Each spring, I've celebrated a sort of personal Independence Day when I toss the camping gear in the car and head west for the Olympic National Park Coast; flying solo. I pitch the tent, rain or shine, in the park, prepare myself some fine campsite cooking, and enjoy being on my own in the tall trees of the forest. Ever since my move to Washington State, I've had a great fondness for Olympic National Park.

One time, I woke up at the break of day and hiked up the Hoh River Trail to the first campsite, 8 miles, flying up the trail at a pace that only a solo hiker can maintain. I came around a bend and walked right in to a herd of Roosevelt Elk. They paused, looked at me, and strolled up the slope, turning their backs to me as I stood dead still, waiting for my heart rate to drop. They're big animals.

Later that morning, two women came around a bend, brandishing their walking sticks at me. "We thought you were a cougar!" they said. I had no idea that I was in cougar country, having headed up the trail well before the ranger station had opened that morning.

Every time I've been to the Olympic Peninsula since, the rewards of heading out into the questionable weather with open eyes and, of course, a good raincoat, have far exceeded the costs. On another trip I spent a stormy night camped in the woods and as a reward, took myself up to Quinault Lodge for a deluxe breakfast. This time I opted to skip the tent and to add a little companionship. The husband and I booked two nights at Quinault Lodge.

The lodge sits just above Lake Quinault, flanked by an expansive stretch of green lawn and an inviting deck that faces west in towards the setting sun. There are plenty of comfortable chairs and it's a great place to read your book - on dry days, of course. If the weather has gone all Pacific Northwest on you, there will be a fire in the fireplace and overstuffed armchairs to welcome you.

The rooms are welcoming too, very comfortable, with country-style furnishings and private baths; some have fireplaces. (If you stay at the main lodge, be sure to ask for a room-with-a-view of the lake. They cost a bit more, but it's worth it for the spectacular view. Our room was over the service entrance to the kitchen, and a little noisy between the staff and the heavy-duty fans.) Make sure you set aside at least evening for a meal at the restaurant. Fresh local seafood is a specialty, but the other options, which include at least one vegetarian dish, are terrific too. There's also a lovely private label wine, though if you're feeling particular and don't want to risk it, you'll get a chance to try it out during the lodge-hosted afternoon wine tasting.

The Quinault Mercantile is across the street from the lodge; it's one of those miraculous stores you find in some national parks that seem to have absolutely everything. There's an espresso counter here too, and you can get a pretty decent burger.

We arrived at Quinault Lodge on a rainy, foggy July afternoon. The cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees line the roads like green velvet curtains. As we walked through the lobby to the back deck, the sun broke through over the lake. This brings up a bit of advice - and a secret - about the Washington Coast. The weather on the Olympic peninsula is NOT seasonal. It's completely random. July can be wet and foggy and cold, and January can be clear and sunny and you can even find winter days when you can put your feet in the Pacific Ocean. That means that if you can go off-season, you should. Prices are down, the trails are empty, and the weather may surprise you. Still, don't head out there without being prepared for rain. It rains between 140 to 167 inches - that's 10 to 12 FEET - a year at Quinault and that rain can fall in any season. Trust me on this, I've been heading out to the coast for years now, and not once has the weather been the least bit predictable.

While waiting for check-in, we visited the Lake Quinault Historical Society and Museum, temporarily housed in the ranger station. If you're lucky, you'll arrive on a day when one of the long-time residents of the area is watching the gallery and get to hear a little bit about what life was like on the peninsula when loggers were still heroes and a trip out to the lodge was a big adventure.

The lake, home to steelhead trout and salmon, is a great spot for fishing, paddling, canoeing, and even swimming. (Since the lake is on reservation land, special restrictions apply. Be sure to ask at the front desk about purchasing the appropriate permit.) You can rent a variety of low-impact watercraft right there at the lodge, or bring your own and launch yourself from one of the nearby campgrounds. We stayed off the water, but watched a couple of hesitant guests carefully helped in to kayaks by the dockside staff.

A short walking distance from the lodge is the trailhead for the Quinault Loop Nature Trail. We decided to give it a miss, as both of us have walked the trail before, and got in the car to go over to the Maple Glade. The self-guided trail is ½ mile, with a longer option, which we took, that goes through an old homestead. Old growth maple trees are draped in moss here, the air is wet with mist, and the environment is, well, a little mysterious. We had the trail to ourselves, but the park leads ranger guided walks from most of the more popular trailheads and if you'd like to learn more about the natural history of the area, these walks are a great way to go. We also stopped on the North side of the lake to take a look at the one giant Western Red Cedar. The tree is one of a half dozen trees in the area that are the largest of their variety in the U.S. Lean back and look up!

Back at the lodge that afternoon, we took advantage of the wine tasting that is just that Quinault Lodge hosts for their guests. It's just one of a number of activities that the Lodge provides, many of which are free of charge. There's marshmallow toasting with s'more fixings evenings at the lakeside, movie night, an ice cream social, and barbeque afternoons. There are kid-focused activities too, like the banana slug hunt that Saturday morning. Naturalist talks by park rangers are given most evenings on the back deck, or inside, in inclement weather.

Spectacular beaches are also only a short drive from the lodge. We visited Ruby Beach, a gem of a location with sea stacks and driftwood, and my favorite, Beach 4, home to tide pools that are vibrant with life. Plan your day around the tides; the tide pools are hidden during high tides and you'll miss the orange and purple starfish, the little pink anemones and their larger bright green cousins, and the exotic alien looking tubeworms.

Year after year I've returned to the Olympic Peninsula and most of those years have taken me to Quinault. Even if I don't stay at the lodge, I go there for a meal in the restaurant, for a cappuccino in the gracious, welcoming lobby, or just to take in the view of the lake from the deck. The scenery never fails to surprise me, presenting me every time with a memory of a herd of elk, an orange sunset over the lake, or, being there at the exact moment that an eagle stuns a trout by pulling it from the water with lightning speed and precision. Staying at the lodge, which has lost none of it's charm since opening in 1926, has only deepened my fondness for this retreat on the Peninsula.

Quinault Lodge is on the west side of the Olympic peninsula, about a ½ day's drive from Seattle.

Weather, weather, weather. Trails can be muddy and slippery so good hiking shoes are essential. It's rarely very hot on the Washington coast - pack for rain but throw in some shorts if you're an optimist.

Bring a swimsuit if you want to take a dip in the lake or use the hotel's indoor pool.

It's a good idea to stop in Forks or Hoaquim (depending on which direction you're traveling) to fill up the gas tank.

Olympic National Park is home to miles of hiking trails that range in terrain from beaches to rain forest to glacier. Backcountry hikers should be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions. Check with the ranger station for more information on trail conditions, permit requirements, etc. This is not just for overnighters. Extended day hikers should also confirm trail conditions.

Accommodations at Quinault Lake Lodge

Peak Season - June 14th - Sept 25th; Value Season: Sept 26th - June 13th* - (*excluding holidays). Rates quoted are in USD and are for single or double occupancy. Kids 5 and under - free. Each additional person - $10. Pets (Boathouse Only) - $10 per pet/per night.

Fireplace Rooms - The best of house, the fireplace rooms offer the same beautiful feel of the historic lodge, with the luxury of a gas lit fireplace and a private lake view. Rooms have a queen-size bed, a queen size sofa sleeper, a gas fireplace, and a view of Lake Quinault with a private balcony or patio. Smoking, or non-smoking available. Rollaway beds available, adjoining rooms also available.

Fireplace Room Rates - Peak Season - $180.00; Value Season - $130.00: Adjoining Rooms - Peak Season - $360.00; Value Season - $260.00 - Plus 11.2% Sales Tax.

Lakeside Rooms - The lakeside unit, a large three-story building with approximately thirty-six room's offer three floors. They offer rooms with either a king-size bed, two double beds, or handicap rooms with a queen bed. All have queen-size sofa sleepers, private bathroom with a tub shower combination. Partial lake view with a balcony. Smoking or non-smoking available. The handicap rooms are on the ground floor and have easy access bars in the bathrooms. Our most modern accommodations, These spacious rooms offer a more contemporary feel, and are most recommended for families! (They are also our only rooms that boast televisions) The "tree house room" so named by our younger guests, these rooms have a partial view of the lake due to the stand of trees between the building and the lake itself. Be sure to watch for the Squirrels, chipmunks, and Stellers' Jays! Traveling with family? These rooms are available with adjoining doors! TV and VCR combos are available in each room.

Lakeside Room Rates - Peak Season - $155.0; Value Season - $105.00; Adjoining Rooms - Peak Season - $310.00; Value Season - $210.00.

Main Historic Lodge Rooms - The Main Lodge built in 1926, has a historic atmosphere. Nestled in the Olympic National Forest at the top of an emerald green lawn, overlooking Lake Quinault. Quaint rooms, with an antique feel, located in the main lodge itself, just a round the corner from the Roosevelt dinning room, the fireplace warmed lobby and the indoor swimming pool. Non smoking only.

Main Lodge Non-View Rooms - These rooms have a queen size bed, or two double beds. These rooms have a tub shower combination, a walk in shower or a claw foot tub. Traveling with family? Ask about our rooms with adjoining doors!

Non -View Room Rates - Peak Season - $115.00; Value Season - $78; Adjoining Rooms - Peak Season - $230.00; Value Season - $156.00.

Main Lodge Room View Rooms - These rooms have a queen size bed, or two double beds, with a view of Lake Quinault. These rooms have a tub shower combination, a walk in shower, or an antique claw foot tub. Non- smoking only.

Lodge View Room Rates - Peak Season - $145.00; Value Season - $105.00.

Boat House Rooms - Boathouse, also known as the Annex, was built in 1923, this rustic unit, has eight rooms with and encircling verandah. Don't forget the family pet! (And a six-foot leash to explore the trails in the Olympic National Forest.) Boathouse non view: These rooms have a non-view, with a private bathroom. Bed arrangements very form room to room, with an average of two to three beds with a futon per room. Non smoking only.

Boat House Room Rates - Peak Season - $110; Value Season - $68.00.

Boathouse Lake View - These rooms have a view of Lake Quinault, with a private bathroom. Bed arrangements do vary with two to three beds, with a futon per room. Non-smoking only.

Boat House Lake View Rates - Peak Season - $125.00; Value Season - $78.00.

Beverly Suite - The only traditional suite fills the entire top floor of the Boathouse. This beautiful room has a full circle view from the forest to the Main Lodge, to Lake Quinault. After leaning your hiking stick against the wall, climbing up the stairs to this treetop room, you will find a spacious room with a table and chairs, a sofa, counter with a sink, beverage refrigerator (and space to plug in your own hot plate) The bedroom overlooking the lake and trees has a queen-size bed, and the private bathroom has a walk in shower. Non smoking.

Beverly Suite Rates - Peak Season only - $250.00.

314 North Shore Road
Amanda Park, WA 98526

The Quinault Resort Motel is situated along 600 feet of Lake Quinault's north shore, surrounded by Olympic National Park.

Room Types - Rates are approximate; Each additional person in a room add $10. hide-a-beds $10, Children 5 and under no charge. Check in is 2 p.m. and check-out is 11 a.m.; 72 hour cancellation notice required or a 100% penalty charge. Reservations confirmed only with credit cards.

Townhouse Suites - (Units 1, 2, 3, 4) - $60/double (winter) $75/double (spring) . $104/double (summer). These are nicely appointed 2-story units, that include bath and shower, small refrigerator, 16' ceilings, ceiling fans, color TV, all with a beautiful lake view. Choose from a combination of queen, double and twin beds. Each unit sleeps 4.

Studio Kitchenette - (Units 5, 6, 7) $50 double (winter). $60/double (spring) $89/double (summer). Recently renovated, with fully-equipped kitchenette. Each unit features a double bed, day bed couch, dining table and wicker chairs, and bathroom with shower, all with a beautiful lake view.

Two Bedroom Kitchenettes - (Unit #8) $60/double (winter). $75/ double (spring), $104/double (summer). Unit #9 $70/double (winter) $80/double (spring), $109/double (summer). These units are recently renovated, fully-equipped kitchenettes. Unit #8 features a queen and a maple double bed, original knotty pine walls, armoire, bathroom with shower and a beautiful lake view. Unit #9 features king and queen beds, maximum privacy and great lake views.

600 E. Park Ave..
Port Angeles, WA 98362

This 94,000-acre rain-forest park is located on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington, near the seacoast and Seattle. The park is known for its mountain scenery, tall timber, flowing rivers and spectacular fishing. The Northwest area is often rainy, so dress accordingly. There are opportunities for great hiking throughout this wilderness area.

Walk along 50 miles of wild and scenic wilderness ocean shores, or look for the rare Roosevelt elk in the backcountry. The park was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and a World Heritage Site in 1981. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1994 off the coast of the Park, as the first National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest, and the 14th in the system.

Within its 3,000+ square miles lies a marine ecosystem that supports whales, seabirds, fish and shellfish. The area is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries, Washington State Parks, the Makah, Quileute, Hoh and Quinault tribes, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Other Olympic National Park Accommodations or unique resorts near the park, include:

Kalaloch Lodge, Sol Duc Hotsprings, Rosemary Inn and Olympic Park Institute, Seacrest House Motel, Lake Crescent Lodge, The Lodge Cabin Resort.

— By Pam Mandel, Seattle Correspondent.

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