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 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 around half of what it costs in summer. For a killer deal, sure, I’ll pack extra coats, rubber boots and lots of spare pairs of dry socks.
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.
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. 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.
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 north from Lake Quinault, or about a 45-minute drive south from the town of Forks.
The ranger at the gate waved us right in with my resident fourth-grader’s Every Kid Outdoors pass, saving us the $30 vehicle 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.
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. The menu 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 a fee. 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 in early spring. 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.”
Change of scenery
In Seattle, we can circulate for days just in our own neighborhood or the next one over, for school pick-ups and grocery runs. 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. (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. 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 splashing in the lodge's indoor swimming pool, the perfect complement to our outdoor time.
If you go ...
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 April 28, book one night and get your second night free. Dogs are allowed in certain rooms.
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