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Washington: Olympic National Park


Personal Business: SPECIAL TRAVEL REPORT

WASHINGTON: OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

It contains the only temperate rain forest in the Northern Hemisphere: mossy vines, 200-foot-tall spruce trees, huge ferns, and plush green ground cover. Yet just hours away are snowcapped mountains and wild, windy beaches covered with drifted logs. This is the Olympic Peninsula in the northwestern corner of the U. S., one of Washington State's best-kept secrets.

Unless you ask, people in Seattle won't tell you much about the peninsula or the fabulous sites in Olympic National Park (206 452-0330). It's their private getaway, the unspoiled beauty they escape to when the traffic gets to them. Already, too many Winnebagos and campers clog the peninsula's narrow roads during the summer, some Seattleites grumble.

You won't find any posh resorts on the Olympic Peninsula--yet. Mitsubishi plans to build a large golf resort in one corner, despite local protests. But for now, the peninsula attracts people who like to stay in beautiful old lodges overlooking mountain lakes, in comfortable seaside cabins on windswept bluffs, or at campgrounds nestled amid towering ancient trees. You won't find phones or TVs in most rooms. And you will pay just $65 to $103 a night in the area's nicest places.

TINY TREES. The best way to tour the peninsula is to follow the old West Coast highway, U. S. 101 as it curls all the way around, some 500 miles round-trip from Seattle, spending at least two nights. As soon as you start heading north from Hoquiam on 101, you get a sense of the local economy. Logging truck after logging truck hurtles south, each stacked high with freshly cut timber. The road noses through miles of towering green forests, only to emerge into the raw sunlight of barren clear-cut landscapes. Even tops of hills are sometimes shaved raw by loggers. Yet reforestation efforts are under way. ITT Rayonier, which owns and logs much of this private land, has carefully erected signs: "Clearcut, 1920. Clearcut, 1985. Replanted, 1986." Look closely and you'll notice tiny fir trees poking up through the rubble of old stumps. Lake Quinault Lodge (206 288-2571) should be the first stop. Built in 1926, it's an imposing place of brown wood shingles and green shutters overlooking a large, grassy lawn that slopes down to a crystal-clear lake. A huge old fireplace dominates the lobby. The rooms are small and comfortable, with a summer breeze blowing in through old wood-frame windows. The restaurant offers views of the lake as well as good food, everything from hearty sandwiches to shrimp fettucine and blackberry cobbler.

HIGH LOOKOUT. From here, you can take a walk along the lake to get a sense of the rain forest. Better yet, just a few minutes' drive away is a short loop

trail that takes only half an hour to walk. It's awesome: a fir-needle carpet; towering hemlocks, firs, and cedars; a clear stream; wild orchids; and "nurse logs"--huge trees that began growing 1,000 years ago, fell 500 years ago, and have 500-year-old trees growing out of them.

Another hour's drive, and the Pacific appears. Along the gray-sand beach lie thousands of drifted logs, trees fallen from river banks and washed up from the sea, bleached white--the bones of the rain forest. An ideal stopping place here: Kalaloch Lodge (206 962-2271). It offers rows of neat, clean cabins on a bluff overlooking the sea. Many come with fireplaces and kitchenettes; all have grassy lawns and excellent views of the ocean, especially at sunset.

Just 35 miles from Kalaloch is one of Olympic National Park's highlights: the Hoh Rain Forest, a fantasyland of moss-draped trees, sunlight-dappled spruce, hemlock, and fir trees, rotting ancient logs, vine maples, sword ferns, and salmonberry shrubs. Last winter, it rained 176 inches here, vs. 34 inches in Seattle. Yet strangely, on the north side of the peninsula it hardly rains at all. The high mountains of the Olympic Range wring all the moisture out of the wet Pacific winds. And by the time you reach Lake Crescent less than two hours later, you're entering dry country. Route 101 hugs this gorgeous, blue mountain lake for more than eight miles. Lake Crescent Lodge (206 928-3211), a historic gray wooden structure with a huge elk's head over the fireplace, has charming little cottages facing the lake. Avoid rooms in the lodge, which are too historic--thin walls and no private baths--to be comfortable. If the wind gets too cold, the lodge has a long enclosed porch with wicker furniture and a pleasant restaurant.

Incredible as it sounds, the peninsula's most stunning scenery is yet to come. After 17 miles of winding up the coast, the fabulous vista of Hurricane Ridge--180 degrees of snowcapped mountains--spreads before you. In the summer, you can hike an hour farther up through wildflower-covered alpine meadows to a high look-out with views across the water to Victoria,Canada.

If time permits, you can hike around theDungeness spit, a long sliver of land sticking out into the ocean, or window-shop in the art galleries and craft shops of seaside Port Townsend, a charming town built in the 1890s. Going back, you pass through backwoods country and cross Puget Sound by ferry. As you approach, the skyscrapers of downtown Seattle grace the horizon, marking your return to civilization.Dori Jones Yang


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