Three Days in Paradise: Olympic National Park Delivers Calm and Majesty
Part 2 of 3
By Kathy Chin Leong
Never mind that the movie "Twilight" had scenes shot in the rainforest in the Olympic National Park. Beyond the hoopla of its celebrity status, the Olympic National Park stands on its own as a majestic outdoor pavilion with every flavor, tinge, hue, and gradient of green ever known to man. If paint colorists at Sherwin Williams ever needed a new shade of green, the company could send them here for inspiration.
This national park gets its coveted "national" title for good reason. Established in 1938, it covers 898,000 acres along the western coast of Washington and offers plenty of bio-diversity. From the rocky beaches with Goliath-proportioned uprooted tree stumps to the haunting lushness of the fern forests, the Olympic National Park is a must-see during one's lifetime. Even though I have been to Washington several times, it was only recently that I had the opportunity to visit. I've been to the state's Mt. Rainier National Park, which has its own loveliness, but this park is so dense with a tropical lushness that there seems to be nothing like it anywhere.
Found on the northwest side of the state, the park is located 90 miles from Seattle. During our family vacation, we hit the big streets of Seattle for three days, and then drove to Olympic at a leisure pace after checking out of our hotel. Figure on giving yourself two hours including traffic. Once you arrive, note that entrance fees, at least last year, were $15 per vehicle. Passes are valid for seven consecutive days.
We stayed at the charming and homey Lake Quinault Lodge, which has the comfort of someone's living room in the lobby reception area. The lodge fronts the lake, so there are plenty of chairs and benches to view this rapturous setting. The facility also offers boating and limited water activities. Sunsets are to die for!
Rooms maintain a simple and rustic feel to them - very cozy, comfortable, clean, and easy to slip into like a familiar pair of slippers. Beds and a desk and television. You won't stay long in your room unless you are ill.
The lobby is where the action is at, for the fireplace flickers while kids play cards or work a puzzle on any one of the tables. A wooden armoire holds a stack of board games. Soft conversations in nooks and crannies take place, and you can fall sleep in an armchair with no guilt at all. If you are in a partying mood, take your guests elsewhere. It's all about reflection and tranquility, and a return to nature. A fantastic respite with better-than postcard views. Excellent in-house restaurant. Lake Quinault Lodge, 345 South Shore Road, Quinault, WA 1/800-562-6672.
For people who love history, the park and various lodges host walking and van tours to satiate visitors' cravings for local stories. We signed up for the Rain Forest Van Tour ($30 per person) which ran from 9:30 to 1 p.m. The van tour was informative and fascinating, and we made waterfall stops and another stop to photograph the world's largest western Red Cedar. If you have grandparents or those with limited walking abilities, a van tour is highly recommended. We set up our tour through Lake Quinault Lodge.
With so much acreage at its disposal, the park brims with 600 miles of hiking trails that provide the scenic wonders of waterfalls, endangered trees, and ferns of every ilk. The nature centers and easy-to-find trail markers are up-to-date, excellent for all levels of hikers. No one, after all, wants to get lost. Olympic National Park trails can be reached at 360/565-3100 or at http://www.ohranger.com/.
The paths are well maintained, so there is little debris that gets in your way. You can find plenty of steep trails along with flat straightaways. Those who cannot handle the heights can enjoy the sights just as much as the mega-hikers who scale the intensive hills. With plenty of foliage to see, you won't feel left out.
Be sure to venture through the Hoh Rain Forest which hosts an abundance of Bigleaf maple and vine maple trees, ferns, and grazing elk, and fallen branches with romantic mosses that grow on these nurselogs. Our family enjoyed hiking through this region at a and never got tired of the greenery engulfing us, up above and below our feet. I felt that if I stood still long enough, moss would start growing on my arms and shoulders.
The official Hoh River Trail is 35 miles long, takes two or three days to traverse, and is considered a strenuous hike. Smaller hikes such as the Hall of Mosses is less than a mile long and located in the same vicinity. Also nearby is the Spruce Nature trail, that covers 1.2 miles, and is easy for most people. Last, but not least, the Hoh Rain Forest also sports a Mini-Trail that is wheelchair accessible and walkable for wee children.
The Hoh Rain Forest is world renown and features it's own visitor center open daily in the summer. While no food or gas is available here, you can bring your own meals and have a picnic in the outdoor table area. Camping is also available when you reserve any of its 88 sites in advance.
Also, don't miss the sight for the world's largest Sitka spruce tree where you can stand on one of its humungous, knuckly roots. Since it is 17 feet in diameter, the tree presents an ideal photo op for the family. Have everyone hold hands across the front to give a sense of its width!
Along the Olympic Peninsula, an array of beaches beckon you to visit. Some beaches are full of smooth rocks, so different than California shores. Others are full of pebbly sand. Such a worthy trek is needful of a picnic day, dedicated to exploration. The whole park includes 73 miles of coastline that has been home to Native American tribes for generations. Tidepools, birds, ocean seastacks (hills rising out of water) and driftwood galore make the coastal destination fun for the whole clan. Second Beach, Third Beach, Rialto Beach are the most popular and scenic. I recommend visiting several in one day to get a feel for the personality traits of each one.
Near the beach area is Forks, a former mining town that suddenly got on the tourist map due to its fame in the Twilight book and movie series. In front of the Forks visitor center, you can take a photo with Bella's red truck, a noteworthy vehicle in the flick. And, many a Twilight souvenir store in the town's main artery will draw in fans and the curious alike.
To enjoy the variety of beaches along the peninsula, we found Quileute Oceanside Resort, a series of cabins right by the beach in the town of La Push. Our cabin with three bedrooms runs about $200 a night. It has a full kitchen which we appreciated very much. Rooms are dark, small and basic, but the location is unbeatable. Quileute Oceanside Resort, La Push, 1/800/487-1267.
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Kathy Chin Leong is a nature lover and recommends this place to all her friends and family.