Explore a national park and ‘Twilight’ mysteries on the Olympic Peninsula

August 3, 2010

By Kristi Feder

A tree in the Hoh Rainforest forms an arch over a walking trail in the woods. Photo by Kristi Feder

Summer is road-trip time and a great weekend adventure is making a loop through the Olympic Peninsula, home to Olympic National Park, the fifth most-visited national park in the country.

Since one of our travel goals is to stay in all of the lodges featured in the PBS series, “Great Lodges of the National Parks,” this weekend jaunt was the perfect way to check two more off our list.

We headed out early on a gray and misty Friday afternoon to take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston. A lot of other people obviously had the same idea, so there was a lengthy wait. The ferry to Bainbridge might be a better option, as the boats are larger and can accommodate more cars. Once we got to Sequim, however, the sun was out, which definitely reinforced the nickname the area has acquired as the “Banana Belt” due to its low rainfall and sunny weather.

Our first night’s destination was the Lake Crescent Lodge, a lovely Craftsman-style inn and collection of cabins, which opened in 1915 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Lake Crescent, the second deepest lake in the state after Lake Chelan, is a beautiful crystal-clear blue due to the lack of nitrogen which inhibits algae growth. It is home to two species of trout found nowhere else in the world, the Beardslee (related to rainbows) and the Crescenti cutthroat. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed. Other activities include canoeing and kayaking, with rental boats available at the lodge, hiking along the many trails in the old-growth forest, swimming or just relaxing with a good book, or taking in the beautiful view.

The next day, we continued on our way to Lake Quinault along Highway 101, which makes a big loop around the peninsula, in and out of the Olympic National Park. There are several very worthwhile detours along this route. The first is the Sol Duc Hot Springs, about 12 miles off the highway, where a resort was created to take advantage of the natural hot springs. Three mineral pools are fed by the springs and range in temperature from 90-105 degrees. Cabins are available for rent and include admission to the pools, but day passes may also be purchased. After a day of hiking, a soak in the hot mineral water would feel really good.

No trip to the Olympic National Park would be complete without a visit to a rainforest and the park ranger at Lake Crescent suggested the Hoh Rainforest. On our way, we stopped in Forks for lunch. For anyone into the phenomenon of the “Twilight” book and movie series, this is the place to be and we saw many signs of how Forks is capitalizing on it.

Once back on the road, we took the cutoff for the rainforest, about 20 miles off Highway 101. There are several trails to explore of varying lengths, which give different perspectives to the forest. What we found most ironic was that there had not been any rain for over a week and everything was quite dry. The moss hanging from the trees almost looked like it had shrunk in the beautiful weather. One thing to note is that both Sol Duc Hot Springs and the Hoh Rainforest are entry-fee areas. The park service sells a senior pass (ages 62 and up) for a one-time fee of $10 that provides lifetime entry into all National Park sites.

Our second night was at Lake Quinault Lodge, also on the National Register of Historic Places. The original hotel was built in 1903, but burned down in 1924. The current hotel, designed by the same architect who designed the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone as well as the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, was built in 1926 in a record 53 days. The setting is magnificent, with an expansive deck looking across the rolling lawn down to the lake.

One of the quirky things at the Lake Quinault Lodge is the rain gauge, which resembles a totem pole. Rain is measured in the area by feet, not inches, and each year a marker is placed on the gauge to show the previous year’s rainfall (12 feet in 2009). Another interesting event is the annual migration of the Rufous hummingbirds, who winter in southern Mexico and then return to Quinault for the spring and summer. Hummingbird feeders hang along the dining room windows and the tiny birds provide the entertainment as they jockey for position.

As with Lake Crescent, great hiking can be found around Lake Quinault. Don’t miss the world’s largest Sitka Spruce, clocking in at 58 feet around and 191 feet tall. Also recommended is a drive around the lake through the Quinault rainforest. This forest is actually more dramatic than the Hoh, but not as accessible, as a large section of the road is narrow and unpaved and not suitable for vehicles pulling trailers or large RVs.

The Olympic Peninsula and National Park are beautiful gems in our own backyard and shouldn’t be missed. Staying at the old lodges with their big open lobbies, huge fireplaces and no televisions is like taking a step back in time to an era when people entertained themselves with books and games and conversation. There is definitely something to be said for that!

Kristi Feder: isspress@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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