Each morning I wake up, and before even issuing a yawn, you’ll find me running an initial check of my emails before having rolled out of bed. Each evening I place my iPad under my pillow for easy access the next day. Before showering I’m on my laptop for the daily social media reports, and before reaching for the car keys my cell phone is already in hand. Bluetooth, wireless, and gadgets and gizmo’s galore, my addiction to technology runs deep, to the point of anxiety if separated from a connection online.
In an age where there are a stealth of technology powering our daily lives, it’s essential for our sanity to find the ability and the time to unplug. And unplugging the laptop to retire to a chair with your iPad in hand doesn’t count. Nor does switching off the phone to then reach for the TV.
Think of unplugging completely as convenient access to hot mineral-spring pools and massage therapists instead of WiFi. Or waking up to the sound of waterfalls splashing through moss-softened gorges instead of the stressful vibrations of your phone. It means spending time hiking, fishing, or kayaking as a replacement for your televisions, radios and cells – all modern distractions which would otherwise take away from the deep, clear, glacier-carved lake right outside your door. With limited internet, television and telephones, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is the ideal place to ditch the electronics and connect with the natural environment instead.
After having returned from the Olympic Peninsula completely rejuvenated and refreshed, we have put together this complete guide to an unplugged vacation in Olympic National Park; where to stay, where to go, and what to do.
You’ll spend 3-5 days taking in the park from the National Park lodges as your base; Lake Quinault, Sol Duc Hot Springs and the spectacular lodge at Lake Crescent.
Olympic National Park
One of North America’s greatest wilderness areas, Olympic National Park is 1,406 square miles of lush exotic rain forest, glacier-capped peaks, glacial lakes lined with 1,000 year old cedar trees, subalpine meadows and a rugged 57 mile strip of Pacific coastline hemmed with tree topped sea stacks and tidal pools teeming with marine life.
Waves boom along wilderness beaches and mix with snow-fed rivers, “big lakes cut pockets of blue in the rugged blanket of pine forests, and hot springs gurgle up from the foothills.” It only takes one look to fall in love.
Ninety-five percent of Olympic National Park is designated wilderness, and with a forested landscape which is both remote and pristine, adventure seekers have found their way here since 1912.
The largely roadless interior makes the park a haven for independent exploration and backcountry hiking, and hikers have 12,000 years of human history to explore; eight native American tribes call the Olympic Peninsula their home.
Too Much Fun To Be Left to Vampires
Olympic National Park is far too spectacular, and far too much fun, to be left only to vampires (the town of Forks is the setting for Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series). You’re going to want to spend at least 3-5 days, and you’re going to want a car.
Even though 95 percent of the park is wilderness, most of its highlights are easily reached via U.S. 101, which forms a partial loop around the peninsula and circumnavigates the park. There are fabulous beaches and spectacular drives, waterfalls, forested trails, and an impressive array of wildlife including seals, and sea lions, whales in the waters along the Pacific coast, bald eagles, black bears, mountain goats and Roosevelt Elk.
And for your overnight stops along the way? There’s good camping and a few different places to park your RV, though no trip to the park is complete without spending overnight in at least one of the park’s spectacular historic resorts. We recommend all three!
2 Nights: Lake Quinault
Start your trip in Lake Quinault Valley, and book for 2 nights at Lake Quinault Lodge – located on the southern border of the park, 3 hours from Portland and Seattle and 3.75 hours from Victoria, B.C., this is one of the least crowded corners of the park, and your access to the foggy, moss draped rain forests and some of the world’s oldest trees. If you’re entering the park from the north, just apply this itinerary in reverse.
The historic lodge sits within the rain forest on the shore of the deep-blue glacial waters of Lake Quinault, and offers some of the most plush accommodations in the park. Built in 1926, the design of Lake Quinault Lodge was heavily influenced by grand national park lodges such as Old Faithful Inn, and has the feel of a classic summer resort. There are no televisions or telephones in the historic main lodge rooms; let your unplugged vacation begin!
A number of short hiking trails begin just below Lake Quinault Lodge, and there are free maps in the lobby. Hikes range from short half mile nature trails through 500 year old Douglas firs (Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail), to the 3-mile Quinault Loop Trail, which meanders through the rain forest passing cascading falls before circling back to the lake.
A 13 mile hike of the Enchanted Valley Trail (13 miles each way) begins at the Graves Creek Ranger Station at the end of S Shore Rd, and adventurous hikers can enjoy the back-country while climbing up to “a large meadow (a former glacial lake bed) traversed by streams and springs, and resplendent with wildflowers and thickets of alders. To the north rise sheer cliff faces and peaks craning 2000ft from the valley floor; during spring snowmelt, the 3-mile precipice is drizzled by thousands of small waterfalls.” Read more.
Renowned for its giant trees, don’t leave the region before you’ve visited the 191ft Sitka spruce tree estimated to be up to 1000 years old, or the world’s largest red cedar, Douglas fir and mountain hemlock trees.
And Merriman Falls, an epic 40-feet high roadside waterfall, is easily accessible within a few feet of South Shore Road of Lake Quinault. This waterfall is located 3.5 miles east of Gatton Creek Campground on the South shore road of Lake Quinault.
Though your first step is to find the perfect room – the lodge offers options for a lakeside view, a fireplace, and even rooms in the boathouse. Main lodge rooms are the best way to step back in time and unwind – basic rooms simplistic in layout and design, each featuring a queen, king or two double beds as well as a private bathroom with either a walk-in shower, claw foot tub or tub/shower combination.
Though if you’re still after the unplugged vacation with more of a modern touch, upgrades to a fireplace room will set you up with a more updated suite, modern in design, which includes the addition of a TV.
We curled up with a good book by the lake, paddled and fished in the afternoon sun, and ventured deep into the temperate rainforest by day. We played chess by warmth of the fireplace, dined on locally caught catch in the Roosevelt Dining Room, and enjoyed each breath of the fresh dewy air. We were so blissfully disconnected from the modern world.
Room Tip: There is actually free WiFi in the lobby of the lodge, and this signal does reach above to the main lodge rooms, so if you’re pining for an unplugged vacation but don’t think you can do it cold turkey, book to stay in the main lodge and ease into your disconnect before dropping totally off the map at Sol Duc. Click individual images to enlarge.
1 Night: Sol Duc Valley
Driving north towards Sol Duc Valley after checking out of Lake Quinault, one of the main highlights of the park is the Hoh Rain Forest. Honestly, having spent a full day exploring the rain forest in the surrounds of Lake Quinault, once you’ve hiked through one you’ve hiked through them all. You’re not missing anything by skipping this stop and allocating your time elsewhere along the way…perhaps a beach!
If you do wish to take in the Hoh Rain Forest it’s here you’ll find the park’s herd of Roosevelt elk―named for Teddy, they were an important reason Olympic was set aside as a national monument in 1909 then as national park in 1938. Good trails include the Hall of Mosses trail and the Spruce Nature Trail.
Stop at Ruby Beach (wilderness coastline is extremely spectacular) on your drive northwest towards Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and check in for overnight at the resort before taking an afternoon hike through the Sol Duc Valley, followed by a soak in one of three natural geothermal mineral pools.
Sol Duc is accessed by turning off Highway 101 onto the Sol Duc Road, and the resort, located 12 miles within the heart of Olympic National Park, includes charming rustic cabins and RV facilities and is surrounded by forested peaks, salmon runs, and waterfalls which lead into the babbling Sol Duc River.
If you’re short on time can spend anywhere from a few hours to an entire day in the area before continuing further north, though there are so many spectacular trails that it’s worth the overnight stay.
Hike through an old growth forest to the Sol Duc Falls, take the 6 mile loop to Lover’s Lane, make the 5.2 mile climb to Mink Lake, or watch as determined coho salmon leap over the falls at the Salmon Cascades (best in late October/early November).
2 Nights: Lake Crescent
Make your last stop (or first if you’re completing this loop in reverse) a two night stay against the backdrop of the luminous Lake Crescent. This is a popular spot for boating and fishing (trout is particularly good here), and hikers have access to a number of trail-heads including the trail to Marymere Falls, a 2-mile round trip to a 90ft cascade that drops over a basalt cliff.
The deep, clear, glacier-carved Lake Crescent is one of the most beautifully scenic destinations in the park, and the historic Lake Crescent Lodge is an ideal basecamp for exploring this area.
A nearly century-old lodge on the banks of an absolutely stunning lake, Lake Crescent is the oldest lodge in the park, and offers a variety of room types that range from historic cottages to mid-century modern hotel-style rooms. There are no phones or television at Lake Crescent; these are replaced with lake and mountain views instead.
Rooms in the main lodge are the original accommodations from Lake Crescent – very simple rooms with shared bathrooms and jaw-dropping lake views, right above the lodge’s dining room and sun porch. These rooms are super basic and average $89-119.
Preferring a private bathroom we opted for a Singer Tavern Cottage for this stay; built to resemble the property’s original cottages from 1916, these charming cottages feature lake and mountain views and are available in one and two bedroom arrangements, fully decked out with porch with wicker chairs facing the lake. We settled on our cozy private porch each evening to take in a spectacular sunset over the lake. 1 & 2 bedroom rooms average $209-264.
Dining is available onsite, and the dining room begins in the main lodge and extends out to an adjacent sunroom which looks out directly over the dazzling lake. You can also choose to eat more informally at their lobby bar. Click on individual shots to enlarge and start slideshow.
Lake Crescent is also your base for Hurricane Ridge – the most accessible viewpoint in the park offering amazing views over the Olympic Mountains and coastline of the Peninsula below. Look for black-tailed deer in the subalpine meadows. This is also where you will find the Olympic National Park Visitor Center.
Pack extra batteries for your camera; as I’m sure you’ve noted by now, Olympic National Park is one hell of a photographers playground! Whether it’s shot with a state-of-the-art DSLR or a cell phone camera with an Instagram filter, there’s plenty of natural eye candy here, from the Bald eagles to the waterfalls, or even that dazzling lake. Unplugging from technology in Olympic National Park means establishing a secure connection with nature instead.
When words fail to describe what they’ve got going on, I find a photo always steps in to do it justice. Click on individual shots to enlarge and start slideshow.
Summer is prime tourist season for the Park; June through September, and all trails and attractions are buzzing by 10am. We traveled during shoulder season in May, and found clear weather with fair skies. Though pack for rain just in case.
Lake Quinault Lodge is open year-round, while Lake Crescent Lodge and Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort close for winter.
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