Our Fourth of July weekend with friends at Lake Quinault WA: Fun with friends on the lake, hiking in the Quinault Rainforest, and a trip to Ruby Beach.
Originally, we had wanted to go to Lake Chelan for Fourth of July, as it is on the East side of the Cascade Mountains and usually hot and sunny. We only had four nights for this trip, and an exhaustive search for rental houses (I searched in the winter, so it wasn’t last minute) yeilded extremely high prices and one week rental minimums.
I expanded my search to the rest of the state to see what else whas out there, and came across this lovely house on Lake Quinault, on the edge of the Olympic National Park. It was huge, and right on the lake. We went for it.
We left Seattle on Wednesday at 2:45 PM and trudged through freeway traffic a ways, alternating between heavy and light traffic through Tacoma and Olympia. Finally, we got off I-5 and onto Highway 8 West to Aberdeen. We were getting pretty hungry, and decided to stop for some dinner at The Beehive in Montesano.
We really, really wanted to like The Beehive.
A diner built in the 1940’s, with a kitschy name, booths, and pies, it looked like the perfect small town gem.
The waitress gave good service, but the food took forever. We hoped that meant that good food takes time, which is true. I ordered the oysters with a salad and baked potato, and Paddy ordered a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and a salad. He had a choice of white or brown gravy, and he chose white, assuming it would be like the standard country gravy that comes with such a dish.
The salads were iceberg lettuce and croutons, but that is expected at a diner. My oysters, advertised from nearby Westport, tasted fresh but were pretty greasy and not crispy. The potato wasn’t anything to write home about, and came with a tub of margarine with chives and bacon bits mixed in.
The big disappointment was Paddy’s chicken fried steak, which came with a thick, buttery, yellow sauce over everything and looked nothing like gravy. The steak was paper thin, and not worth the $16 price tag.
We moved on, figuring the weekend can only get better from there.
We passed through Aberdeen, WA, the hometown of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. The “Come As You Are” sign welcoming tourists to Aberdeen must have Kurt spinning in his grave. The town that he hated, called him names, and treated him like a freak for being himself is now trying to cash in on his fame. It’s grossly ironic.
After Aberdeen and Hoquiam, we drove another 45 minutes north on the 101 and arrived at Lake Quinault. The house was beautiful. It was huge, with four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a dining room with a table big enough for 10, living room with satellite and flat screen TV, and a huge deck and yard right on the lake. It also had a fire pit and a covered gazebo on the deck with a mosquito net, which was definitely useful in the evenings.
We settled in, had some drinks and watched a movie. Our friends Ian and Jaz had a 15 month old baby with them and they took the upstairs suite. We couldn’t even hear the baby from the downstairs bedroom at night, and they had all the space they needed. It was perfect.
Paddy and I went into the bustling metropolis of Amanda Park, the town on the west end of the lake and got some fireworks and firewood. There’s not much there, but there is a pizza place and a small general store.
Everyone else showed up that afternoon and evening, and we enjoyed some drinks watching the sunset, some drinks while playing some games, and some drinks around the campfire. Our friend Cass accidentally sat on a slug, but other than that it was a lovely night.
Lake Quinault is part of the Olympic Rainforest, and therefore is not always hot and sunny and great for swimming. The Western side of the Cascade Mountains seems to only guarantee sun and heat between July 5th and Labor Day. And by guarantee I mean about 85% of the time.
Knowing this, swimming would have been nice but it wasn’t part of our agenda. The temperature didn’t get much above 70 the entire weekend. There is a beautiful rainforest to hike in, though, and we took advantage. We woke to a beautiful sunny morning, and we drove to the South side of Lake Quinault to check out the forest trails.
Our first stop was the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce Tree at the end of the South Shore Road. There is parking, and the tree is 0.3 miles down a level trail, so it is a pretty quick stop.
And yes, it’s big.
The South Shore Road has a lot more going on than the North Shore Road. It has a museum, hiking trails, a Mercantile, and a post office. There is also a campground and the Lake Quinault Lodge, one of the Olympic National Park lodges.
We parked at the parking lot for the Quinault Forest loop trail, and embarked on a four mile hike through the temperate rainforest.
**Note: Bring $5 cash per vehicle for a parking pass (self serve)
The trail ascends up a hillside, but the elevation gain overall is minimal and there are many level parts in between the hill parts so it isn’t very strenuous. I sweated the whole time, but I’m not quite as in shape as everyone else was. Oh, office jobs….
We crossed a lot of bridges and streams, and through a cedar bog with a long boardwalk. It wasn’t very boggy, but I’m sure that changes in the winter when the rains start falling daily.
After about three miles around the forest and through the cedar bog, we arrived back at the road to cross down to the portion of the trail along the edge of Lake Quinault. The trail goes along the lake past many vacation bungalows with private docks and beaches, and past the Lake Quinault Lodge. The lake facing side of the lodge reminded me of the movie Dirty Dancing, or a mental institution. It was very nice looking though. The weather does get warmer in July and August, and I’m sure the beaches are nice for swimming.
At the end of the trail, my feet were dragging. It was a great hike, and we all went back and rested awhile, napping and watching movies. Later in the afternoon we started Fourth of July dinner, including Heather’s amazing lobster mac and cheese, cucumber salad, hot dogs, and my Asian watermelon salad. We were glad we hiked that day to make up for all the calories we consumed.
Because it was the Fourth of July, and I love seasonal cocktails, I decided to make Guy Fiery’s Fourth of July Cocktail, which is supposed to look like this:
Instead, what I got was this:
It turned brownish green, and was strong enough to knock you on your ass. We decided that we needed to mellow it out a bit, so we added some iced tea, which made it taste a lot better. It was still strong, and looked even more like swamp water. So that’s what we called it. So much for patriotic pretty Food Network cocktails.
We did the birthday cake thing with Sara and Jaz, stuffed ourselves silly, drank swampwater, and played some games.
The fireworks we got were sparklers and bottle rockets and a floating lantern like the kind used in countries such as Thailand for celebrations. The guy at the firework stand said they were safe, and that they burn themselves out high in the sky and don’t impact the environment. Unless of course, they veer off course and set a tree on fire.
We decided to try it out. We went down by the lake and I held it while Paddy lit the black flammable square at the bottom of the lantern. We got it going, and then Paddy let it go.
We watched as it soared really high in the sky, and then blew in the opposite direction of the lake. We panicked for a second, afraid that it might hit a tree, but it went so high so fast that it quickly turned into a tiny orange spec like a star way up in the sky. I’d love to go to a festival where they set a bunch of these off, it looks like a beautiful sight to behold from the pictures I’ve seen.
We then lit off the sparklers and bottle rockets. Not quite as exciting as a giant orange orb of fire, but still fun.
To our surprise, we did see some professional fireworks across the lake. (Lake Quinault Lodge maybe?).
Our last day brought morning showers, but they were off and on. Paddy, Cass, Devin, and I wanted to see a bit more of the southern Olympic Peninsula, so we took a drive up the coast to Ruby Beach.
After Paddy cooked eggs benedicts for everyone, the four of us left the others behind and drove north on the 101.
After 45 minutes, we reached Ruby Beach, which was pretty popular for a cloudy, semi-drizzly day. I suppose it was a Saturday in July, though. On the Olympic Peninsula, you can’t ever expect sun. If you get sun- bonus.
There were cars parked up the road from the parking lot, so we grabbed a spot along the road that was being vacated. There is a viewpoint at the top of the trail down to the beach.
The trail is 0.25 mile downhill to the beach, an easy trip there and easy climb back. It looks like it can be muddy in the winter.
There is another viewpoint halfway down
We weren’t diligent enough to plan around a tide chart, but Ruby Beach is best visited at low tide. You can check the tide schedule here: http://tides.willyweather.com/wa/jefferson-county/ruby-beach.html. This is because Cedar Creek runs from the forest into the ocean, cutting the beach in half. We were at medium high tide, so we had to cross the creek to get to the other side of the beach . Cass wore rain boots and Devin had flip flops, so they were able to walk through the shallow water to the other side. I had to take off my shoes and go barefoot. Paddy didn’t want to go barefoot through the creek, so he stayed behind with my shoes.
Ruby Beach gets its name from small bits of garnet in the rocks and sand. Maybe this is only seen in the sunlight. The rocks were pretty, but we saw no ruby.
Being barefoot ended up being non-conducive to tide pooling, however. There are tide pools to see around the sea stacks (large rocks), but the rocks are covered in barnacles and sharp. I carefully climbed around a few so I could get a look at one of the tide pools, which hosted a solitary giant green sea anemone, anthopleura xanthogrammica. (I used to want to be a marine biologist in 6th grade, and somehow all that I learned stuck with me).
We also saw a purple starfish snacking on an unfortunate mussel.
Next time we visit Ruby Beach, I’m going to come back at low tide and wear rubber boots. I think there are more tide pools to discover at low tide, and I want to have the footwear to do it.
We headed back to the car and drove back on the 101. We decided to pull into a driveway that had a sign with an arrow labeled “Big Cedar.”
At the end of the road was a small trail with a sign telling us to watch out for falling trees. Within a few feet we reached the Big Cedar. It was big alright. And it had split in two. I later researched that this had just happened in March 2014.
It’s sad that this ancient giant finally began to split and rot. However, the massiveness of it is still a sight to behold. The intricate roots and internal structure are pretty fascinating.
Moving on, we continued down the road and pulled into the South Beach Campground to check it out. It was right on the beach, but a complete clusterfuck. Maybe it’s not so bad when it’s not Fourth of July weekend, but it was camping chaos. RVs were lined along the beach, and tents were piled on top of each other in every available patch of grass. Zero privacy. I can see the appeal of waking up in an RV to the ocean, but there’s no way we’d pitch a tent here.
We made one last stop at Kalaloch Lodge to pick up a few things from their little store. The Kalaloch Lodge looks really nice, right on the beach with a lodge and cabins. There is a restaurant, the menu looks really good albeit expensive. I’d like to come back for a romantic getaway in the winter sometime.
Half our group left that afternoon, and the rest of us stayed one last night at the Lake Quinault house. Heather made crabcakes and steaks, we played games and had beers and wine out on the patio.
We left really early the next morning, anticipating bad traffic. Surprisingly, traffic was completely fine and we made it back to Seattle in almost exactly 3 hours. I’m sure the afternoon was a different story though….
We are already talking about renting the same house on Lake Quinault next summer. It’s a great deal in a great location. If you are okay with overcast days and like forest trails and beaches, this is a good spot for a getaway.