Thirty-Hour Lake and Sea Mini-Vacation

Thirty-Hour Lake and Sea Mini-Vacation

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

August 16th and 17th 2011

My family, Trish, Becca, Garrett and I were hoping to take a long backpacking trip along the ocean beaches of the Olympic National Park this summer, but because of our son’s summer job and my daughter’s early college start-up our vacation time was whittled to just a little over a day. The challenge was to fit as much fun as we could on the Olympic Peninsula in that brief time.

We left Seattle around 6am so by sometime after 9am we’d arrived at our destination, Salt Creek County Park, a quiet campground located on a bluff above the Strait of Juan De Fuca. We pitched our cabin tent and then went beachcombing. It was foggy, so thick that the kids and I didn’t notice a pillar of an island crowned with a small forest directly in front of us until Trish pointed it out. Where the cliffs jutted out into the sea we walked through a cleft in the rocks into a misty cove. We marveled at the abundant sea life attached to the rocks, living in pools and drifting in with the tide. We explored about, not paying attention to the incoming tide until it cut off our beach exit. We climbed up the rocks and walked back along the wooded bluff above.

We got lost in the fog. The path through the forest which began wide and straight, narrowed, branched into game trails and then just ended. We bushwhacked forward. Damp ferns soaked us and stinging nettles smarted on our exposed skin. The fog was so thick that it condensed on the fir boughs and dripped down on us. We couldn’t see the beach below and so it wasn’t until we almost ran into an elderly couple strolling about that we found the gravel path back to our car.

We had enough of the fog so we left the shore. Just a few miles inland was sunshine and the town of Joyce. We ate lunch at the Blackberry Café. My cheeseburger with blackberry BBQ sauce was novel and delicious.

Garrett takes a Lake Crescent Plunge

As good as the Blackberry Café was it was the Joyce General Store that had me raving. Ever since leasing a general store back in my New England hometown a few decades ago, I’ve become a connoisseur of the genre. The Joyce General store was the real deal, over a hundred years old; it smelled of spice, taffy, kerosene and fish stories. Inside the store was a US Post Office where the postmistress was sorting letters into the open back of a wall of cast-steel mailboxes. On the front of each box was a tiny glass window so you could see if you had mail and a combination dial so only you could open the little door. The rest of the store was wooden shelves crammed from floor to ceiling with everything from American flags to live bait. There were auto parts and fresh vegetables, mood rings and canoe paddles, Pepto-Bismol and sardines, Indian tribal masks and an ATM. We bought a boomerang, a bottle of wine, a fake rubber finger, a thank-you card, Japanese candy, a souvenir mug, an apple, a rubber ball, dog treats, kettle corn and a deck of playing cards. I found excuses to stop at the Joyce General Store two more times that day.

We drove further inland over a crooked road and a low pass through the hills. In just half an hour we arrived at the shore of blue, clear and deep Lake Crescent. We spread our blankets on the hot beach sand. The water was a bit chilly so it took us some time to build enough courage to jump off the dock. We swam, played catch and napped until it was time to change for dinner.

Trisha’s birthday gift was dinner reservations at the dining room at Lake Crescent Lodge. This historic resort was built at the beginning of the last century as a fishing retreat for those anglers who were fishing for, among other species, the elusive Beardslee Trout. The Beardslee has managed to survive though it’s so rare that it’s found nowhere else in the world.

The lodge is on the shore of the lake. We walked through the cool, dark lobby with its original wood flooring, paneling and stone fireplace. Guests were sipping drinks on the sun-porch and I overhead a fish story. Things haven’t changed much at Lake Crescent Lodge in a hundred years.

Dinner was a gourmet delight. My cedar plank salmon was prepared perfectly, not overcooked. We talked, laughed and lingered as the sun set over the mountains around the lake. The staff brought out dessert with a candle for Trish. We all sang happy birthday.

We drove back to the Salt Creek campground and Garrett made a fire. Before climbing in to our sleeping bags and drifting off to sleep, we sat around the campfire planning our next Olympic Peninsula adventure.

To begin your mini-vacation in Joyce on the Olympic Peninsula:

  • Pick up 101 West
  • A couple of miles west of Port Angeles take a right on Route 112
  • Around ten miles westward on 112 you’ll see the Joyce General Store on your right and less than a mile down the road will be the Blackberry Café on your left.
  • Drive north to reach Salt Creek County Park and South to reach Lake Crescent.

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