Quinault Lake Lodge in Olympic National Park

Quinault Lake Lodge in Olympic National Park

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Each spring, I've celebrated a sort of personal Independence Day when I toss the camping gear in the car and head west for the Olympic National Park Coast; flying solo. I pitch the tent, rain or shine, in the park, prepare myself some fine campsite cooking, and enjoy being on my own in the tall trees of the forest. Ever since my move to Washington State, I've had a great fondness for Olympic National Park.

One time, I woke up at the break of day and hiked up the Hoh River Trail to the first campsite, 8 miles, flying up the trail at a pace that only a solo hiker can maintain. I came around a bend and walked right in to a herd of Roosevelt Elk. They paused, looked at me, and strolled up the slope, turning their backs to me as I stood dead still, waiting for my heart rate to drop. They're big animals.

Later that morning, two women came around a bend, brandishing their walking sticks at me. "We thought you were a cougar!" they said. I had no idea that I was in cougar country, having headed up the trail well before the ranger station had opened that morning.

Every time I've been to the Olympic Peninsula since, the rewards of heading out into the questionable weather with open eyes and, of course, a good raincoat, have far exceeded the costs. On another trip I spent a stormy night camped in the woods and as a reward, took myself up to Quinault Lodge for a deluxe breakfast. This time I opted to skip the tent and to add a little companionship. The husband and I booked two nights at Quinault Lodge.

The lodge sits just above Lake Quinault, flanked by an expansive stretch of green lawn and an inviting deck that faces west in towards the setting sun. There are plenty of comfortable chairs and it's a great place to read your book - on dry days, of course. If the weather has gone all Pacific Northwest on you, there will be a fire in the fireplace and overstuffed armchairs to welcome you.

The rooms are welcoming too, very comfortable, with country-style furnishings and private baths; some have fireplaces. (If you stay at the main lodge, be sure to ask for a room-with-a-view of the lake. They cost a bit more, but it's worth it for the spectacular view. Our room was over the service entrance to the kitchen, and a little noisy between the staff and the heavy-duty fans.) Make sure you set aside at least evening for a meal at the restaurant. Fresh local seafood is a specialty, but the other options, which include at least one vegetarian dish, are terrific too. There's also a lovely private label wine, though if you're feeling particular and don't want to risk it, you'll get a chance to try it out during the lodge-hosted afternoon wine tasting.

The Quinault Mercantile is across the street from the lodge; it's one of those miraculous stores you find in some national parks that seem to have absolutely everything. There's an espresso counter here too, and you can get a pretty decent burger.

We arrived at Quinault Lodge on a rainy, foggy July afternoon. The cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees line the roads like green velvet curtains. As we walked through the lobby to the back deck, the sun broke through over the lake. This brings up a bit of advice - and a secret - about the Washington Coast. The weather on the Olympic peninsula is NOT seasonal. It's completely random. July can be wet and foggy and cold, and January can be clear and sunny and you can even find winter days when you can put your feet in the Pacific Ocean. That means that if you can go off-season, you should. Prices are down, the trails are empty, and the weather may surprise you. Still, don't head out there without being prepared for rain. It rains between 140 to 167 inches - that's 10 to 12 FEET - a year at Quinault and that rain can fall in any season. Trust me on this, I've been heading out to the coast for years now, and not once has the weather been the least bit predictable.

While waiting for check-in, we visited the Lake Quinault Historical Society and Museum, temporarily housed in the ranger station. If you're lucky, you'll arrive on a day when one of the long-time residents of the area is watching the gallery and get to hear a little bit about what life was like on the peninsula when loggers were still heroes and a trip out to the lodge was a big adventure.

The lake, home to steelhead trout and salmon, is a great spot for fishing, paddling, canoeing, and even swimming. (Since the lake is on reservation land, special restrictions apply. Be sure to ask at the front desk about purchasing the appropriate permit.) You can rent a variety of low-impact watercraft right there at the lodge, or bring your own and launch yourself from one of the nearby campgrounds. We stayed off the water, but watched a couple of hesitant guests carefully helped in to kayaks by the dockside staff.

A short walking distance from the lodge is the trailhead for the Quinault Loop Nature Trail. We decided to give it a miss, as both of us have walked the trail before, and got in the car to go over to the Maple Glade. The self-guided trail is mile, with a longer option, which we took, that goes through an old homestead. Old growth maple trees are draped in moss here, the air is wet with mist, and the environment is, well, a little mysterious. We had the trail to ourselves, but the park leads ranger guided walks from most of the more popular trailheads and if you'd like to learn more about the natural history of the area, these walks are a great way to go. We also stopped on the North side of the lake to take a look at the one giant Western Red Cedar. The tree is one of a half dozen trees in the area that are the largest of their variety in the U.S. Lean back and look up!

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Pam, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent Read Jetsetters Magazine at To book travel visit at and for Beach Resorts visit Beach Booker at

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