When one thinks of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, two thoughts might come to mind: mountains and forests. They ought to come to mind. Within the peninsula, across Puget Sound from Seattle, is a national park with mountains peaking at nearly 8,000 feet. There are also old-growth rainforests (yes, rainforests) with trees aged over 1,000 years.
But there's more to it than hills, trees and a dizzying change of climates. Namely, lakes. They're far off the main routes, if not the beaten path, so the busyness of Seattle might as well be across an ocean. To the north is easily accessible Crescent Lake. To the east is another popular lake called Cushman. Most remote of all is Lake Quinault, on an Indian reservation where peace reigns, though motorboats are not allowed.
The best bet for solitude-seeking boaters is to travel southeast another 20 miles or so, deep into the Olympic National Forest, to a young reservoir called Wynoochee. We got there by taking Donkey Creek Road and several connecting gravel forest roads, if that helps set the scene. Once there, we literally had the lake to ourselves. And this was Fourth of July weekend, the busiest time of the summer on lakes across America. To our amazement, we saw only one boat running across the lake.
The scenery lived up to the hype, with views to the northeast of fabled Hurricane Ridge, and large rolling hills encompassing the perimeter. We encountered two major surprises: A boat ramp in great shape and water temps hovering around 70 degrees.
It's important to go into the Wynoochee area prepared (full gas tanks and plenty of food and water). We found that it's a lengthy ride back to any towns for supplies. It took about 40 minutes to get to Lake Quinault, which has several lodges for non-campers, plus a couple of restaurants and gas stations.
I'm an outdoorsman, so Wynoochee fit my personal bill perfectly. This was confirmed when we stopped by the closest ranger station and none of the rangers could give us any tourism booklets. One of them just said, "Go on in and check it out. You won't want to leave." Wise man, that ranger.
First Impression: A great boater's escape from crowds in the Pacific Northwest, with every climate imaginable.
Something You Have to Do: Hike the Valley of the Rainforest Giants near Lake Quinault, where you can see the world's largest sitka spruce and a western red cedar that's the biggest tree of any kind in Washington.
Trivia: Wynoochee Lake was formed in 1972, with the construction of Wynoochee Dam; power generated from the dam produces enough electricity to service over 2,000 Northwest homes.
Trailering Here: From Seattle, it's a three-hour drive across interstates, state highways and 15 miles of mostly even Forest Service gravel roads to the lake.
Launch Advice: The ramp is great, but bring all the essentials (fuel, oil, anchor, food) because there's no marina for at least 40 miles.
Local Flavor: Can't miss with salmon (of course) and blackberry cobbler at the Roosevelt Room restaurant in the Lake Quinault Lodge.
Bedding Down: The Coho campground has 46 sites next to the lake, or for hard-side rooms try nearby Lake Quinault Rainforest Resort Village (rainforestresort.com).
Distance From Seattle: 150 miles
Best Contact: Tacoma Power Parks, Power Fish and Wildlife, 888-502-8690