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Olympic National Park: A Seattle Family’s Off-Season Getaway

The perfect Pacific Northwest escape for families on a budget

Published on: March 05, 2021

kids on a path in the hoh rain forest
Photo:
Kids explore the Hoh Rain Forest, part of Washington's Olympic National Park. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

We are a family of reluctant hikers and weather wimps. But, as a Pacific Northwest parent, I felt it was my duty to expose my kids to some local wilderness. In the days leading up to our recent getaway to Olympic National Park, I checked the forecast obsessively. Cold and rainy.

A trip to the peninsula in the off-season means iffy weather, but also far fewer visitors and more peace and tranquility. The main selling point for me? Lower rates. I booked a lakeside room at the Lake Quinault Lodge for $95 a night. In the peak season, a viewless room in the main lodge goes for $380 plus tax. For a killer deal, sure, I’ll pack extra coats, rubber boots and lots of spare pairs of dry socks.

Two boys in winter jackets standing next to adirondack chairs on the lawn in front of historic Lake Quinault Lodge on Washington's Olympic Peninsula
Lake Quinault Lodge. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Wild and huge Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is big — bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island. Some families tackle the park as one enormous loop from Seattle, driving about 350 miles around the whole peninsula. But I didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. We stuck with just the southern part of the park, using Lake Quinault Lodge as our home base.

From Lake Quinault, we drove 40 minutes along U.S. Highway 101 to reach the Pacific coast. A quarter-mile past Kalaloch Lodge, we stopped at the large, day-use parking lot and walked a short path down to the sandy beach.

Boy in winter jacket with furry hood standing along on a wide expanse of Pacific Ocean beach with glass reflection from the water
The wide-open beach. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Another benefit of visiting in the off-season? We practically had the beach to ourselves. Just waves and sand, and we even caught a sun break. I completely forgot about COVID. A bald eagle soared overhead. We posed for pictures in front of the Tree of Life, famous for its exposed roots hanging onto nothing but air. My kids found long sticks and happily drew in the sand.

Father and two boys in winter gear pose in front of Kalaloch beach's tree of life on Washington's Olympic Peninsula
The amazing Tree of Life. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

The Hoh Rain Forest

Another must-see spot for families visiting Olympic National Park is the Hoh Rain Forest. The Hoh is about a 1.5-hour drive from Lake Quinault, or about a 45-minute drive from Forks, located to the north. 

The ranger at the gate waved us right in with my resident fourth-grader’s Every Kid Outdoors pass, saving us the $30 entrance fee.

We strolled the 0.8-mile Hall of Mosses trail, an easy loop through thick forest literally dripping with moss and rain (duh). I may have committed a wilderness faux pas by busting out the umbrellas, but hey, at that point we were running out of dry layers to wear.

More beach time

On the way back to Lake Quinault, we stopped at famous Ruby Beach. The kids worked out some wiggles by climbing on driftwood piles and making stacks of pancake-shaped rocks.

Two boys playing in driftwood on the beach on Washington's Pacific Ocean beach on the Olympic Peninsula
Climbing on driftwood. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Our Lake Quinault Lodge stay

My idea of ”roughing it” is a hotel room without a mini fridge. I like to appreciate nature, and then I like to appreciate a hot shower and a soft bed. We saw some lodge guests hanging out by the giant fireplace in the lobby, playing games and reading. We stayed in our room instead and I set up a glow-in-the-dark bath for the kids. (Vitamin B in the water and a black light — it’s pretty magical.) If it’s going to be dark and wet, you might as well embrace it.

The restaurant in the lodge is named the Roosevelt Dining Room, for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who lunched here in 1937 and designated the area as a national park. Takeout looked yummy, but I opted to choke down another granola bar I brought from home instead of paying $14 for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Complimentary Wi-Fi is limited to 30 minutes a day, with an additional 2 GB of data for $8. I set my timer and turned off my phone promptly at 30 minutes. The upside to being a tightwad: I discovered I can get a lot more sleep when doomscrolling isn’t a temptation.

Around the lodge

Just outside the lodge we found 7 miles of easy trails, many less than a mile long. The trails are well-maintained but soggy at this time of year. I didn’t see any of the famous Roosevelt elk (named for Theodore Roosevelt), only a chipmunk and one other hiker who was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. My kindergartner whined the entire 0.3-mile trail to the world’s largest Sitka spruce. Once he saw the 1,000-year-old tree, however, he forgot to be annoyed.

For the hiking-averse, you can still see all the sights of the Quinault Valley — by car. We drove the 31-mile loop around Lake Quinault and along the Quinault River: a beautiful drive by waterfalls right alongside the road (didn’t even have to get out of the car to look), past misty mountains and snowy peaks, through forests of trees coated in moss. For half the loop, you’ll need to dodge potholes in the gravel road. At least there will be no wet and tired children and minimal griping for this kind of scenic “hike.”

View from the car of snow-topped evergreens driving the Quinault Valley loop on Washington's Olympic peninsula
Snow-topped evergreens along the Quinault Valley. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Change of scenery

In Seattle, we’d been staying so close to home that even venturing out for groceries seemed like a major to-do. In Olympic National Park, everything is so big and spread out that you’re driving for hours to get from one point to another. The views are beautiful, and you never have to worry about coming within 6 feet of anyone. (One downside is that facilities are few and far between. FYI, there are flush toilets at Kalaloch Lodge and the Hoh Rain Forest visitor center.)

We traded the construction cranes and apartment towers of Seattle for giant conifers looming on both sides of the narrow road. After so many months at home, the change of scenery was refreshing. But what my kids really loved was the change of routine. Eating unlimited individually packaged snacks and watching unlimited Cartoon Network? Heck, yeah. Best treat of all was the lodge's swimming pool, which is open and limited to five people at a time. Pro tip: Check in early and sign up on the pool log right away, as the 45-minute time slots go fast.

If you go...

Find it: Lake Quinault Lodge is located at 345 South Shore Rd., Quinault, Washington. It's about a three-hour drive from Seattle.

This is the land of the Quinault Indian Nation, which includes the Quinault and Queets tribes, along with descendants of five other coastal tribes: the Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook and Cowlitz.

Lodge special: Through May 13, book one night and get your second night free. This includes weekends, and there are no blackout dates during the promotion.

More info:

More family getaways around Washington:

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