According to the middle-aged waitress in Hoquiam, Washington’s only coffee shop, it had already been raining on the Olympic Peninsula for two days straight when we drove through en route to nearby Lake Quinault Lodge. And the forecast was not promising to get any better.
“Can’t imagine why you’re visiting in March,” she observed, pouring my coffee into a brown ceramic mug.
“It’ll still be raining in July,” I shrugged.
Her answering ‘humph’ came with a nod of agreement, though I’m sure she still thought we were crazy to be here. The truth was, not one of us cared an iota about the rain. We had our rain jackets. We had gloves. We had wool hats and waterproof hiking boots. We weren’t here for a sun tan.
One might argue that no three days can be perfect while traveling with kids, but while on the Olympic Peninsula, you simply have to find something other than storm clouds to blame. Unruly children, perhaps. Traffic out of the city. The near-constant drizzle is as much a part of the package as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or red rock is to the Grand Canyon. You can’t have the lush beauty of this temperate rain forest without the rain.
Lake Quinault Lodge certainly doesn’t take notice of the weather. It sits stoically no matter the season, quietly waiting it out. When we arrived, it was with a mad dash into the sanctuary of the wood-beamed lobby, where a fire crackled and thick rugs graced the floor. The kids began a game of chess by the fireplace while we checked in, then ran to the back porch, where they had to crane their necks upward to check the rain-guage. Already 52 inches this year. In our lake-view room, we donned swim suits (yes, really!) over which we zipped rain jackets. With hoods drawn, we dashed across the wide lawn to the pool house, where we pushed open the door to a wall of steam and the smell of cedar.
It’s hard to tell where Lake Quinault Lodge’s indoor pool ends and its spacious sauna begins. All you really know is that you’re warm, the high interior windows are fogged over, and the sound of your children’s laugher is echoing back at you from everywhere at once.
We dined on cedar-planked salmon and lake trout that night in the lodge’s historic Roosevelt Dining Room, where the kids sipped from their water glasses with pinkies out, cloth napkins safely on laps. They dared each other to try the ‘banana slug ice cream’ for dessert, laughing with relief to find it to be banana-flavored.
The next morning, we hiked under the rain forest canopy of national forest trails with the feeling of cotton balls in our ears: the steady pattering of the rain falling on the leaves muted the kids’ cries of delight, the occasional dog bark, and the hellos of passing hikers. As the kids ducked under ferns and climbed moss-covered nurse logs, the raincoats came off. Under the trees, we were sheltered completely as our tread found footing on the pliant forest floor.
Lunch was an impromptu picnic in our room, after which we looked up, startled, at the slant of sunlight cast across our floor. Yes, the clouds do part at Lake Quinault, if only temporarily. And when they did for us, we had to catch our breath. From the spacious deck of the lodge, the lake spanned wide and blue, each white cap winking in the rare sunlight as if amused to reveal herself to us. We wasted no time piling into the car for the short into Olympic National Park for an afternoon of beach combing. As we navigated windy Highway 101, signage for ocean beaches sported native Quileute and Hoh names that tangled on the tongue. We taught them to the kids as we drove, but their eyes were out the window, waiting to catch a glimpse of sand and sea.
We stopped at Kalaloch, where the root systems of giant trees clung, exposed, against sandy bluffs, the wind whipped, and driftwood sat piled, begging to be pressed into service as walls of beach forts. If Lake Quinault Lodge looks tranquil in the face of the rain, the lodge at Kalaloch appears hunkered down, battered and brutalized by direct exposure of salt and sea. We note the location for future ocean storm watching.
That night, we fell asleep to the pounding of rain on the Lake Quinault Lodge roof, and woke to brief dazzling sunshine which was replaced by long shadows across the dining room floor before we’d finished our granola and berries. We hit the forest trails under dark cloud, and back under the canopy, it was hard to say then they burst open. The forest floor absorbed moisture like a sponge. The rain fell steadily for two days more, as promised, and by the time we checked out, our room smelled of dank cotton and nylon from the clothing we’d spread out near the heater to dry. On our way back through town, we waved to our friendly waitress in tribute as we passed the diner, the last of our wet clothing piled in a ball in the back of the van.