First Family Trip: Olympic National Park

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The Olympic National Forest is a pretty unbeatable old growth wilderness, just four hours from the Lower Mainland

I recently had a baby, and my partner took a 12-week paternity leave from his teaching job so we could hang out as a family for a while. It has been an amazing time, and it passed a little too quickly. Before he went back to work, we decided to celebrate with our very first “camping” trip as a family. We packed up the car and headed south, over the border into Washington state and to the Olympic Peninsula. We have done camping trips to the area before – see last year’s Easter Camping excursion to Deception Pass State Park – but this time we figured we needed something a bit different. A roof over our heads, for one. Neither of us was quite ready to brave the elements in April with a newborn baby, so we opted for a cabin. We wanted heat, running water, a basic kitchenette, and NO access to internet, phone, wifi or a television.

I was happy to find a spring promotion for a cabin at Sol Duc Hot Springs, in Olympic National Park. I liked the sound of the simple, rustic accommodations, and the hot springs themselves. The site is located 12 miles off the main road through the park, so it  does require a commitment to hunker down for a few days. It is just over a two hour drive from Port Townsend, the beautiful city on the other end of the Washington State Ferry from Keystone.

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Port Townsend – our first stop on the Olympic Peninsula

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An unremarkable cabin in a remarkable place

Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is one of those funny old lodges-with-cabins you find in the middle of a spectacular wilderness, a legacy of the outdoor recreations of the privileged class in the early part of the last century. Perhaps the most stunning is the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite, which I would call a wilderness-ski-castle for very rich and good-looking WASP families. The Sol Duc Lodge is nowhere near as storied or as opulent as the Ahwanee, but it has the same kind of overpriced meals and rustic-themed gift shop. Between the run-down staff and the aging hippy clientele, the Sol Duc actually bares a closer resemblance to the folks at the Big Sur Lodge. The landscape is wet and cold most of the year, but the trees are huge and the wilderness trails are plentiful. It isn’t hard to imagine that the regular visitors come here year after year, and this helps keep the place, oddly, both dated and timeless. The curtains are a treasure worthy of any standard-issue portable classroom in the 1980s, the heating is dodgy, the cabins are entirely without good design or modern decor. The cabins are too close together and charmlesss to be considered luxury, and yet it’s fabulous.

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The family at Cape Flattery, Makah territory, Washington state.

It was a wonderful escape. The baby slept on one of the two queen sized beds, which took up all but a few square feet of the small cabin. We managed to take several nice long hikes, despite my fear that we would wake up a large bear along the way. Jon and I ate well, read books, soaked in the stinking hot springs, and raised a glass to our new family. On the one day that we left the cabin for a driving adventure, we went to Cape Flattery, the north-westernmost point in the lower 48, and enjoyed a spectacular view.

What was your first outdoor adventure or camping trip with kids?

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