When I think about the statuesque lodge built in the 1920’s, the word wet comes to mind. Not only because it precipitates here almost constantly, but also because the air is thick with oxygen and a spirit that seems to stir up the best emotion in a way that heals the soul. Of course, the weather can be clear and sunny, and sometimes even hot, but the access to unabridged nature is the calling card of famous Lake Quinault Lodge. This Washington State historic treasure is in the thick of a temperate rainforest wonderland.
Of all the rainforests in Washington State, this area of the Olympic National Forest is magical in the way nature integrates in every direction — old growth fir trees, rushing creeks, plants, animals and the lake come together to convene.
The area around the lodge hosts all kinds of activities, campgrounds, hikes and water sports — but this is more than a lake retreat.
Walking into the grand lobby is like wearing the softest cashmere sweater on a crisp cool winter morning. Time travel to a quieter period in American recreation — free from tv and internet — where families play games together and old friends convene near the massive fireplace to sip wine and exchange stories. This is a place to rest and take in the energy of the forest and lake that seem to come together to welcome humans into a picture-perfect ecosystem.
The lodge is open year round and makes a great anchor to a trip around the entire Olympic Peninsula. I wrote about a three-day loop taken in the winter months that included a stay at this spirited lodge. While the day-trip option still soothes the soul, a night or two (or a week) of fresh lake air does a body good. The following information aims to provide the best framing of a perfect nature getaway in a damp, velvety green world that brings to life the magic of age old trees and all the cast of forest characters.
Olympic National Park lodges
The Olympic National Park was officially established June 29, 1938, a year after Franklin Roosevelt’s famous visit to already established Lake Quinault Lodge. Over time, the park grew to include several unique lodges that remain great options for overnight adventure on the Olympic Peninsula. Click on the dots to find more information about the other locations as well.
Olympic National Park Lodges
Weather and planning in the Pacific Northwest — Olympic National Park weather
The Olympic Peninsula is a temperate rainforest famous for wet weather any time of year, so always have strong water proof outer shell on hand. If hiking is planned be prepared with waterproof boots and/or hiking shoes. Take layers, especially because early mornings any time of year can be cool, opening up to warmer afternoons and evenings. Once the sun sets the usual is back to hoodie conditions.
Beyond the famously charming liquid sunshine, Olympic National Park weather always varies, depending upon elevation and microclimates including coastal patterns, deep rainforest valleys, tall mountain peaks, and glacial runoff and lakes.
The area particular to Lake Quinault seems to have a colder micro-climate, so between October and April be sure to have winter clothing (gloves, boots and hats) on hand just in case. The Pacific Northwest doesn’t present with obvious heat and beach-like conditions, but the sun still has power, especially in the summer around the lake. Be mindful of the rays and be sure to wear sunscreen and take plenty of water if planning longer hikes.
For meal planning, it might also be a good idea to have a cooler bag available to store snacks and drinks for picnic areas, in addition to water, cups and extra hand sanitizer. Although at the time of this writing the counties housing the Olympic National Park are open to limited in-restaurant seating, most scenarios these days feel like glorified take-out. Picnics seem to be the best option for those with pets or with the intent to properly socially distance. Northshore Grocery offers a rustic experience in the area that can supply basic camping food needs, but best to plan ahead and stop at Thriftway in Forks (if coming from the north) or Aberdeen (from the south), for any required provisions.
As for fees, the Olympic National Park is $30 for a day pass (per car) that is valid for a seven day period. The Olympic Annual Pass (valid for Olympic National Park for 12 month period) is $55 and the America the Beautiful, all National Parks, annual pass $80. It’s easy to purchase upon arrival but other options, including the complete fee structure, are located on the NPS website. Keep in mind that there are no park fees in the area around Lake Quinault but places like Hoh Rain Forest require entrance fees.
Lake Quinault Lodging — the best rooms
Aramark handles the National Park contract for several of the lodges in the Olympic National Park. Their site isn’t super friendly for booking, especially since it’s required to submit a request which is then processed for confirmation a few hours, or, days later. While Expedia and other booking platforms technically query this lodge, I’ve never seen it available to book. I’m signed up for the Lake Quinault Lodge email newsletter for the regular, thrifty deals — think two nights for the price of one (Jan-Mar) and book two nights get 3rd night free (current at time of writing, June 23, 2020 – Aug 25, 2020). Checking out the official lodge site can provide further specifics, but here is the skinny on the different room types.
- Historic Main Lodge Rooms. The feeling — to simply walk downstairs to the sound of logs crackling in the commanding fireplace capped by giant Roosevelt Elk antlers — warms the heart. I’ve enjoyed a number of different options in the main lodge and my favorite was a queen room facing the lake — the feeling of waking up to sun rising over the mystical water was magical (photo above). All have full bathrooms.
- Fireplace Rooms. This is a good bet for more updated modern finishes (TV’s) while still feeling connected to the main lodge. Plus, fireplaces are featured in these units that are perfect for the famously damp weather.
- Lakeside Rooms. Hidden by towering redwoods and other age old fir trees, this building is more modern with standard size rooms that recently went through renovation. The location is physically closer to the lake but more removed from the lodge.
- Boat House Rooms. I love the aesthetic of this 1923 annex to the main lodge. There are 8 rooms that lead to a whimsical wrap-around veranda facing the grand lawn and views of the lake. The only true suite in the lodge area takes up the second floor of this boat house. Pet friendly on the main level.
Lake Quinault Lodging — restaurant, service and amenities
The enclave around the peaceful lake is known as Amanda Park, which hosts a few small restaurants and stores, including a gas station, for the local population. Service hours and dietary options are limited. The Salmon House, just a short jaunt down the road from the lodge, has great food and a beautiful view out to the lake. At the time of this writing, take-out is the only option.
The lodge is doing the best they can to move with grace during a global pandemic — and social distancing measures, including wearing masks inside the lodge building, seem robust enough. The details continue to change with State of Washington re-opening phases, so check with the hotel for updates. Although only take-out, the Roosevelt Dining Room kitchen prepares tasty food that is actually worthy of the very high prices. The famed Lake Quinault Lodge restaurant serves the sinfully hearty Sasquatch Burger, along with a wonderful salmon meal and I love the Quinault Breakfast Scramble in the morning — a great way to fill up before a day of hiking.
The lobby bar is usually open between 3-9pm, just depending on demand and typically offers a limited selection of pizzas and snacks. A coffee canteen is featured in the mornings in the lobby near the bar.
The stately peaceful lodge is the place to enjoy the disconnect from daily noise — including TV’s in the main lodge, email and social media. There is some form of free guest Wi-Fi that seems to blow with the wind (strongest in the lobby area) and cell service is spotty at best. It’s more effective, and less frustrating, to just detach from the outer world for a spell.
The gift shop shares space with the hotel check-in staff, who are friendly and eager to help. Peruse a generous assortment of National Park paraphernalia, including the beautiful Olympic National Park version of the Pendleton blanket series. Some simple snacks are also available for purchase.
If a swim sounds good after a big day of hiking nearby peaks — and the lake feels too frigid — head down to an indoor pool complex (jacuzzi as well as saunas in each dressing room area.)
Check with the front desk for up-to-date information on water sports rentals, since the rules around social distancing are constantly changing.
Nature near Lake Quinault Lodge
It’s tempting to snuggle up on one of the stuffed leather couches facing the roaring fire with a book while soaking up the powerful energy of the historic building perched over the lake. But access to nature is perfectly situated on all sides of the iconic lodge. There are maps available near the gift shop, so be sure to venture out to a few of the trails — short or long, easy or more challenging. The forest and lake converge to serve up some of the best nature has to offer.
The succinct Rain Forest Nature Trail Loop offers an amazing glimpse into the rich ecosystem of old growth timber, waterfalls and babbling creeks — mere steps from a convenient parking lot and nearby campground. This can be combined with a variety of other trail hikes, such as along the lake front (from the lodge veer left) and series of various trails to the southeast of the main South Shore Road. The hiking around Cascade Falls and Gatton Creek Falls offers up and down variations of dense forest. The World’s Largest Sitka Spruce (photo below) is also worth a visit — try to wrap arms around the massive trunk.
A great way to learn the lay of the land is the loop drive around the lake. Watch elk roam in wide grassy meadows while the sun shines beyond a high mountain top. Pass through patches of moss lined maple trees protected by proud tall firs that create a vast canopy of life for forest creatures. Either direction will please and the loop takes about an hour when the roads are clear. Add much more time in snowy conditions.
Day trip options from Lake Quinault Lodge
The southwestern corner of the Olympic National Park is the least developed area of the peninsula in terms of attractions and places to eat or stay. Lake Quinault Lodge is perfect for passing through with an assortment of activities in and around the lake. If a beach experience is desired, consider these two easy day-trips.
- Kalaloch and Tree of Life are popular destinations on a beach area in the National Park that doesn’t require fees. Camping and beach access is near the famous Tree of Life (photo below). Enjoy wide open spaces to wander with salty air blowing. The restaurant at the lodge serves the best food in that stretch, if not the only food. About 45 minutes driving in each direction.
- Ruby Beach offers postcard worthy views of the surf, rocks and drifting logs. Access is easy from Highway 101 and then a short but steep hike down toward the water areas. Be careful on the large logs as they can sometimes shift — which makes the hike not advisable for people with limited mobility. 50 minutes driving in each direction.