Washington and Oregon lakes

Best lake vacation Lake Chelan in Washington
Photo by José; Mandojana


Lake Quinault

The morning fog hangs like a smoky pillow over Lake Quinault. Along the shores of the lake, tall trees rise to the sky. Set in the rain forest country of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Quinault is home to gargantuan timber that feasts on the area’s abundant moisture – 145 to 150 inches of rain annually. Even on this warm, clear morning, the lake is slow to shed its rainy-day ambience.

Along with its lush setting, 5-mile-long Lake Quinault’s lure lies in its serenity. The Quinault Indian Nation, which owns the lake, prohibits water scooters, waterskiing, and fast boat travel; you can go hours without hearing the motor of a boat as you quietly paddle your canoe or kayak. Along the shore, cabins and lodges are typically free of telephones. Some accommodations even forgo televisions.

The silence only thickens the deeper you walk among the surrounding trees. Linked Forest Service loop trails lead to stands of near-record size Douglas fir and Western hemlock. The 31-mile Lake Quinault Loop Drive gives you views of the region’s ambulatory titans, the barrel-chested Roosevelt elk.

Others of the lake’s pleasures are manmade. With its steep roof and weathered cedar-shingle exterior, the Lake Quinault Lodge feels as rooted in the landscape as the trees around it. In the wood-paneled lobby, logs snap in the large fireplace on cool days and in the evenings. Find a place in a club chair and gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the lake and the hills to the north. If there’s a more serene, more beautiful scene anywhere in the West, we’d like to know about it.

Lake Quinault travel planner

Lake Quinault is on the southwest edge of Olympic National Forest, about 150 miles (a three-hour drive) west of Seattle. Area code is 360 unless noted. BOATING: Lakeside lodges and resorts make kayaks or canoes available to guests, or you can bring your own.

SWIMMING: Water is cool but refreshing on an August day; beaches tend to be small and pebbly. There’s no lifeguard on duty. 


Roosevelt Dining Room. In Lake Quinault Lodge (see “Lodging” below); signature entrées include salmon and steak. Salmon House Restaurant. Casual eatery serving steak and seafood; its specialty is house-smoked salmon. 516 South Shore Rd.; 288-2535 or (800) 255-6936.

LODGING: Lake Quinault Lodge. This grand 92-room, 1926 structure rises above the south shore. From $110. 345 South Shore Rd.; 288-2900, (800) 562-6672, or www.visitlakequinault.com. Lake Quinault Resort. On the north shore, the resort has four townhouse suites and five rooms with kitchenettes. From $109. 314 North Shore Rd., Amanda Park; 288-2362, (800) 650-2362, or www.lakequinault.com. Lochaerie Resort. Five vintage, rustic cabins overlooking the lake on the north shore. From $80. 638 North Shore Rd., Amanda Park; 288-2215 or www.lochaerie.com.

CAMPING: You can camp lakeside at three Forest Service campgrounds and one national park campground. From $10. 288-2525 or 288-2444. – Jeff Halstead

Lake Chelan

With one shore touching the heart of the north Cascades, narrow Lake Chelan stretches 55 miles southeastward to lap the sun-bleached hills of eastern Washington. This breadth of personality makes Lake Chelan one of the West’s most intriguing bodies of water.

The lake’s eastern half is dominated by the condos and campgrounds around the resort town of Chelan. Western Lake Chelan is pinched between rocky, forested mountainsides and remains wilder. Stehekin, at the lake’s western tip, has overnight accommodations – North Cascades Stehekin Lodge – and camping.

LODGING. North Cascades Stehekin Lodge: from $90; (509) 682-4494. Best Western Lakeside Lodge, Chelan: from $169; (509) 682-4396.

CONTACT. Chelan Ranger District: (509) 682-2576. Lake Chelan Visitor Information: (800) 424-3526. – J.H.

Ross Lake

You can get there only by trail, shuttle, or a 39-mile-long gravel road from Hope, British Columbia. However you get there, you’ll find Ross Lake, tucked in Washington’s rugged north Cascades, to be a Northwestern paradise.

The lake’s shoreline has 19 campgrounds, many accessible by a 30-mile-long trail. For those who prefer not to rough it, Ross Lake Resort has floating cabins.

LODGING. Ross Lake Resort: from $68; (206) 386-4437 or www.rosslakeresort.com.

CAMPING. Campgrounds $5.

CONTACT. Ross Lake National Recreation Area: (360) 856-5700, ext. 515. – J.H.


Wallowa Lake

At the base of northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, Wallowa Lake provides a classic summer lake experience: There’s enough to do to keep you happy, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed. You can cruise the lake on kayaks or motorboats, then explore the galleries of nearby Joseph, Oregon.

LODGING. Wallowa Lake Lodge: from $87; (541) 432-9821. CAMPING. Wallowa Lake State Recreation Area offers tent and RV campsites; from $16.80; (800) 452-5687 or (541) 432-4185.

CONTACT. Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce: (800) 585-4121. Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center: (541) 426-5546 or www.fs.fed.us/r6/w-w. – Peter Fish
Keep Reading: