Beyond Twilight: The Olympic Peninsula for Families

I’ll admit it: when I got invited on a media tour of the Olympic Peninsula, my first thought was not about exploring this emerald Shangri-La. That was my second thought.

My mind initially turned to a certain vampire named Edward who has turned a nondescript logging community in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula into an international destination. I was thrilled when I heard his hometown Forks was a part of the trip. An even bigger bonus was the opportunity to explore this land that boasts the best of both worlds-where mountains and sea collide to form an idyllic recreational playground for families.

A special shout-out to Twilight author Stephanie Meyer for not choosing to set her best-selling books in Kansas.

I relish any chance to travel solo but during my trip to the Olympic Peninsula, I longed for my children. How they would love playing with life-sized Harry (from the Hendersons) at the Rain Drop Café after rafting in the Hoh Rainforest. How they would dance in the gazebo at Kalaloch Lodge overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And I envisioned them squealing with glee as our boat took flight, seemingly soaring across Quinault Lake.

Cradled between the Pacific Ocean, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Hood Canal, the Olympic Peninsula is a fantastic haven for families and I certainly missed mine.

Twilight Tourin’

Before Twilight (B.T.), Forks was a one-light town most would have overlooked. After Twilight (A.T.), tourism has increased 100-fold as Forks has become host to vampire- and werewolf-loving fans of all ages.

Annette Root recognized this need and opened Dazzled by Twilight, a store with every Twilight card, shirt and souvenir imaginable. This summer, it will move to a new location with a rainforest setting that was created by a Hollywood set designer.

Dazzled by Twilight also offers an area tour that I may-or-may-not confess to loving. I just may have taken loads of pictures as we cruised by Bella’s, Jacob’s and the Cullins’ houses. Surely I was not tempted to order a Vampire Shake at Three Rivers Resort, also known as “The Treaty Line.”

And when we visited La Push beach–home to a gray whale migration route and innumerable bald eagles–I definitely did not catch myself looking for Jacob among the local Quileute Indians. Special thanks to my tour guide Travis who made me proud to be a middle-aged fan of Twilight.

Whether I publicly admit to it or not.

Though entertaining, Forks was not the highlight of my trip. The Olympic Peninsula is the home of Olympic National Park, which boasts three eco-systems: an old-growth rainforest, glacier-capped mountains and the pristine Pacific Ocean. ARAMARK manages three of the area’s most family-friendly and affordable lodging properties.

Sol Duc – The Hot Springs in the Rainforest

Our first stopover was at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, an excellent hub for hiking and fishing in the Hoh Rainforest. The rustic cabins are spacious and the hot springs provide a memorable respite. My dinner at The Springs Restaurant was delicious but dessert was the highlight: marionberry crisp with lavender ice cream.

The lowlight was sharing it with my travel companions.

There are oodles of great hikes for families and not to be missed is the nearby 0.8-mile trek to Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park. This easy trail winds through emerald-green splendor to the thundering falls–the area’s crown jewel.

I was so entranced that I recruited a few others to hike “Lover’s Lane,” a 3-mile trail that lead back to the resort. Aptly named, we wove through a forest of swooning flowers, sparkling greenery and the embrace of Vine Maples, Hemlock Spruce and Cedars.

Kalaloch – The Lodge on the Ocean

Whether you stay in a cabin with a wood-fueled fireplace or a guest room in the Main Lodge, you will have one thing in common: breathtaking views. Kalaloch Lodge is perched on a bluff mere steps away from the ocean’s balm and connects the Pacific breakers to the towering coastal firs.

While the scenery may be distinctive, the local nomenclature is not. Our day was spent a few miles away exploring the tide pools at Beach Trail #4.

This is not to be confused with Beach Trails #1, 2, or 3.

Ranger Pat Shields gave a fun and interactive tour of the area’s sea creatures that included delicate sea stars, predatory anemones and miniature crabs. My group later stopped at Ruby Beach, a magical stretch of shore with views of Destruction Island’s lonely lighthouse, towering sea stands and epic beachcombing explorations.

That evening after dinner at Kalaloch Lodge, I walked down the weathered stairs to watch children play in the surf. As the sun slipped behind the ocean in electric steaks of neon color, they appeared to be in slow motion. Their squeals of delight were the only reminder that time had not stood still.

Though in those precious, fleeting moments I almost wish it had.

Quinault Lodge – The Lady on the Lake

Built in 53 days back in 1926, Quinault Lodge is located in the wettest place in the Continental U.S. and receives an average 12 feet of rainfall per year. It also stands sentry over glacier-fed Quinault Lake, a 5-mile-long turquoise jewel in the Olympic National Forest. I uttered only one word when I walked onto the picturesque grounds: “Whoa.”

And yes, I am the epitome of profundity when faced with postcard-perfect panoramas.

Family activities abound and include kayak and paddleboat rentals, numerous hikes that could include a stroll along the lake, or simply kicking back in one of the many Adirondack chairs to admire the view (and believe me, it was that great.) To cool down on a hot summer afternoon, head across the street to The Mercantile and order a mango sorbet ice cream cone.

The lodge offers two area tours (boat or land) by Roger Blain, a retired ranger and wealth of knowledge. His family-friendly excursions provide fascinating insights into the Quinault Valley, also known as the “Valley of the Giants.” We took a short hike to the world’s largest Sitka Spruce tree and noted other nationally recognized Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar giants.

During our 30-mile drive around the lake, Roger also pointed out a few waterfalls that were included in the Olympic Peninsula’s new Waterfall Trail. He let us silently marvel at the moss that dripped off the trees like icicles and mocked me for photographing Bunch Creek Falls from the car.

In my defense, it had started to rain.

Not that I can complain. That was the only time it rained during my five-day visit to the notoriously wet Olympic Peninsula. It made me suspicious of all the complaints about the sky’s near-constant deluge. I concluded these claims are a conspiracy to keep the rest of us away from this emerald treasure.

Unfortunately for them, I already caught a glimpse of the secret cache.

Note: This article was originally published at the popular Web site, Travel Savvy Mom.

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