I have the camera focused tightly on the rushing, icy clear water below.
They told us at check-in that there was an early salmon run on the Sol Duc River; a guest had spotted 10 fish the day before. I rushed my family to the Salmon Cascades, where a viewing platform is built over the river a few miles north of Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort in Olympic National Park.
I steady the lens, hopeful for a prized photo of salmon leaping through the air. My 5-year-old twins are with me, and like all kindergarteners, waiting isn’t their natural state. The two of them are moving around, kicking the dirt, giggling and running their hands over the rough, damp wood around the platform.
Leaning over the railing with the camera up to my eye, I hear my son’s delighted squeal, alerting me to stop and really look. In my line of sight, no more than what would be a few strides away, a majestic bald eagle glides low and swiftly over the water, eyeing the river like us.
Three million visitors a year come to Olympic National Park to experience its 1,400 square miles of glaciers, mountain and forest trails, wildlife, rivers and scenic beaches. Olympic National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. The park is a source of pride for Pacific Northwest residents and a must-see natural wonder for travelers from around the world.
We’ve come to the north side of Olympic National Park in springtime to visit Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. It’s one of the park’s lodge properties, open early in the year to welcome the first warm-weather visitors. Sol Duc’s location and updated amenities make it a popular choice for families.
“Sol Duc” comes from a Quileute Indian phrase that means sparkling water. The naturally heated springs are said to be made from the hot tears of dragons, defeated in a battle over the valley.
In more recent times, the area was developed as a luxury resort in 1912, before a fire consumed it all a few years later.
Today’s Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has a large riverside suite and 32 comfortable cabins, some with kitchens. None of the cabins has a phone, television, internet or Wi-Fi, making them a perfect base for getting kids outside.
Sol Duc Hot Springs is a popular destination for those seeking the purported healing properties of the mineral pools. “They come for therapeutic reasons,” Sol Duc Hot Springs manager Jay Vincent tells me. “People believe in the healing power of hot springs.”
I find that after a long day of exploring the park and accounting for my excited twins, my soak in the 100-degree water of the hot springs provides a relaxing escape from the aches and fatigue that can go along with family travel.
My water-loving kids don’t mind the sulfur smell, swimming and floating for as long as we’ll let them, meeting other kids and fitting right in with the groups of resort guests and day-trippers enjoying the pools. There is a large unheated freshwater pool for breaks from the heat — in the cool springtime mist that lingered in the Sol Duc Valley on our visit, only the hardiest swimmers spent much time there.
The pools were tidy and well-maintained. The quietest time to go was the first hour they opened in the morning, when resort guests have exclusive use of the facilities. Throughout the day, we saw families walking toward the hot springs, heading outside in all weather to spend time together.
The Sol Duc Valley is a good base for exploring a number of Olympic National Park’s most famous sights and activities. At the end of Sol Duc Road is the trailhead for the Sol Duc Waterfall Trail, a well-maintained nearly mile-long hike through thick forest and across bridges.
As we walk the trail toward Sol Duc Falls, my twins ask me to repeat their favorite Bigfoot stories, tales I’ve made up to steer them away from straying too far from Mom and Dad in the woods. The trails can be slippery and I’ve read that there are black bears and cougars in the park — with Sasquatch’s help, my curious twins stay nearby on all our hikes.
From Sol Duc we do a leisurely drive to the Hoh Rainforest. On the Hall of Mosses trail, my daughter sees the white sheen of fairy wings in the flickering light that makes it down through the rainforest canopy. My son sees dinosaurs tucked in the swampy, moss-draped forest. All of us think the massive trees and decaying stumps look like giants, leaning in as if they could stand up, shake their tattered green cloaks and step into our world.
Heading back through the small town of Forks, we have the best kids’ meals we’ve had on the road at Sully’s Drive-In. I succumb to the Twilight frenzy and order a Bella Burger and Twilight Punch, complete with fangs. It’s the most fun I’ve had with food in a long while. I keep my plastic fangs to remember the visit, and tell my twins that vampires live in the woods, watching for any kid who gets out of bed before sunrise.
My family sleeps soundly back in our cabin. With no TV or Wi-Fi, I stay up reading “How to Raise a Wild Child” and focusing on all that we’ve seen.
If you go
Go: Washington State Ferries run daily from Edmonds to Kingston, or from Coupeville to Port Townsend. 888-808-7977. www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. Drive 40 miles east of Port Angeles to Sol Duc Hot Springs.
Stay: Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, 12076 Sol Duc Hot Springs Road, Port Angeles. 360-327-3583. www.olympicnationalparks.com. 32 cabins, a riverside suite and an RV park. Campsites nearby are first come, first served.
Eat: Sully’s Drive-In, 220 S. Forks Ave., Forks. 360-374-5075. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has a poolside deli and a restaurant. Families should reserve a cabin with a kitchen — pick up provisions in Port Angeles or Forks.
Fees and safety: Get park information, passes and permits at the Olympic National Park Visitor’s Center, 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles. 360-565-3130. www.nps.gov/olym. Be prepared — check road and trail conditions, supervise children and bring proper gear.
Read: “How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love With Nature” by Scott D. Sampson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.