! Most came just for the photos and not to actually hike, so the trails weren’t too packed, just the parking lot and last 0.1 miles of the hike.
Back in our car, we continued our journey and made our final stop for lunch at the Henry Jackson Visitor Center. It was absolutely packed with tourists. There were buses of people being shipped in from all over! We got fruit and a hotdog (Bae loves hotdogs, and they’re growing on me) from the cafeteria. We then checked out the gift shop which had some cool items, but nothing we had to have. There is also a cool interactive portion on the second floor. There is very good information on the park as well as the Henry Jackson for which the center gets its namesake. Henry Jackson was a senator from Washington who was a large advocate for environmentalism and played a big part in expanding the protection of land for the 3 national parks located in Washington.
After letting our meal digest by walking around and reading, we were ready to get back in the car and head home. On our way out, we saw one viewpoint we couldn’t resist and made one final ill-advised swerving stop into the viewing area for one final shot of Mount Rainier.