This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of AAA Home & Away
The majesty of Washington's Olympic National park is immediately evident when pulling into the parking area of Kalaloch Lodge at sunset. The rugged coast—filled with stretches of sand, massive redwood logs and large black boulders—shimmers as the sun's rays dip behind the Pacific. The call of an elk, screech of an owl, and cry of an eagle welcome visitors to Washington's Wild Coast.
Exploring the Coast
Olympic National Park covers nearly 1 million acres and protects an expansive 73 miles of scenic coastline, making it one of the country's best outdoor playgrounds. Visitors can hike, picnic, go fishing or watch wildlife in the park, which ranges from coastline and rivers to massive old-growth forests and the glacier-capped Mount Olympus.
Once home to major lumber operations, the area was over-harvested in the late 1800s. In 1897, President Cleveland designated it the Olympic Forest Reserve, which protected the land but not the wildlife. In 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt set up part of the reserve as the Mount Olympic National Monument. Following a visit there in 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Olympic National Park, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Nature lovers thrill to the diversity in the park, with more than 300 species of birds and 70 species of mammals. It’s quite common to see enormous elk strolling through the campgrounds. Hiking along the coast, visitors can explore small colorful sea stars while watching for whales on the horizon.
The national park ends at the low tide line, where three national wildlife refuges and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary take over protecting the area, extending about 135 miles along the Washington coast and 20 to 40 miles offshore. This special protection gives visitors a unique chance to see marine life at the park. Whales and dolphins are often spotted just off shore, while harbor seals and sea otters also call the area home. Watching the antics of the furry otters, as they play and fish in the chilly ocean, is a favorite pastime of park guests.
Historic Kalaloch Lodge
One of the best stops in Olympic National Park is at Kalaloch Lodge. Kalaloch, which means “a good place to land” in the native Quinault language, is precisely that. The lodge itself sits on a bluff overlooking the point where the Kalaloch Creek meets the Pacific Ocean.
The historic lodge, built in 1925 by Charles Becker, was constructed from lumber that washed on shore. Becker’s Ocean Resort, as it was originally called, sat just outside the national park boundaries. It was a favorite vacation spot for years and even served as a Coast Guard encampment during World War II. The land was added to the national park in 1953 and the National Park Service purchased the lodge in 1978.
Today, Kalaloch Lodge contains Creekside Restaurant, 10 rooms and a gift shop. It includes a campground and series of small cabins, many hugging the bluff with unobstructed ocean views. Those cabins define charming seaside vacation. There are many options, with no two cabins alike. Some have multiple bedrooms, kitchenettes or wood-burning stoves. The 22 bluff cabins are magical places. Sitting outside on one of the Adirondack chairs, tucked into one of the Pendleton blankets in each room, with a steaming mug of coffee in hand while watching the sunset or waking up to a mystical world of fog and rolling ocean waves just beyond the front window creates life’s best travel memories.
Visitors at Kalaloch can hike along the beach, discover sea life in the tide pools, and explore the 0.8-mile Kalaloch Nature Trail that starts at the campground and winds through coastal rainforests. A perfect end to the day is drinks and dinner at Creekside Restaurant. This green-certified restaurant serves local, fresh, organic meals alongside some of the world’s best sunsets.
Hiking the Rainforest
There are dozens of hiking trails throughout Olympic National Park, but some of the most scenic are in the nearby Hoh Rain Forest. Hiking the Hoh is like stepping into the pages of a Dr. Seuss novel. The forest normally gets up to 12 feet of rain annually, creating an oasis with massive conifers and plants called epiphytes that make everything look like something out of a fairy tale.
The moss, ferns and big-leaf maple are a brilliant green in spring and summer with shades of gold and red each fall. The area surrounds the 50-mile-long Hoh River, which gets its start in the high mountain glaciers and is fed by snowmelt as it winds its way 7,000 feet to the Pacific. Visitors to Olympic National Park can experience the rainforest in a variety of ways depending on skill level and length of time they want to hike.
The 0.1-mile mini-trail is a paved walk past beautiful old-growth trees. The Hall of Mosses is a popular hike along an easy but beautiful 0.8-mile loop through the temperate rainforest. The Spruce Nature Trail is a 1.2-mile loop to the Hoh River. For the most experienced hikers, the 11.8- mile South Snider-Jackson trail offers a few river crossings and steep descents through the forest.
A guided tour with a naturalist gives visitors a closer look at the ecology and animals while weaving in the area’s rich history. The experience of this magnificent park and its lush rainforest becomes even more impressive when an expert points out a tiny banana slug, a giant mushroom hugging the side of a tree, or explains about the “nurselogs” that lived a thousand years ago and today serve as the life support for newer plants and trees dating back “only” several hundred years.
Planning Your Trip
Visitors to Olympic National Park can explore the varied activities online at nps.gov/olym/index.htm. There is a great list of day hikes available at nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/upload/dayhikes.pdf. Reservations need to be made several months in advance for Kalaloch Lodge, which can be done online at thekalalochlodge.com. All Points Charters & Tours at goallpoints.com offers tours of throughout the park.