Picture of the Day: Tree of Life in Olympic National Park

Located on the beach near Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park, this cool tree looks to be defying gravity. Named the Tree of Life or sometimes the Tree Root Cave, you can walk under the tree and when wet see a waterfall flowing behind it.

I added a shot of the beach as well. The Washington coast is so beautiful.

Thanks! rk

Picture of the Day: Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park is a beautiful clear lake right next to the Lake Crescent Lodge. After a few days of backpacking and roughing it, there is nothing better than a night at a National Park Lodge. I really enjoyed my stay here and being near the water made it all the better!

Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent Lodge

Friday Favorites: Roosevelt Elk and Other National Park Wildlife

One of my favorite parts about visiting National Parks is the opportunity to see wildlife up close in its natural habitat.

This video is of a Roosevelt Elk that blocked my path in Olympic National Park. It came right down the trail towards me and then stopped to munch right off the trail.

Probably my favorite wildlife experience was in El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico where I was driving my Jeep down a dirt road while a herd of Pronghorn Antelope ran alongside me at 40ish mph for several minutes. It was exhilarating. rk

The Ten Best National Park Gateway Towns:

The National Park gateway towns are more than just a place to grab a quick meal or a shower.  Many of them have become full fledged tourist destinations of their own.  Of course, as they become more hip and popular with tourists, they can lose some of the vibe that made them popular in the first place.

Any list like this is subjective of course.  I have visits to several of these gateway towns scheduled in the next 60 days to possibly change my opinion and move up or down the list.  Without further ado:

Honorable Mention) Key West FL:  Key West is the jump off point to Dry Tortugas National Park. This town can get overwhelmed by partying tourists from the cruise ships that stop here.

10) Springdale UT:  Located at the west entrance to Zion National Park, this small town is as beautiful as it is congested.

9) Gatlinburg TN: Gatlinburg is known for having the most pancake houses per capita almost as much as for being the gateway to ultra popular Smoky Mountains National Park.

8) Gardiner MT: Located at the north entrance to Yellowstone NP, near Mammoth Hot Springs.  This small town feels more authentic and less tourist trap. I had some great pizza here once at Yellowstone Pizza Company.

The Roosevelt Arch as you leave Gardiner and enter Yellowstone NP

7) Williams AZ: This iconic Route 66 town is almost an hour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s a little farther than most on this list, but the Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from here to the Grand Canyon Village.


Williams AZ on a snowy day.

6) Port Angeles WA: This small seaside town is a great base to explore the massive Olympic National Park. Port Angeles also features a ferry to beautiful Victoria BC.

Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles

5) Durango CO: This wild west town is the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park. The historic Main Street is a great place to explore.

4) Whitefish MT: Whitefish is the gateway to gorgeous Glacier National Park. Wander Main Street and visit the many coffee shops and enjoy the lively art scene.

3) Moab UT: Moab is not the gateway to one National Park, but two: Arches and Canyonlands. This small desert town on the Colorado River is popular with bikers and off-road jeep enthusiasts.

My son Grant near “Tow-Mater” in Moab

2) Jackson WY: Jackson is ideally located at the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The town square with elk antler arches is a great photo op before dining in one of the many fine dining establishments.

An arch made of elk antlers in Jackson WY

1) Bar Harbor ME: This quintessential New England coastal town is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Combine fresh Maine lobster and the unique low tide trek to neighboring Bar Island for a great time. I love the vibe here.

Beautiful Bar Harbor as seen from Bar Island


Sunday Hikes: Ruby Beach


Not all hikes have to be through the woods, up a mountain, or to a waterfall.   One of the best ways to hike is to follow a secluded beach and see what you can find.   There is something peaceful in the waves crashing on the shore and occasionally splashing your feet.

Ruby Beach is on the coast of Washington state and part of Olympic National Park.   Rather than sand, you have rocks of every color and vistas of haystack rocks and fir trees.   When I was there last August, I took the short hike with a couple of switchbacks through the forest down from the parking area at Ruby Beach.   Once you get to the beach area, there is a tremendous quantity of sun bleached trees that have washed up on the shore.   It is amazing to think that these trees were once up somewhere near Mount Olympus, fell, washed to the sea via rivers of melted snow and glacier, floated in the ocean, and then eventually deposited up on the beach.


It was great fun to balance on and travel down to the water jumping from tree to tree.   I went north following the shore to explore and see what all Ruby Beach had to offer.   I probably went about a mile following the beach before turning back.   During that short time, I collected rocks of many colors to show my wife who waited patiently for me to return.   There was a great haystack rock that I walked around and was amazed to see.  You just don’t see haystack rocks on the east coast and I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to see this one up close.  Amazingly, there was a rock formation with a really cool passageway through it.   The waves and the sun shining through this portal was amazing and made me very glad I took this hike.



Washington state is amazingly beautiful and Olympic National Park showcases much of that beauty within.   I hope to get to come back soon and see more of this amazing National Park.   rk


A National Park for each Month of 2017

Since we are at the beginning of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to list which National Park would be the best to visit during each month of this year.   Of course, at Bighorntravelblog we believe it is always a good time to visit a National Park, but there are some compelling reasons to visit these parks in the month indicated.    I hope that this inspires you to consider visiting National Parks when planning your vacation time in 2017.

January – Rocky Mountain National Park.   Colorado is known for its great skiing in places like Breckenridge, Vail, and many others.   Why not combine a ski trip with a visit to beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park.   Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of winter activities including ice climbing, mountaineering, snowshoeing and skiing.   This is also one of the few national parks that allows backcountry camping in the winter.

February – Bryce Canyon National Park.   If you think the orange-red hoodoos look amazing in the summer, then you should see them in February when the rock spires are coated with snow.   It is very beautiful and the clear cold skies should make for some great stargazing as well.

March – Death Valley National Park.    Despite the name, in the spring flowers bloom throughout Death Valley.   Perhaps you will get lucky and during a March visit get to see the Superbloom which happens about once a decade (which is about how often they get any substantial rain in the park).

April – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.   Late April after Spring Break is usually one of the more inexpensive times of year to fly to Hawaii.    The weather here is always perfect plus you could tack on a visit to Haleakala National Park as well.

May – Grand Canyon National Park.   The Grand Canyon is always a great place to visit.   In May you can beat the summer crowds and heat and dodge the snow that is here in the winter.


June – Great Basin National Park.  Summertime is when the crowds really come out to the National Parks.  Why not take this time to visit one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48.   This is one the best places to see the stars in the lower 48.   Summers are the one time a year you can see the yellow bellied rock marmot.   The yellow bellied rock marmot hibernates for 9 months a year and is usually only seen in mid summer as they sunbathe on the rocks.

July – Zion National Park.   Now I know, Zion is a zoo with crowds in July.   But July is the best time to hike the Narrows or the Subway.   Wading through the cold water of the Virgin River feels great when it is over 100*F and the risk of flash floods washing you out of the canyon is minimized.

August – Olympic National Park.   Olympic is normally very rainy and wet, but in August you have your best shot of sunny skies and relatively warm weather.   The clear skies are also make this a great time for a side trip to the Space Needle in Seattle to get great views of Olympic and Mt Ranier National Parks.


September – Yosemite National Park.   Yosemite is another park that in the summer months is difficult to traverse due to crowds.   But visiting in the winter isn’t great because many of the roads are closed and huge portions of the park aren’t accessible.   September is a great time to visit as school is in session so the crowds are down and all of the park is open for business.

October – Acadia National Park.    Acadia in October is stunning.    The New England foliage is showing their full color and the weather is perfect.   Add in some lobster rolls was watching the ocean crash on the black rocks and I can’t think of a better place to be in October.

November – Biscayne National Park.  Visiting this park in South Florida in the summer is like giving yourself over to the mosquitoes as a human sacrifice, but the bugs die down in late fall but the weather is still nice.   This is the best time of year to visit this park.

December – Yellowstone National Park.   Snowmobiling through Yellowstone is one of my bucket list items.   Wildlife is easy to spot in the snow and the cold air really shows off the steam rising from the hot springs and geysers.


Sunday Hikes: The Cannibalistic Trees of Olympic National Park and the Roosevelt Elk who live among them.

The Hall of Mosses Trail near the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center at Olympic National Park is as remote a location as you may find in the lower 48 states.  To get to the entrance of the Hoh Rain Forest, you have to drive around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington to come in from the west.   It is about a 3 hr and 45 minute drive from Tacoma.   Having said that, the unusually sunny day when I was there in August was well attended by hikers and adventure lovers.   The Hall of Mosses Trail is only .8 miles and is loop that begins and ends at the Visitor Center.   Despite the short length of the trail, the impressive old growth Sitka spruces and bigleaf maples in the temperate rain forest make this trail worth the time it takes to get here.   One of the most interesting things about this trail is that most of old growth trees are nurse trees.   What that means is that after one of the massive trees falls and dies, new tree seedlings germinate and sprout growing out of the fallen log.   These seedlings use the log for nutrients and grow up on the log.   Over centuries the growing tree roots will eventually anchor into the ground and the log beneath will decay and rot away.   This will leave the new tree growing up on stilts of roots giving it an unusual appearance.


The Hoh Rain Forest is also a well known location to see Roosevelt Elk.  Roosevelt Elk are the largest subspecies of Elk in North America.  While driving down the tree lined road to the Hoh Rain Forest, I saw in a streambed a small herd of females and a giant bull elk who lorded over his harem.   Several smaller males were circling nearby but afraid to approach.   While hiking the Hall of Mosses Trail I saw another bull elk eating water plants in a wetlands area and then when almost back to the visitor center yet another bull elk came right down the trail towards me.   Even though I was backing up, it eventually got within 10 feet of me.  It paid me no attention and after a few minutes I was able to pass and get back to the parking lot area.



When visiting Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rain Forest area is well worth the time spent to come visit.   There are several other longer trails in the area to hike and you are almost certain to see Roosevelt Elk up close.  I hope you get a chance to come visit soon.