Rain Forest Heaven: Olympic National Park

We’re thinking of where we want to spend our vacation this summer, and Olympic National Park is beckoning again. My husband and I spent time there a few years ago, and we can highly recommend it. Our experience at Olympic is the subject of this blog post.

Trees you can find most anywhere. Mountains too. But the combination of trees, mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean, rivers, lakes, streams, bays, inlets, and sounds make Olympic National Park unique. More good news: when my husband and I visited the Park for the first time during late June, it wasn’t overrun with tourists, and those who were there seemed to be mainly from Washington state. I can see why the locals might want to keep quiet about this peninsula: It’s gorgeous. You also can see the main highlights in a few days.

Okay: the truth. We visited Olympic Park by accident. We were finishing up a road trip that had started with the Grand Tetons, wound through Yellowstone and Banff National Park, and included a weeklong stay in Calgary to help my mother celebrate her 100th birthday. Having traveled Highway 5 between the San Francisco Bay Area and Vancouver on several occasions, we wondered what we could do differently this time through. The map had the answer: Veer right and visit the Olympic Peninsula. The detour was well worth it.

A stopover in Bellingham first was serendipitous. We stumbled onto charming Fairhaven, the historical part of the city fringing miles and miles of Bay. Many of the turn-of-the-century buildings have been restored. Some people are buying homes there and commuting to Seattle for work. It’s difficult to find a place that doesn’t have a water view.

port gamble copyThe next morning we headed south for Edmunds, just north of Seattle, where we caught a ferry to Kingston. The crossing took only a half hour. Our first stop was Port Gamble.

Established in 1853, the tiny town is also an historical site. The main street houses a café, a couple of antique shops, the old fire house, and a church. We stepped back in time, imagining the early inhabitants of the area, made easier after we spent a half hour touring the local museum.

On our way to Lake Crescent Lodge, where we had booked for two nights into the Marymere section, we stopped at Port Townsend, another place worth visiting, if only to ogle all the restored Victorians and to eat at one of the waterfront restaurants. We did both, and we also found it a great spot for shopping, unless you’re looking for shoes (at that time, not a shoe store in the whole town!).

A beautiful site, Lake Crescent Lodge met all of our expectations. Lush. Surrounded by fir
-covered mountains that frame the gorgeous lake. lake crescent copy.jpgAbsolutely heaven. No TV. No radio. No phone. Our room was plain but big with an incredible view of the lake and surroundings. We also had our own patio where we drank wine and watched the sun set before dining in the Lodge.

After Lake Crescent, we moved south to Lake Quinault. On the way we continued our exploration of this geographically and culturally diverse park. It’s dramatic. Amazingly Green. And the Natives oversee some of the land. I would have liked another week to explore it more thoroughly.

On our way to Lake Quinault, we stopped at Hurricane Ridge, and it was well worth the side trip. From there, we saw the stunning Olympic range. White capped. Jagged. And then there was the view of the Juan de Fuca Straits and beyond that we saw after leaving the ridge. We even could see Victoria on Vancouver Island. The park has everything, from the ocean, to lakes, to mountains, to meadows, to flowers growing by the side of the road.

Lake Quinault isn’t as secluded as Lake Crescent, so it has a different ambiance and the area is more inhabited. We stayed at Lake Quinault Resort in the Quinault rain forest, a charming inn with beautifully kept grounds and its own resident tame deer that the owner saved when it was a fawn. Flowers everywhere—from hanging baskets, in planters. They also were along the rock walkways. There was a log swing and handsome wood picnic tables with umbrellas for public use. Each unit had a deck and Adirondack chairs. Before dinner, we took a boat cruise on the lake that Lake Quinault Resort offers and were served our choice of wine or cider.

olympic copy.jpgThe next day, on the way to lunch at the coastal village of Kalaloch, we passed through the Hoh rain forest. It was magical, like entering a fairy tale. Clouds of licorice moss hung from branches and lived its own life without affecting the host trees. Enchanted, we parked the car and walked beneath it, enjoying the vista of verdant mosses and ferns lining the trail.

Back in Quinault, we visited the Lake Quinault Lodge for dinner. Its ambiance was reminiscent of the early 20th century. A lush lawn sloped down to the lake. Families sat together on the grass, talking and playing. Couples strolled on the paths. Dogs followed owners around. Everyone watched the sun set on the lake.

The interior of the handsome lodge was stately, as was the Roosevelt dining room with its views of the lake. Our servers wore white shirts and ties, and the dinner was tasty and nicely presented. I had simple chicken piccata and asparagus. My husband ordered seared scallops. We even indulged in sharing apple pie.

After dinner we sat in the lobby on one of several black leather couches. Kids played cards. Families chatted or played games. Some checked the Internet. Photographs of Roosevelt hung nearby. The place was built in two months, and pictures of Churchill also were on the walls, in addition to many earlier images of the place and area.

The next day, we reluctantly said goodbye to Olympic National Park. But if you like water, this park could be your ideal destination. It includes rivers, lakes, streams, bays, inlets, sounds, the Pacific Ocean, and, of course, rain. The park’s rain forest gets from 140 to 170 inches per year. The Olympic mountain range divides the park, and Canada isn’t far by ferry, so you could include a side trip to Victoria and other stops on Vancouver Island. How many National Parks offer so much?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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