Wildfire Pivot: Waldo Lake to Lake Quinault

30 12 2020

Myself, Chiyo and Chester had reservations at Waldo Lake, Oregon for early September. We were so looking forward to paddling its famous clear waters, the week after Labor Day. But then the 2020 Oregon Wildfire Season struck! Wildfires and smoke lay all over Oregon. The night before our Waldo reservation, the US Forest Service ordered an evacuation. And I mean immediate evacuation. Campers were to ordered to leave without even collecting their gear. We had several days off from work. With our trip suddenly smoked out, we wondered what to do. In the Covid lockdown of 2020, we were desperate to use our days off out of town.

But where? We used the online weather map, pointing the cursor at different places in Oregon. Every one had wildfires or wildfire smoke. So I said, “Let’s look up in Washington. How about the Olympic Peninsula?” Zooming in, I saw Lake Chenault. I’d heard it was nice. We clicked on the lake. The forecast? Sunny, no wind, and most importantly, no smoke! So, without reservations, we just picked up and drove up there. It has several campgrounds. We checked out one of them, and found a guy leaving his site. Turned out he had a 3-day reservation and was leaving after day 1. The Park Ranger came by. He said, “Why don’t you just take it.” With that, we had a FREE campsite! Talk about a “pivot to luck.” We had three kayaks, and wasted no time exploring the lake, and the famous Lake Quinault Lodge.

Just a 15 minute walk from the campground lies the rustic lodge. It was built in 1926, designed by Robert Reimer, reminiscent of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. It has a central area flanked by majestic wings enclosing a beautiful lawn, which leads to the lake shore. There, guests can swim, and rent canoes or kayaks. I grew up visiting mountains and lakes in New Hampshire and New York State’s Adirondacks, and this property is very similar. Inside the front hall, it’s all beautiful wood and wood carved.

The road along the lake to the lodge, village and campgrounds runs behind the lodge, which is equally similar to being in the Adirondacks.

We had terrific weather. The lake is surrounded by the Olympic Mountains. To the east, we could see some snow still clinging to the peaks. The lake is quiet. That is because it is managed by the Quinault Nation. Power boats are allowed only for tribal members and homeowners. The lake is 30+ miles in circumference and over 250 feet deep. We jumped in and learned that, after the initial shock, the water temperature was really nice! We practiced kayak rescues.

Later, we had a warm crackling campfire, and I brought accessories like a propane grill, tiki torches, and some battery operated holiday lights. My salmon fillet impressed.

In sum, our cancelled Waldo Lake trip turned into a success! We discovered a new place, and we plan to return!

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