People come to glacially-carved Lake Crescent to see its crystal clear waters ringed with fragrant conifers. They stay for an enchanting hike to a waterfall and a night at the historic lakeside lodge.
Thousands of years ago, massive sheets of ice carved this long, deep lake through the Olympic mountains. And deep it is–the second deepest lake in Washington (Lake Chelan holds the title for first). Highway 101 snakes along the lake’s south shore, delivering gorgeous views of teal water flanked by steep green hills. Don’t worry – you’ll leave most of the road roar behind when you turn off for the lake.
Lake Crescent sits just 17 miles west of Port Angeles, so include it as a sidetrip if you make PA your basecamp. You’ll pass through here on your way to Forks and the Hoh Rainforest, so stop to skip rocks in the lake, at the very least. Travelers with more time will love camping at the lake or spending a night at the Lake Crescent Lodge, relaxing the evening away on a lakeside deck chair. See directions from Seattle.
WHERE TO STAY
Built in 1916 as a fishing resort and tavern, Lake Crescent Lodge retains a relaxed, campy vibe. All of the main lodge’s cozy rooms and cute detached Roosevelt Cabins boast stunning lake views. Accommodations in the main lodge are available in the summer months only; off-season rentals are available in the Roosevelt cottages year-round on weekends. Take a hike in the surrounding temperate rain forest of giant fir and hemlock trees (the trail to the 90-foot Marymere Falls departs right from the lodge), and then relax over dinner in the lodge’s waterfront dining room. End your evening in a lakeside deck chair as you watch the sun set behind Olympic peaks. Rainy days are perfect for board games beside the lobby’s stone fireplace. Rates from $160.
Another century-old resort on the lake that still stands is Rosemary Inn, is now part of the lodging for NatureBridge environmental learning center. Take one of their nature courses to visit this area and learn more about its natural history at the same time.
Go Camping: On the west end of Lake Crescent sits Fairholme Campground (open April through mid-autumn only, 87 sites, no RV hookups though some spots accommodate RVs to 21 feet). The Fairholme General Store and a boat launch are nearby, and the campground has an amphitheater for summertime ranger programs. No reservations are accepted, so that means the sites are all first-come, first-served. On summer weekends you’ll want to arrive by mid-day Friday at the latest to make sure you snag a spot. Rates are $12 a night. What to bring: Mosquito repellent, your fishing pole (the trout are catch and release only), and a canoe if you have one. Pack earplugs in case you end up at a campsite near the highway.
THINGS TO DO
Take a Hike: You’ll get the chance to see varied scenery from the hiking trails here, from waterfalls to hikes with history. The must-do hike is Marymere Falls, a short jaunt (2 miles round trip) to a 90-foot plunging waterfall. If you have time after that, set out on the Spruce Railroad Trail on the lake’s north shore, a total of 8 miles round trip, which follows an old railroad bed along the lake’s pristine north shore. The old rail line was built during the first world war to haul Sitka spruce to mills in Port Angeles so the wood could be used to build airplanes. The war ended before the rail line could be used. This trail is one of few in Olympic National Park permitting mountain bikes. For these and more hikes in the Olympics, I recommend the guidebook Day Hiking, Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano.
Go Swimming: The lake’s waters are deep blue and very clear thanks to the lack of nitrogen. All that algae-free water may tempt you to pack your bathing suits–go ahead, provided you don’t mind chilly water (brrrr… the water temperature stays about 44 degrees year-round). Some great spots to have a quick swim are the beach near the campground and Devil’s Punch Bowl, about 20 minutes into your hike along the Spruce Railroad Trail. Get an up-close look of what it’s like to plunge from a cliff into the cold punch bowl water here.
See a map of the lake with the locations of the lodge, picnic areas, campground and trailheads.
Day Hiking, Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano (The Mountaineers Books)
From Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park to Green Mountain near Bremerton, guidebook author Craig Romano hiked every step of the trails featured in this essential guidebook. For each hike you’ll get all the info you need (elevation, round trip mileage, driving directions) as well as Romano’s personal take on what makes the trail worth your time. Buy this one and it will never leave your car!