Feb 8, 2023

Winter in the rain forest: Deals at historic lodge tempt visitors to Washington's Olympic Peninsula


Lake Quinault Lodge

A cabin at Mount Rainier National Park was for years our go-to winter getaway. Tempted by blankets of fresh snow and views of the mountain at every turn, my husband and I, often with friends, would look forward to hours of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and winter hikes. 

Then came the rain. Two years in a row, it rained so hard we could barely walk to and from the car. Our snowshoes stayed in the trunk. Walking paths turned to slush. We played all the games we brought - twice. 

It was time for a change. If we were going to go somewhere where it was likely to rain, why not pick a place ready- made for wet weather. 

Tempted by a seasonal two-nights-for-the-price-of-one special at the historic Lake Quinault Lodge, we headed to the Quinault Rainforest in the temperate wilderness valley that runs through the southwest end of Olympic National Park and National Forest.

Built in 1926 and designed by Robert Reamer, a Seattle architect, in a style reminiscent of his work at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, the V-shaped lodge has expanded overtime to 91 units, some in the main lodge and others in side buildings.

Unchanged are the views of Lake Quinault, a natural lake formed by a glacier that receded into the mountains thousands of years ago. Part of the Quinault Indian Nation, it was traditionally used as summering grounds for salmon fishing, hunting, berry picking, and recreation.

Unlike Mount Rainer National Park, you don't come here expecting snow and getting rain. You come expecting rain, and most likely will get it. The valley receives an annual  average of 12 feet a year, with most of it falling in the winter months.

The reward, during dry respites, is access to a lush ecosystem filled with giant trees, waterfalls, wildlife and easy hikes designed for getting back to shelter quickly in case of a deluge. 

"It's one of the untouched gems of this region," says Quinault forest service ranger Matt Ferraro.  "In winter, you basically have the rain forest to yourself."

Settling in 

Plan on a three-hour drive from Seattle via a remote stretch of Highway 101 N. Lake Quinault Lodge sits by itself on South Shore Road inside the national park.

The iconic log fireplace at Lake Quinault Lodge

With a heated pool, and lobby filled with leather couches and chairs, soft lighting and a huge wood-burning fireplace, the lodge invites lingering on rainy afternoons. 

Rates soar in the summer when rooms fill with tourists anxious to combine a wilderness experience with a stay at an inn listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

 "Winter is the lowest occupancy," says general manager Robert Hugo. In 2016, the lodge began offering seasonal deals from mid-October through March (recently extended through mid-May)  that slash room rates by half or more. 

Cozy furniture and soft lighting invite lingering 

A spot check for Thursday-Friday dates in late February, 2023 brought up a rate of $245 for two nights with taxes for a lake-view, fireplace room compared to $795 for two nights in late May.  A Queen, lake-view room in the main lodge was $173.73 for two nights in late February compared to $609.66 later in the season.

Hiking trails

Consult a map or suggestions at AllTrails for hikes of varying lengths and difficulty. 

The easy Cascade Falls loop trail

Popular is the the Quinault Loop, a four-mile trail along the south shore of the lake. Points of interest include Cascade Falls, Cedar Bog, and the half-mile interpretive Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail, parts of which are accessible to wheelchairs. 

Another is the Kestner Homestead Trail, a 1.3-mile loop, that takes visitors past an old settler's farmhouse surrounded by fields, apple trees, a barn and out buildings. 

Other close-by trails wend past waterfalls, huge Douglas fir trees (Trail of the Giants), and what's been called the world's largest Sika Spruce.

 "Assume cold rain," Ferraro advises. "We are temperate, so it's not like you're at Mount Rainier, "but definitely be prepared with rain gear and warm clothes. Aways bring water, something a lot of people neglect when it's cold."

Winter drives

Accessible by car year-round is the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive, a 31 mile road trip around Lake Quinault, up the Quinault River in Olympic National Park, and back around the other side. 

Rangers advise checking road conditions (not suitable for RVS), and looking for opportunities along the way for viewing waterfalls, wildlife and giant trees. Leave two hours minimum to complete the trip.

A herd of wild Elk at Bunch Field in the Quinault Rain Forest

Another option is to sign up for the Lake Quinault Lodge rainforest van tour ($50 for adults, $35 for children), a four-hour shuttle tour through the forest with a guide. Included are stops for   walks and photos and commentary about the Quinault Indian Nation history, early expeditions and native vegetation. 

Rainforest guide Chris German 

The tours can include up to 14 people during busy times, but my husband and I were the only ones to sign up mid-week in late January. Guide Chris German gave us a private tour on what turned out be a cold but clear day, perfect for short hikes and spotting bald eagles and wild elk. 


Food options are limited to breakfast and dinner (closed for lunch in winter) served in the lodge's Roosevelt dining room, or take-out from the nearby Rain Forest Resort Village Salmon House restaurant

Indoor dining at the Salmon House is closed, but locals recommend trying any one of five types of salmon dinners ($26.99-$29.99) available to go from 3 -8 p.m. daily.

Elegant but pricey is the lodge's lakefront dining room, named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt who visited in 1937, and later signed a bill creating Olympic National Park. 

Look for sweet potato pancakes, oatmeal and scrambles in the morning. Filling out the evening menu are seared duck, salmon, mushroom polenta and the restaurant's classic pot roast. 

Locals help fill tables on weekends, but come mid-week, and just like in the rain forest, you'll likely have the dining room to yourself. 

If you go: 

Lake Quinault Lodge, operated by Aramark Destinations,  will be offering its two-nights-for-the price of-one special through May 11, with substantial discounts on a variety of room types, subject to availability. 

To find the deal, go to the home page, hit on "special offers" at the top right and then "Lake Quinault Lodge." 

Aramark says it plans to repeat the deal mid-October through March in 2023-24.

Nearby is the more rustic Rain Forest Village Resort. It also offers winter mid-week and weekend discounts on lodge rooms, fireplace cabins and suites, with further price breaks through mid-February available by calling 1-800-255-6936 CQ There's also an RV park, open weather permitting.

For park information, contact the National Park Service  or the U.S Forest Service  with a ranger station at 353 South Shore Road. Limited hours. Call 360- 288-0203 before visiting. 

This story appeared in the Seattle Times on February 8, 2023.

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