Shimmering Ice-Blue Water, Old Growth Forest, & Ghost Stories ‘Round a Campfire

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The Pacific Northwest as a Way of Life

If you grow up in the Pacific Northwest, salt water runs in your veins and you smell like a fir tree. Swimming in icy water doesn’t faze you, and your family has a 100-year old recipe for s’mores. Tents were for grown-ups, so you slept under the stars on the hard ground when camping, which you did every summer for weeks at a time, probably with other families and myriad children.

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but certainly this was true for my Irish Catholic working class family and others in the small town of Port Orchard, Washington. We grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, dominated by the craggy snow-capped Olympic Mountains and the fresh aroma of pine, fir, cedar and salt air.

Fresh salmon and trout for dinner, oysters and clams, Olympia Beer brewed with clear mountain water.

Natural is our middle name. 

Thank You Presidents Roosevelt – Both of You!

We have not one, but several U.S. Presidents to thank for the creation and protection of the lush rain forests, rivers and lakes on the Olympic Peninsula. Somewhat similar to what is happening today with coal miners and nature lovers fighting over jobs versus environmental concerns, the Olympic National Forest was a gold mine for the timber industry in the early 1900s, and a subject of controversy.

In fact, I’m sure my poor grandfather with his seven children to feed was among those early loggers who chopped down trees that were a thousand years old.

Thankfully, the Federal Government, and specifically two President Roosevelts, Teddy AND FDR, both stepped in before the entire forest could be decimated and established what is now the Olympic National Park and Wilderness – almost a million acres of natural beauty.

“By 1910, Washington was the nation’s largest lumber-producing state, and the industry employed almost two-thirds of the state’s wage earners.” 

Shimmering Ice-Cold Lakes

The Olympic National Forest and Park has more lakes than you can shake a walking stick at, but two that stand out, and which are most easily accessible, are the blue, so spectacularly blue, Lake Quinault and Lake Crescent. Both lie within the national park boundaries and have been developed into recreational resorts. Think hunting lodges and canoes, elk and birds, not pony rides for the kids and casinos.

Think quiet, green, fresh and cool.

Lake Quinault & Lake Quinault Lodge

Located in the southwest corner of the park on the Quinault Indian Nation land and accessible from Highway 101, this destination is about a four to five-hour drive from Seattle. After driving into the forest and along a two-lane road where you may spot an elk or a deer, you come to a beautiful and stately log cabin lodge, the Lake Quinault Lodge.

Nearby are several forest giants you can visit, including the largest Sitka Spruce in the world and the largest Western Red Cedar, both over 170 feet tall.

Washington natives and visitors come to camp, hike, fish, canoe, and kayak, and if they’re true Pacific Northwesterners, they might jump into the freezing cold lake on a hot summer day.

Open all year-round, Lake Quinault Lodge looks like a throw back to Teddy Roosevelt and Hemingway days when “men were men” and went hunting on horseback, and smoked cigars with their brandy after dinner. The rooms are lovely and rugged and slightly expensive. The main lodge rooms range from around $150 to $300 a night, while the spacious two-bedroom Beverly Suite, which is not in the main lodge, and which is named for the lodge’s renowned ghost, goes for over $300 a night.

“In the early 1900s a fire here is said to have claimed the life of a housekeeper [Beverly], who was caught in the attic and could not escape the building. Her ghost lives in the attic still, most of which was saved and restored. Folks say her presence can be felt up there, and she also throws glasses and silverware in the kitchen.”

Lake Crescent & Lake Crescent Lodge

On the north side of the Olympic National Forest along the narrow and winding Highway 101 is, perhaps, the most stunning lake in the forest. Because of its depth and the surrounding hillsides, the water takes on a blue that is otherworldly, contemplative, mysterious.

According to the National Park Service, Lake Crescent “has very little nitrogen,” which limits the growth of plankton and makes the water extremely clear. In some places you might see as far [down] as 60 feet.”

From Seattle, this is about a three-hour drive including a ferry ride from downtown Seattle. This makes a wonderful overnight trip with stops along the way in the arty jazzy town of Port Townsend and the lookout of lookouts at Hurricane Ridge.

 

 

Crescenti Trout

Of interest to the fisher folk out there, who would be in fishing heaven on the Olympic Peninsula with its hundreds of rivers, are the Crescenti Trout and the Beardsley Trout, both rare species of fish unique to Lake Crescent, also now protected, strictly catch and release.

The Lady of the Lake

More ghost stories for the campfire! One of my friends who grew up on this side of the Puget Sound won’t visit this lake because she swears it is indeed haunted. The ghost story comes straight out of a true crime novel involving a young couple, public fighting, disappearance, and murder. 

Hallie Latham, a regular along with her husband, at Lake Crescent Lodge, disappeared in 1937. She and her husband were often the cause of public spectacles with their fighting.

“The two had a volatile marriage. Five months into their marriage, the couple got into a pre-dawn fight that was so fierce the police were called to break it up. Hallie showed up for work at a Port Angeles restaurant with bruises on her face and arms. Sometimes she had black eyes.”

Of course, her husband was the prime suspect after her disappearance, but without a body, there was no arrest. Until, that is, Hallie’s body floated to the surface of the lake three years later. She was “hog tied and strangled.” Her husband was eventually arrested and convicted of her murder.

Lake Crescent Lodge Haunted?

Tourists staying at the lodge have claimed to see Hallie, sitting at a table or even talking to them, or hearing footsteps on the stairs of the lodge. Others say they see her floating over the lake. I don’t particularly want to see any ghosts on my vacations, so I haven’t looked or noticed anything here other than the drop-dead gorgeous views of the lake from every angle.

My Own Backyard

After being a world traveler, always longing to go as far away from home as possible, it was startling to find myself falling in love again with my childhood denizens.

Re-exploring the Olympic Peninsula to write my guide book to the Olympic Peninsula brought me back to a time when the trees were my best friends and the forest my playground. Hiking boots on moist trails, green all around, breathing in the freshest air imaginable, and enjoying the perfect smell of a campfire. 

Sometimes I guess you can go home again. 

 

Mary Kay Seales is a travel writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Get more ideas for visiting the Olympic Peninsula from her recent travel guide, The Beginner’s Guide to the Olympic Peninsula: Exploring the Wild Beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Available on Amazon!

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