Stay and Play: Lake Quinault

by Lauren Braden

in Trip Ideas

LakeQuinaultFogIn the southwest corner of Olympic National Park at the base of a verdant rainforest lies a large, glacial-carved lake. On chilly mornings, a ribbon of fog hovers over the water. Steep peaks loom as a backdrop, and the scenic lake’s 12 miles of shoreline are rimmed with tall trees. This is Lake Quinault.

Spring is my favorite season to visit Lake Quinault and this swath of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s not crowded. You have miles of trails all to yourself. Wildlife are becoming more active. And everything is green, green, green.

It rains here, a lot. On our last visit, the whole place felt downright soggy.  After all, the average rainfall in these parts is 140 inches (compare that to “rainy Seattle” which gets just  38 inches annually.) Dress for it; in the winter months and shoulder seasons you’ll want good rain gear, including rain boots and lots of layers to keep you warm and dry. A hot toddy by the fire in the lobby of Lake Quinault Lodge after your hike will warm you up, too.

If you long to experience the Pacific Northwest rain forest but don’t want to work hard to see it, come to the Quinault. You’ll taste its lushness just steps from your car on flat, easy trails. Or, you can venture far up into Enchanted Valley for a deeper experience.

And if you want lodging options that are a tad more upscale than what is available near the Hoh rainforest, you’ll find them here.

Where to Stay

Lake Quinault is rimmed with a few cozy lodges, collections of cabins, and vacation rentals. Here are our three favorites.

1. Lochaerie Resort

lochaerie.com | (360) 288-2215 | 638northshore@gmail.com

638 North Shore Road, Amanda Park, WA  (MAP)

Rates: $125 – $135 low season, $145 – $155 high season

Pssst…. want an awesome lakefront cottage in a serene setting for under $150 a night? This is the best option in the state, and Lake Quinault’s big secret. Lochaerie’s six unique cabins are perched on the side of the north shore of the lake opposite the Lake Quinault Lodge, and sit just inside the Olympic National Park boundary. That’s right – these cabins are inside the Park, and the extra wildness and scenery you experience makes its location quite special. Paddle off in one of the resort’s canoes or kayaks (free for guests to use) a short distance and you’ll find yourself in the habitat-rich Quinault River delta and wetlands complex.  The cabins themselves, most built in the 1920s or 30s, are rustic and charming with simple kitchens and wood stoves. Each has a bathroom. They’re fully stocked with everything you need and kept clean as a whistle. All six of the cabins have special attributes, but the cabin called Christie is a favorite of ours for its open lake view and porch to relax on.

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2. Lake Quinault Lodge

olympicnationalparks.com | (888) 896-3818

345 South Shore Road, Quinault, WA  (MAP)

Rates: $99 – $245

This remains my favorite National Park Lodge in Washington. Our last trip to this place created many nice memories–hot chocolate by the enormous crackling fireplace in the front lobby, getting in a game of scrabble with some friendly strangers, and a canoe ride on a windy day that cost me my favorite hat.

There’s nothing particularly slick or posh about this place, but you won’t care. The gorgeous craftsman-built main lodge hails from 1926. It’s set in a spectacular emerald rainforest on a large and lovely lake. What more could you want? If the lodge weren’t as rustic, I don’t think the experience of staying here be as charming.

The first thing to greet you upon arrival is the grand communal lobby. Take note of all of the happy-looking lodge guests nestled in comfy chairs reading a book near the fireplace. Travelers who met as complete strangers talk with each other here, play board games with one another, and make plans to meet up for a hike the next morning.

Take a stroll around the expansive lobby for a short history lesson; framed photos on the walls have story captions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the region in 1937, and his stay at Lake Quinault Lodge is credited by some as the tipping point in his decision to support the creation of Olympic National Park nine months later.

I’ve only stayed in the main lodge, where some of the rooms have fantastic lake views, and period charms like antique furnishings and clawfoot tubs. The main lodge also houses the heated indoor pool and restaurant. Other buildings and wings built off the lodge house fireplace rooms, lakeside rooms and boathouse rooms.

Bring some extra cash for dinner in the lodge’s Roosevelt Dining Room. The menu is a tad pricey, but their fish is wild and pretty good. If you’re a vegetarian, you might feel less inclined to eat here if you’re not up for spending almost $20 on a plate of pasta and red sauce. There are other dining options around the lake, though– you can eat somewhere else, then return for a nightcap by the fire.

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3. Rain Forest Resort Village

rainforestresort.com | (888) 255-6936 | mail@rainforestresortvillage.com

516 South Shore Road, Quinault, WA  (MAP)

Rates: $75 – $180 low season, $110 – $225 high season

Want to see the world’s largest Sitka Spruce tree? It’s right here, on the property of the Rain Forest Resort Village on South Shore Road. This resort offers both motel rooms and comfortable cabins with gas fireplaces–the cabin we stayed in was #3, a fireplace cabin with a jetted tub. The cabins aren’t fully-equipped vacation rentals – there’s no kitchenette to cook up dinner, and ours had windows only on the front wall, so inside it felt a little like a motel room.  The large expanse of shoreline grass is perfect for the kiddos to run around on, and there’s a general store and restaurant on-site. Rain Forest Resort Village is just up the road from Lake Quinault Lodge, and provides a comfortable, affordable alternative on this side of the lake.

 

Where to Play

 

Visitors to Lake Quinault don’t come here to sunbathe on the beach; they come to explore the rain forest! We usually spend one day hiking and the next day paddling around the lake, weather permitting. You can hike in the pouring rain of course, if you have the right gear; the thick canopy of trees will shelter you, too. Paddling in the pouring rain is quite another story. If you get rained out on your canoe / kayak day, I suggest you build a fire, open a bottle of wine and chill out with your favorite book – the perfect way to do a “rain day” in the rain forest.

1. Hike the Quinault Nature Trails

Several miles of inter-connected nature trails comprise a system in Olympic National Forest just adjacent to the South Shore Road. You can pick up the trail at two of the forest service campgrounds in the area (Falls Creek or Willaby campgrounds) or from the Lake Quinault Lodge. Some stretches of the nature trails have interpretive signage. One stretch, the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail, is just .5 miles in length, while the Quinault Loop Trail is closer to five miles, allowing for a few good hours of easy hiking through this moist emerald paradise. If you park in the trailhead parking lots, your vehicle will need a Northwest Forest Pass, but if you hike from your campsite or park at the Lake Quinault Lodge it won’t.

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2. Hike into Enchanted Valley

Are your legs wanting a longer hike? Grab your backpack  and head up the East Fork of the Quinault River on the Enchanted Valley Trail. Hike into this glacially-carved valley of giants as far as you want to, then simply turn back around and retrace your steps. Pony Bridge at 2.5 miles is a good turnaround spot for day hikers. Deep into this valley, the trail climbs gradually, then much more steeply, and continues all the way over the Olympic mountain range, eventually spilling you out into the Dosewallips River valley, a 24-mile thru-hike and one of the state’s classic backpack trips. Enchanted Valley is one of the most reliable lowland trails in the Olympics for wildlife sightings, including herds of elk and black bears.  This trail is in Olympic National Park, so dogs are not permitted and bear canisters are required for your food if you camp overnight. There is no entrance fee required in this part of Olympic National Park. Snow lingers on the lower trail in places into late spring, so check WTA Trip Reports before you head out.

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3. Kayak or Canoe on Lake Quinault

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Lake Quinault is open to paddling (and closed the rest of the year – tribal regulations). Rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat at Lake Quinault Lodge, or bring your own and put-in at Gatton Creek, Falls Creek or Willaby Campgrounds. A few lodgings offer boats for free to guests (like Lochaerie Resort, see above.) Get up early and paddle around in the early morning if you can, enjoying the stillness of the water and lingering fog. Stick to the shore if you’re in a canoe or open kayak unless the lake is very calm–wind can pick up quickly and even produce whitecaps in the open expanses of water.  The lake is part of the Quinault Indian Nation. If you plan to fish, a Tribal Fishing Permit and Boat Decal are required, and both may be purchased at local merchants.

 

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