Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

August 20 - 24, 2015

Choosing a destination

The horrendous 2015 fire season in Eastern WA, Oregon, Northern California and British Columbia was a primary driving factor in our decision to go West instead of East.  The smoke from those fires had been so intense that it worked its way west over the Cascades and poured into the Seattle area.  Between fires in the East and warmer than usual summer temperatures in the PNW, we decided that for this month's adventure we would again visit the Olympic Peninsula.  

Even at the peak of summer, the weather on the north shore of the OP is typically cool and comfortable. Combined with a beautiful lake for swimming, kayaking and canoeing, hiking trails and beautiful mountains, it seemed a perfect choice. 

After choosing our general destination, we researched places to camp.  Given the drive is several hours and it is peak camping season, we wanted to start with reservations so we'd know where to drop anchor. However, we also wanted to skip private RV parks and focused instead on County, State and/or National Parks.

Several National Parks campgrounds, such as Heart O' The Hills, Farirholme, and Sol Duc looked promising, but they are all first-come and each has, at best, only a few sites Rocinante can use. We love the Clallam County parks and would have liked to stay there, but reservations must be made at least seven days in advance, although half their campsites are first-come.  Next we called the folks at Log Cabin Resort where we celebrated Memorial Day in 2014.  Sure enough they had a lakefront spot available for us, right through the weekend.  To the Rocinante-mobile!

Log Cabin Resort

This is an interesting location on the north shore of Lake Crescent, just inside the Olympic National Park.  The resort is run on a concession basis by Aramark. Trip Advisor reviews for the lodgings and restaurant are decidedly mixed.  When you tease out the campground reviews, they are consistently better though the sites are  closely packed. With a spot from which we can see and appreciate the lake, we don't really care that much about the spacing, especially when the neighbors are so pleasant.  On both of our visits to LCR, we were assigned lakefront spots.  So for a few bucks, we spent four nights camped in Rocinante on million dollar lakefront property.  Here's a secret: when we reserve here, we claim Rocinante's length is 30'.  Thus, they hold out a lakefront spot that will acommodate up to 35'.

Hiking to Marymere Falls

We took a road trip to the other side of the lake along Highway 101, stopping at Lake Crescent Lodge for a hike to Marymere Falls. The hike to Marymere falls is quite easy, really.  It starts at the Ranger station, sneaks under the highway via a pedestrian tunnel and then continues for roughly a mile.  It's an easy, simple and delightful walk in the woods that follows Barnes Creek and ends at a beautiful waterfall that cascades down from Falls Creek.

During our visit the water levels were low, so the creek and the falls were relatively tame.  However, from the width of the creekbed and the size of the debris field at the bottom of the falls, it's clear that during the rainy season (e.g. all winter long) plenty of water flows through this basin and out to Lake Crescent.  In fact, Lake Crescent Lodge is built on an delta that was obviously created by Barnes Creek.  So, don't misunderestimate this creek or that waterfall!

The beach at Lake Crescent Lodge

As we strolled back from the falls, we followed trail signs to Lake Crescent Lodge to take a look around before heading back to the ranger station and our truck. It didn't seem possible while we were hanging out at Log Cabin Resort, but the beach at Lake Crescent Lodge is even more beautiful.  The lodge is pretty cool, and the rooms here get better reviews than those at LCR, but there's no camping.  Nevertheless, do not miss this beach.  We liked it so much that we also made our way directly across the lake from LCR where we rented human-powered watercraft called hydrobikes.  It was a blast, highly recommended!

Sol Duc Hot Springs

On Friday, after hiking at Marymere and relaxing on the beach at Lake Crescent Lodge we drove to Sol Duc thinking to check out the campground as a potential destination and maybe swim / soak in the hot springs.

The campground was delightful. This is a great place to camp, with lots of trees and the Sol Duc river nearby. Sadly, we cannot recommend it for any trailer or motor home longer than about 20 feet. The turns are tight and the campsites are short. If you have a tent or small RV and enjoy boondocking, we highly recommend this spot as a base from which to hike the nearby trails and visit the hot springs. Rocinante would have been too long for this campground and we were glad she was relaxing down by the lake while we wandered.

The hot springs seemed expensive at $13.50 per person (free if you stay at the lodge) and are OK if you are comfortable at a clean though sulfurous county pool, crammed in with lots of other soakers. There is no getting close to nature at this particular location. The restaurant is also uninspiring, and the "cabins" looked more like a collection of wooden backyard sheds - the kind you buy at Home Depot. 

We also took a quick look at the resort's RV park. True to the reviews, it's a gravel parking lot. Surrounded by trees, but a gravel parking lot.  If you're determined to camp there in a larger RV this is your only option, but you can do better by camping elsewhere and visiting on a day trip.

Fairholme Campground

One our way back to Crescent Lake and Log Cabin Resort, we made a quick stop at Fairholme to look it over as another possible place to camp with Rocinante.  This campground is on the side of a hill overlooking the West end of Lake Crescent.  Views are limited, but the campground itself seems nice.  Lots of trees and shade with a comfortable vibe.  Unfortunately for Rocinante, the access roads are  steep, narrow and twisty. After driving every loop, we came to the conclusion that she'd maybe fit into one or two spots, but the stress of getting in and out is more than we'd care to invest.  However, if you've a tent, a pop-up or a short RV (trailer or motor home) and you enjoy boondocking in the shade, this is a great place for you to explore.

Hydrobikes on Lake Crescent

In addition to camping, Log Cabin Resort has a nice collection of human-powered watercraft for rent.  The list includes canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, and hydrobikes.

The bike looks completely silly.  It's a bicycle on pontoons, with a pedal-powered propeller. However, we had seen others riding them the day before. They are quiet and speedy - as fast as any rental canoe or kayak, with the added benefit that we wouldn't have to wear out our arms or get blisters on our hands.  All we had to do was pedal!

So, we rented a pair of hydrobikes and immediately decided to ride them all the way to Lake Crescent Lodge and back.  We'd seen highway 101, and there was no way we were riding our bikes there. By road, the trip was a short but dangerous 7.5 miles.  Straight across the water, it was only a couple of miles, with plenty of room and no logging trucks. This was a fun, safe alternative. Off we went!

The ride over was pleasant. Reactions from folks hiking the trail on the north shore were a lot of fun. When we reached a point opposite the lodge, we struck out and rode straight across to the beach.

As we rode up to the beach at the lodge,  many asked us where we rented the bikes and how they could do the same. So, we may have unintentionally drummed up some rental business for them!  We just wanted to hang out on the beach a bit and grab a drink of water at the lodge.

The ride back was a bit rougher, as the wind had really come up and we were riding into it.  By now there were also a few whitecaps on the lake. Nevertheless, the bikes performed well.  The bikes are remarkably stable, and despite the wind in our faces we maintained a reasonable pace back to the resort.

Total time pedaling on the water was just over 2 hours.In retrospect, the only things we would change are: put on a real bike seat and better pedals. Otherwise, it's a pretty awesome water bike.  If you want to see hydrobikes in action, there are plenty of videos on YouTube.

If you decide to take water biking to the next level, check out Schiller Bikes.  Their water bikes are more maneuverable and have beautiful clean lines.  The pontoons are inflatable and the whole thing weighs less than 60 pounds, which also makes it more portable.  Definitely not cheap, but it looks like a lot of beautifully engineered fun!

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