But my real goal was the Cape Alava Trail, which begins on the western edge of Ozette Lake and heads 3.1 miles through coastal forest to the edge of the Pacific. What makes this hike one of the peninsula’s best is the fact that it is a boardwalk; Doug fir planks line the path almost all the way to the sea. The entire length of the trail, you are suspended a foot or so above the forest floor, on a winding, moss-edged path, the sort that might lead to the front door of the crooked man who famously lives in a crooked house. If time and tides allow, you can head three miles up the beach and return via a second boardwalk trail, Sand Point, making for a classic nine-mile circuit.
I chose instead to spend some time staring at the sea. The massive rocks you see in Oregon’s Pacific waters tend to be big chunks, but here, it was as if someone had lifted up one of those boulders and let it smash into a hundred bits, leaving them scattered across a shallow bar. Ravens and gulls picked at the tide pools, and the barks of unseen sea lions added an eerie quality to the scene.
You are suspended a foot above the forest floor on a boardwalk.
On a stretch of sand not far from here, archaeologists uncovered a 500-year-old beachfront village once inhabited by ancestors of the Makah Tribe, and my interest in seeing some of the 55,000 artifacts that were miraculously preserved by a mudslide meant a stop at tiny Neah Bay, the commercial and cultural center of the Makah located on the peninsula’s northernmost cape. Perhaps because it is a worn-out, financially strapped fishing town well off the beaten path, Neah Bay is overlooked by many guidebooks (and people), which is too bad since the Makah Cultural & Research Center is one of the most informative museums I’ve visited. Rescued from the mire, spear tips used for whale-hunting and seal-hunting, as well as cooking boxes, clothing and tools, are all on display. You can even hang out inside a life-size replica of a Makah longhouse, which was the spiritual home of the tribe. Another reason for a side tour to Neah Bay is to make the hike to Cape Flattery, reputedly the continental United States’ westernmost cape. The ¾-mile trail ends in a series of platforms overlooking a stunning vista of coastal caves. Birds are everywhere, as are seals. It’s like Cape Meares times 10.
But the very best reason to trek to Neah Bay is to eat the smoked salmon of Kimm C Brown. You’ll find Brown and his Take Home Fish Company in the white shack behind his mobile home just off Bayview Ave, next to the Makah Maiden coffee stand and across the way from the Makah Mini Mart; just look for the white sign with hand-painted “Smoked Salmon” in red letters. Cooked for two to five hours over alder wood, the fish was so juicy, so smoky, that I ate a full pound of it. His secret besides his methodical technique? Buying good salmon in the first place. “You want all the scales to be intact so the oils stay inside,” he says. “I only buy from fishermen who clean the fish right away, so the flesh is firm.” (His other secret is Lawry’s garlic salt, which he buys in bulk.)
My last stop was the 1916 Lake Crescent Lodge on Lake Crescent, a glacial lake on the north side of the park surrounded by ridges that rise so sharply, you feel you are in fact on the edge of a fjord. As with Lake Quinault’s signature accommodation, the best parts of Lake Crescent are the trails that begin mere steps from the lodge (including one that climbs to the top of Mount Storm King) and the stone fireplace in the main reception room, over which hangs a 20-point Roosevelt elk buck. The glassed-in porch makes as fine a place for a cocktail as you’ll find on the peninsula, what with the lake lapping at land mere yards away. I intended to go to Hurricane Ridge, which proffers spectacular views of Olympic summits, and hike out to Elk Mountain, but the clouds came, and then the rain. So I contented myself with the Moments in Time Nature Trail, another wimp, just a half-mile long.
My consolation was that unlike the foreign travelers I met, I would need only a few hours and perhaps a long weekend to return here, which means I didn’t need to be overly ambitious. And I certainly didn’t need to hurry.