Looking for another stunning spot on the Olympic Peninsula? Join Explore Washington State contributor Albertine Wang as she takes you on a journey to one of her favorite spots – Lake Crescent.
Nestled in a glacial valley about half an hour from Port Angeles is a waterscape so beautiful it makes me a little irrationally angry every time I visit – the same how-is-this-fair kind of angry I’d become if I were to watch someone solve a Rubik’s cube in one hand while making brilliant conversation. Each trip, the first glimmer of Lake Crescent that I glimpse between spindly trees along the Olympic Highway lands like a gut punch. Below are ten reasons Lake Crescent tops my list of must-visit destinations in Western Washington, from gorgeous views to ghastly stories.
Deep. Blue. Waters
The distinctively clear, low-nitrogen waters of Lake Crescent – up to 600 feet deep in places – are like nothing else. Sometimes they’re eerily still (a state known as “glass”), and sometimes they’re so choppy that all boaters and swimmers must immediately make for shore. The waters are also deceptively deep, even when you think you can see the bottom. A submerged shoe or coin that appears within reach only looks close by; the water warps light and plays with our perception of distance.
It’s easy to find “your spot.”
Despite the lake’s year-round popularity, its shorelines stretch far enough that you can reliably hunt down a private spot where you can feel alone with nature. (This photo is from one such spot, hidden under a natural archway of trees and near a small peninsula that appears and disappears with the tide.) If you still feel crowded, rent a kayak and go ashore at one of Lake Crescent’s many secluded beaches accessible only by water or trail. Some even have picnic tables – keep an eye out!
There’s something for everyone, from homebodies to adventurers.
My boyfriend and I default to Lake Crescent as a weekend spot because it requires so little compromise or preparation on our part, and we can change plans up to the last minute. Want a luxe getaway and a drink or two? The lake boasts two lodges with cushy accommodations, gift shops, and restaurants. Want a more rugged experience? There are nearby campsites, incredible hiking and biking trails, hidden creeks and glades, and stretches of quiet, pebbly beach where you can simply set up a lawn chair and read. Hiking enthusiasts should scale Storm King for a challenge, or if in a reflective mood, walk my personal favorite, the Sol Duc Falls trail.
Options to get out on the water are right at your fingertips.
This past spring, I impulse boarded an hour-long, lodge-offered boat tour to see more of the lake than I’d ever seen before. The information-dense boat tour, formerly led by the hilariously deadpan Captain Toni, is not always available depending on the season and staffing situation, but you can get a similar visual experience renting a canoe or kayak from the lodge. No need to bring your own gear, and no need to be a water sports expert.
Seeing views of the lake from the water is like unlocking hidden bonus features.
Whether from Captain Toni’s boat or from a kayak, when floating in the middle of Lake Crescent, you have the opportunity to view the entire valley from surprising, striking angles that are less frequently publicized. Special bragging rights should be awarded to anyone able to find the sunken wartime-era locomotive, rumored to be visible when waters are still and the sun is shining. (I, however, am skeptical, mainly due to the depth and darkness of the lake above the train.)
You can take a dip in a natural swimming hole after a day of strenuous activity.
Speaking of hidden bonus features, right by one of Lake Crescent’s many biking/hiking trails is the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a naturally occurring swimming hole partly separated from the rest of the lake by an underwater rock formation. Bring towels – the water is brisk year-round!
There are plenty of spooky Lake Crescent stories to tell your travel buddies at night…or spam friends and family with, later.
Speaking still of hidden features, the lake has grisly memories hidden in its cold waters. One treacherous stretch of lakeside road is to blame for at least two watery wrecks in the lake’s history, including one that swallowed a couple by the name of Warren in 1929. Their two sons waiting at home, preteens at the time of the accident, died in middle age, years before divers found wreckage that confirmed the Warren parents’ fate. Even darker than that piece of history is the tale of Hallie Illingworth, a local waitress whose waxy, saponified corpse was found in the lake years after her killer (her husband) claimed she had run away.
Lake Crescent Lodge has a world-class sun porch.
This well-lit, generously furnished thing is the sun porch of my dreams. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it set the standard for my sun porch dreams when I spent a Saturday afternoon in May drinking white wine and listening to music here. This beautifully appointed sun porch, which doubles as a dining room during busy restaurant hours, makes me want to take up knitting, adopt six cats and retire immediately. That’s how relaxing it is.
The main dock at the lake is a photographer’s dream.
From the end of the dock, not only are you presented with 360 fabulous degrees of scenery to photograph (ranging from mountains and forests to rippling water and a pebbly beach), you are also gifted with the perfect setup for long-exposure water photography. I confess to having used the dock railing to support my camera: this lazy photographer’s solution to traveling without a tripod. Plus, frequently overcast skies means you can long-expose to your heart’s content without fear of washing out your images.
Lake Crescent is never quite the same every time you look at it.
I’ve been visiting this area since 2011, and from season to season and day to day, the lake looks like an entirely different place in each set of photos I’ve snapped of it. The light, the waves, the clouds, the colors – everything changes on a near hourly basis, and this one lake can be so many things over the course of a single day. May it mean many wonderful things to you, too, over the years.