Monday, January 21, 2013

Northwest Winter Getaway: Low-Key Lake Quinault Lodge

While I appreciate contemporary architecture, my heart really belongs to the old, rustic National Park lodges full of sturdy wood-beamed ceilings.  Lake Quinault Lodge in Washington's Olympic National Park is a gem of the genre.  And a wonderful place to spend a few days in the winter away from it all.

If you're really lucky like we were a few days ago, it won't be raining and the sun might even be shining (however, it rained over 163 inches there last year). But no matter, this comfortable lodge, voted one of the best places to kiss in the Pacific Northwest, is a great place to relax any time. Set on the shore of glacially formed Lake Quinault and in the midst of some of the biggest trees on the planet in a temperate rainforest, the lodge and surroundings feel like an enchanted world apart.

When we were there a few nights ago (midweek), the place had a decidedly off-season feeling.  After driving 3 hours south from Seattle and looping back north up the coast from Grays Harbor, we arrived before dark on a cold, clear January afternoon. 

Our second-floor walk-up room was quite nice, with some of the most comfy hotel beds I've ever encountered in my travels.  Once we got settled and made dinner reservations in the hotel dining room, I strolled from the lodge deck across the lawn down to the lakeside to witness a truly spectacular sunset. (The photos below don't fully capture the intensity of the colors.)

Lake Quinault sunset, looking west

Looking across the lake from the lodge
With just a smattering of other guests at the lodge this evening,  I struck up a conversation quickly and easily with a lovely woman from Olympia warming up by the fireplace.  This friendliness continued, and we met numerous friendly fellow guests, mostly from in state. 

And that fireplace!  Big logs of wood crackled away, casting a glowy warmth beneath the head of a native Roosevelt elk.

Guest relaxing in one of many generous leather chairs in main hall

Dinner in the hotel dining room was excellent, featuring local bounty. We started with balsamic-drizzled and breaded Hood Canal oysters that tasted of the sea, and I dined on exquisite Quilcene River steelhead caught here on the Olympic Peninsula.  Our waitress was exceptionally friendly and accommodating.

Quilcene River steelhead
To work off some calories and unwind after dinner, I hit the indoor swimming pool and then struck up a conversation in the sauna with a young woman here for a few nights with her family.

In the frosty morning we walked one of the many nearby trails.  From the lodge we went down to the lake and followed a 1.1-mile route along the shoreline, skirting into forest, over a few streams, up to the rainforest loop above the lake, where moss grows thick and heavy on old growth evergreen trees such as Douglas fir and western red cedar.  A beauty of a winter visit:  we saw no other hikers.

Lake Quinault morning along the lakeside trail.
Rainforest loop trail
Since this was a quick one-nighter and we had lots of ground to cover driving up along the Olympic coast, we didn't have time to check out some of the world's largest trees of numerous species nearby: Sitka spruce, western red cedar, yellow cedar, and more.

A few guests we met were here for several nights to recharge, relax, and take stock for the year ahead.  Sounds like a plan for next winter; there are simply too many trails and things to see around here for one night. Nothing like maximizing the enchantment, right?

Have you spent time at Lake Quinault? I've love to hear about your experiences there in the comments below, especially if you've done more extensive hiking in the area.

When You Go
This map shows where Lake Quinault is situated just off Highway 101 north of Grays Harbor. It's about a 3-hour drive from Seattle going the southern route. I suggest making a loop and circling north up Highway 101 along the coastline past gorgeous beaches, Lake Crescent, and then east along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  However, it's a bit much for one night so take a few days or more if you can.
To lure visitors in the off season, rates are 25 to 40 percent or more lower than in the summer. I suggest doing a Google search for deal. I bought a Groupon that covered my stay.


Anonymous said...

I think I did a kayak trip near there many years ago. That's a gorgeous lodge and amazing setting and you definitely need to spend more than one night, especially with the long drive.

Anne said...

I spent my 60th birthday there for two nights, of course in July the weather was lovely, did a little hiking and also did the complete drive around the lake. It looks like the Lodge has been spruced up a little bit in the last few years, not that it was not quite nice before.

Anonymous said...

Worked at the lodge in the restaurant one summer and rented a cabin down the road. Your photo's are beautiful.

Mary said...

I'll be adding this to my ever-growing 'things to do in the Pac NW' list!

jill said...

Anne, sounds like a wonderful birthday trip!

Mary, hope you make it out this year!

Unknown said...

Spent my 40th Birthday there this last weekend. Beautiful!!! Best weekend getaway ever! Lodge is beautiful, nature was amazing and the staff at the lodge was sweet and wonderful to us and our 2, 12 year old kids! The Rainforest tour with Roger was the highlight of our trip, he was awesome!!!