Great Getaways: Washington’s Olympic National Park
I know it’s only March, but if you’re like me, you’re already thinking about potential summer travel destinations. In fact, it’s none too soon for popular locations, such as Olympic National Park in Washington State. My extended family gathered here last July, and we had a wonderful time hiking, kayaking, and gawking at the beautiful Northwest scenery.
Olympic National Park is located on the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle. It is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and on the east by the Hood Canal. Within the park’s million acres are 73 miles of ocean beaches, moss-draped rainforest valleys, alpine meadows, and glacier-capped mountains. Accommodation is available at several places, but we chose Lake Crescent Lodge for its stunning setting on the edge of a 12-mile-long sapphire blue lake. The lodge is about a three-hour drive from Seattle via Port Angeles.
Once at the lake, we — all 22 of us — seemed to talk almost nonstop in an effort to catch up with family members who are spread across the country. That’s what a reunion is for, right? We talked on day hikes around Lake Crescent; we talked while the kids played touch football on the lawn in front of the lodge; we talked — and laughed a lot — over meals in the lodge.
Having said that, my favorite experience was a quiet one: a few of us rose very early one morning and slipped into kayaks for a slow paddle across the lake. The air was cool, the surface of the lake was like glass, and I could see fish swimming below us. The only sound came from ducks flying overhead. It was a truly magical moment.
Later that day, some of us walked through an old growth forest of fir, cedar, and hemlock trees to a point where we could see Marymere Falls spilling 90 feet into Barnes Creek. Others enjoyed tackling steeper, longer trails, and there are many of these in the Lake Crescent area.
Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent Lodge is a historic National Park lodge, built in 1916. A few rooms are available in the lodge, but most accommodations are in cottages spread around the grounds. The Roosevelt Fireplace Cabins on the lakefront come with one or two bedrooms and a living room; Singer Tavern Cottages are smaller and set back from the water. Additional rooms are located in low-rise clusters nearby. olympicnationalparks.com
Given past experiences in National Park lodges, I wasn’t expecting great food to be served at our reunion, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Our family reserved the sun porch for meals and enjoyed the lake view and conservatory-like setting. The local wild salmon was good, of course, and it was served with a tasty truffled white bean ragout. I also loved the potato gnocchi topped with Asiago cheese, and we all were impressed with the wine list and the local micro brews on tap.
Day Trips From Lake Crescent
The “Back East” and Midwest members of our family took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria in Canada to go whale watching, while the West Coast group headed to the Hoh Rainforest for a ranger guided walk. Mild winters, cool summers, and up to 12 feet of rain a year produce the giant conifers that thrive in this area. After a picnic in the Hoh, we continued driving to the La Push coast, where the sight of the rugged ocean beach strewn with huge pieces of driftwood literally took my breath away. In fact, I learned that what I was seeing isn’t called driftwood. They are drift logs, and they are the result of a huge storm in 2010 that uprooted numerous trees on the peninsula and sent them floating down rivers. Powerful winds and high tides then washed them ashore.
I’ll never forget walking along this foggy beach gawking at the huge timbers. It would have been a memorable sight under any circumstances, but it was made more so by the fact that I was sharing it with some of my favorite people in the world. Elizabeth Hansen