By Tony Moceri
For those of you who have forgotten how lucky we are to live in our corner of the world, let me remind you. Our access to outdoor adventure is second to none, and we are spoiled with three of our own national parks. As a family, we try to explore a new national park each year, but we also make sure to find new spots at our local ones. In addition to stunning landscapes and thriving wildlife, the lodges and ranger stations are part of the whole experience.
The lodges take us back in time with their aged wood interiors and shake roofs. Inside, the walls hold stories of those before us who chose to leave the city in search of some respite outdoors. Ranger stations are our educational hubs in these remote places. From junior ranger programs to natural history museums, they hold the secrets of all we are about to witness. They also have snacks and cool park swag, which is always fun.
As the spring season warms our state, we start planning our local trips making sure they check a few boxes. Access to water is always high on the list. The perfect scenario is a spot allowing kid-friendly swimming and plenty of open water for me to paddleboard. Family hiking trails are a big plus, especially with an attraction or view at the end. On these excursions, we like to have a combination of lodging and camping so we can get a balance of sitting around a fire with the occasional shower mixed in.
Last summer, as we were dreaming up this trip, we decided to integrate the Olympic National Park into our plans. I had wanted to return to Lake Crescent for years after we stopped there for a couple of hours on a previous trip. This deep blue body of water is the deepest lake in Washington, and I had to get my paddleboard on it. When we had shown up before, it was after days of camping, and I envisioned how nice it would be to stay at the lodge. So with that stop officially on the itinerary, we designed a trip around it. We had never been to Sol Duc Hot Springs, so we added that to the list and added a couple of camping spots before and after to cut down on long travel days.
Instead of staying in the lodge itself, we ended up staying in one of the cabins on the property. These lakefront cabins would maximize our time playing in the lake. We arrived at Lake Crescent before check-in and decided to hike the popular Marymere Falls Trail. From the trailhead itself, it is a 1.7-mile hike out and back. We left from the Lake Crescent Lodge meandering through other trails, which added approximately a half-mile each way. Except for the very end, where you are gaining elevation adjacent to the waterfall, the trail is flat and easy. It is nicely shaded, and Barnes Creek and Falls Creek often flank the path. Marymere Falls is a 90-foot waterfall that checked the box of something cool to see at trail’s end.
A great start to the stay; we spent the afternoon swimming and paddleboarding in front of our cabin. I got up early the following day, ready to get in my long-awaited paddle. I started by going directly across the lake, then headed west up the lake. I intended to be gone for about an hour, but every time I reached a new point, I saw something ahead I wanted to go check out. The next thing I knew, I had paddled for about an hour in one direction and still needed to return. At the same time, my family was waking and wondering if I was ever coming back. They considered sending out a search party but instead went and got coffee and hot chocolate from the lodge. I was a little tired when I got back but was thrilled to have explored so much of the lake.
Our next stop was camping at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. It is a beautiful drive along Lake Crescent and then up the Sol Duc River. After making reservations at the hot springs — yes, they require reservations — we decided to go find another waterfall. We drove up to the Sol Duc Falls trailhead and hiked the 1.6-mile out-and-back trail. This is an easy hike with modest elevation gain, which ends with a powerful waterfall. The bridge overlooking it allows for a great view and a feeling of how much power the waterfall creates.
Before campfire time, we took our turn in the hot springs, which was funneled into multiple pools of different temperatures. While cool to be in the supposed healing waters of the Sol Duc, it wasn’t quite what I envisioned. I felt as though I was at a public pool, and the charm and magic was missing for me.
Our campsite was set above a little creek and was a great place to call home for the night. We sat around the fire, met some neighbors, and did camping things before going to bed. In the morning, we packed up and headed to our next stop outside the park.
This area of the Olympic National Park is an awesome place to explore, with so much packed into one place. There are plenty of trails to be hiked and waters to be played in, making it an excellent adventure spot for our warmer months.
Tony Moceri is a freelance writer who loves to get out and explore the world with his family. He shares his journey @adventurewithinreach and tonymoceri.com.