Washington’s Olympic National Park is an amazingly diverse place, with snowcapped mountain peaks, sandy ocean beaches, and a temperate rain forest all within easy driving distance of each other. One particular part of the park has twice been our base of operations for the ideal family vacation.
The Olympic beaches stretch along the Pacific coast for 73 miles. They range from the wide and sandy Kalaloch Beach to the rugged and rocky Rialto Beach. They all have their own unique characteristics, some with awesome tidepools and others with weird rock formations, and they are all close enough to each other to be explored in just a day or two.
Our discovery of the area happened quite by accident. After I couldn’t find my birth certificate, I had to cancel a vacation through Alberta and British Columbia in Canada just a week before we were to leave. Scrambling for a new place to take the family, I stumbled upon a website for Kalaloch Lodge in the Olympic National Park.
It looked like fun, and it was definitely a place we’d never visited, so I called and lucked out that there had been a cancellation for the three days we wanted. Normally, as with most National Park cabins and resorts, the Lodge is booked up months in advance.
We stayed in a cozy cabin nestled on the bluffs above Kalaloch Beach. It was perfect for a family of four, with two queen-sized beds, a full kitchen, wood stove for the chilly nights, and a bathroom with shower. Hey, this isn’t exactly “roughing it,” although you can do that just down the road at the Kalaloch campgrounds, which are fully equipped for RVs and trailers, but will also accomodate a tent if that’s your style.
Kalaloch Beach is littered with driftwood of all shapes and sizes, making it an ideal place for an evening campfire. We brought hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as the required marshmallows, but if you don’t have supplies there’s a small store at the main lodge where you can find everything you need for a BBQ on the beach and a front row seat to the spectacular sunsets.
The endless piles of driftwood also provide material for your kids to make the fort of their dreams. The cabins and campgrounds at Kalaloch are easily accessible to the beach, so you don’t have to worry about rushing your kids a long way back to a bathroom in the middle of making ‘smores. And if you don’t want to make your dinner, either on the beach or in your cabin, there’s always the Kalaloch Lodge Restaurant, which offers a fine dining experience.
The gorgeous, expansive beach around the Lodge might be enough for most families, but we’re explorers. We want to see what’s around the next corner. One great thing about the Olympic Beaches is that you don’t have to drive very far to see them. It’s only eight miles from Kalaloch Lodge to Ruby Beach, and in between you’ll find plenty of places to stop and hike down to various beaches.
One of our favorites was Beach #4, a rocky section of coast that had the best tidepools for the kids to explore. At low tide, they could find every type of sea creature you’d expect, from sea stars to anemones. We actually came back to this beach twice just for the tidepools. These places are ideal for young kids who are just learning about nature and the ocean, and concepts such as erosion, tides, and the life cycle.
Further up the road you’ll find the popular Ruby Beach, with its dramatic sea stacks and meandering creek. A longer drive north takes you to Rialto Beach, with its must-see “hole-in-the-wall” rock formation. Like I said, every beach is different, and all are worth visiting. The Olympic beaches have become a tradition in my family, with plans for us to return every other year to the lodge that I found by accident. Sometimes the best things in life are completely unexpected.
All photos by Phil Corless