Lake Quinault with kids
One might argue that no two days can be perfect while traveling with kids, but while on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, visitors will have to blame the errant tantrum or two on something other than the scenic, natural beauty of this temperate rain forest.
Tucked against the south shore of Lake Quinault just inside the Olympic National Park boundary, historic Lake Quinault Lodge quietly beckons families with promises of hidden trails through wild, overgrown forests and miles of ocean beaches coupled with charming hospitality, picnic lunches and steaming mugs of hot cocoa served in the stately dining room. Oh, and at least 120 days out of the year, they'll throw in a Northwest rainfall for free.
We arrived on a rare sunny day; the pale-blue sky was holding its own as the kids scrambled out of the car and tumbled down the lodge's long, sloping lawn toward the lake. The view was incredible from floor-to-ceiling windows in the wood-paneled lobby, but despite the sun's appearance, I was drawn more quickly to the crackling fire in the stone fireplace surrounded by fat, leather sofas. We were given a spacious, lakeside room for our family of five and pointed toward the game room (stocked with board games, a pingpong table and billiards) and indoor, heated pool and saunas.
That night, we dined on cedar-planked salmon and Northwest clam chowder in the lodge's Roosevelt Dining Room (the ambiance was family-friendly while still inspiring the kids to practice their best table manners), then woke the following morning to the sound of a furious rain on the roof.
No matter. By the time we'd enjoyed breakfast (the sweet-potato pancakes with lodge-made hazelnut butter are worth braving the rain), all that remained of the early-morning downfall was wet grass and tendrils of fog dissipating off the lake.
Our Day 1 agenda included exploring the network of hiking trails through the Quinault rain forest (the trailhead is mere yards from the lodge across South Shore Road) with plenty of time left over for a family chess tournament or swim. Visitors have a number of kid-friendly hikes of various lengths from which to choose: The Falls Creek Loop took us through old-growth forest and stands of towering Sitka spruce before depositing us on the banks of Falls and Cascade Creeks.
As the kids ducked under ferns and climbed moss-covered "nurse logs," the raincoats came off. I'd like to think the sun came back out, but I really can't say for certain. Under the thick canopy of trees, we were sheltered completely as our tread found footing on the pliant forest floor.
Day 2 found us back in the car, traveling Highway 101 north to Kalaloch (40 minutes from Lake Quinault) for a stop on its vast, wind-swept beaches before making our way to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (a 15-mile detour on Upper Hoh Road from Highway 101). This national park-operated center is open seasonally (weekends only until June) but offers wonderful opportunities for self-guided hikes and ample picnic grounds year-round.
The always-expected rain was starting to fall again as we set out to tour the Hall of Mosses, which wound just under a mile through some of the park's most breathtaking forest. The terrain so replicated a lush jungle that the kids wondered aloud whether we'd see any monkeys.
We retraced our steps back to the coast for a stop at the park's Ruby Beach, a protected cove sporting impressive sea stacks, before returning to the sanctuary of Lake Quinault Lodge. Our second evening ended perfectly with fish and chips at The Salmon House Restaurant (one mile past the lodge on South Shore Road) and a dessert of "banana slug ice cream" back in the Roosevelt Room.
What you need to know:
Olympic National Park is unique in that its interior is largely inaccessible to all but the most enthusiastic backpackers. Car-travelers and day-hikers will need to access the park by Highway 101, which skirts the boundary from Quinault to Port Angeles. While it's possible to drive the length of the park in a day, I don't advise it with energetic kids in tow unless an extra overnight is planned on the north end.
Directions: Lake Quinault is roughly 460 miles north of Medford and takes about eight hours by car. From Interstate 5, take Exit 104 at Olympia (Aberdeen-Ocean Beaches) and head west to Aberdeen-Hoquiam. From Hoquiam, go north on Highway 101 for 40 miles. Turn right on South Shore Road and go two miles to Lake Quinault Lodge.
Nightly rate: Rates vary from $99 to $140, with seasonal discounts available in the off-season.
Amy Whitley is a freelance writer and administrator of the family travel website Pit Stops for Kids (www.pitstopsforkids.com). She and her husband and three kids make their home in Medford.