Just as I thought my legs (that had previously turned to jello) would quit working, my heart would beat out of my chest, and my body would give out from exhaustion; my breath caught in my throat. As my jaw dropped to the floor, I stood in awe, marveling at the view in front of me. The deep green, thick trees had finally parted, allowing me to take in the magnificent sight of Lena Lake. Shimmering emerald water calmly lay below me. Fir covered mountain peaks jutted up in front of me. I could now say with certainty that the roughly 3.5-mile hike up the Olympic Mountain range was worth it.
As my two girlfriends and I made the trip 2.5-hour drive southwest from Seattle to Olympic National Park I had butterflies in my stomach. The only thing calming my nerves? The scenery outside my window. From the city, to highway, to back roads paved with fir trees. Old bridges and run-down shops lining the narrow roads as we inched closer to the trailhead. You see, I wouldn’t consider myself a “hiker”. In fact, far from it. Usually panting and crawling up the mountain, I end up turning around frustrated and swearing “I am never going to do this again”. But here I was, friends in tow, making my way back to the mountains. After all, moving to Washington, I knew I owed it to myself to give it another shot.
Arriving at Lena Lake Trail from Seattle
The drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park is quick and easy. Once you hop on I-5 S you’ll continue making your way south before heading back north again via US-101 N. In total the drive should take you approximately 2.5 hours and bring you 117 miles from where you started.
Once you arrive at the Lena Lake trailhead, there are approximately 30 parking spots. There’s also a restroom available to use before beginning your hike. With the trailhead marked, it’s easy to begin this hike and figure out which direction to go. We arrived around 10 am during the week and there was plenty of parking available. However, if you choose to hike on the weekend you may have to park across the street or elsewhere.
Lena Lake Hike
A 7.2-mile roundtrip hike will bring you to Lower Lena Lake and back to the trailhead. With an elevation gain of 1,300 feet, the Lena Lake hike is a relatively easy hike. While some parts of the trail are narrow, overall this is a wide trail, giving you many opportunities to stop and rest. As you get closer to the lake, the hike steepens, making you wonder if it’s time to turn around. However, keep going… the views from the top are spectacular and the hike is worth it even for a novice hiker like me.
If you’re not a novice hiker and want to keep going there is also an Upper Lena Lake. To hike further you’ll need to purchase a backcountry permit for Olympic National Park because you’ll be in National Park territory. You can find more information about permit fees and reservations here.
If you’re interested in staying overnight there are campgrounds for both Upper and Lower Lena Lake.
From Lena Lake to Hama Hama Oyster Saloon
If you make the drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park, make it a priority to stop at Hama Hama Oyster. Ten miles east from the trailhead will bring you to this family run oyster farm and outdoor restaurant located on the Hood Canal. As you pull up, prepare for the smell of salty ocean water to greet you, a breeze in your hair, and music playing overhead. You’ll be welcomed with a friendly smile and a view of oyster shucking, the Hood Canal beyond.
As you take your seats at one of the many large picnic tables under the outdoor tents, you’ll realize why Hama Hama is such a popular stop. Fresh seafood, amazing outdoor views, and friendly staff ensuring that you feel comfortable and right at home. While I’m usually one for raw oysters, venture out and give the roasted oysters (seen above) a try!
Stopping in Bainbridge Island Before Heading Back to Seattle
While you can certainly head back to Seattle the same way you left Seattle, you can also opt for a different route. Instead of heading back south than up north, driving an hour and a half up north and back south will bring you to Bainbridge Island.
Bainbridge is a small city near Seattle that is accessible by ferry. Here you’ll find wine tasting rooms, quaint restaurants, breweries, whiskey distilleries, and more. While you can drive throughout the island to get a taste of all it has to offer, you can also park and make your way towards Winslow Way E, the main street in town. As you walk down the street you’ll notice yourself passing many different restaurants, boutiques, and wine tasting rooms. I suggest eating at Ba Sa Restaurant, an incredible Vietnamese eatery at the end of Winslow Way. And wine tasting at Eleven Winery (there is both a tasting room and vineyard).
Once you’re done exploring the island you can drive or more simply, opt to take the ferry back to Seattle. The ferry allows for cars, making it easy to drive on and off. Once you arrive at the ferry terminal you’ll have to queue. There’s no need to purchase tickets ahead of time, getting on the ferry happens on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, you should be aware that if you’re planning to take the last ferry into the city… often times there are long lines to get on and you may have to wait for the next ferry. I’d recommend opting for the second to last ferry, which will ensure that you make it back to the city.
Once onboard the ferry you can get out of your car and freely walk around. There’s food, drinks, and incredible views as you cross the Puget Sound. From port to port the ride will be approximately 35 minutes. If you plan on utilizing the ferry, you can find the schedule here.
As I mentioned earlier we didn’t arrive at Lena Lake trailhead until 10 am. We slowly took our time hiking, enjoyed ourselves at lunch, and didn’t arrive at Bainbridge until much later than anticipated. We didn’t have much time to explore so I suggest that if you’re wanting to see Bainbridge, you arrive at Lena Lake earlier than 10 am so you can enjoy your time in all three places.
While exploring Lena Lake, Hama Hama Oyster, and Bainbridge Island all in one day can be exhausting; it’s worth it. From the time you wake up in Seattle to arriving back again, your day will be packed with adventure as you move from one location to the next. Starting by gawking at the beauty that is Lena Lake. Getting your fix of fresh seafood. To arrive in the quaint island of Bainbridge. From the city, to nature, to the island, what other places can you experience all three different landscapes in just one day?
For more day trip ideas from Seattle check out:
Deception Pass State Park + Hiking Oyster Dome
For more details on Lena Lake and Washington in general, head over to my Instagram page/highlight reel and search the highlights “Seattle” or “Washington” and the hashtag #ppinwashington.