Lake Crescent Washington

Lake Crescent Olympic National Park

Lake Crescent is amazing. Its crystal clear water sparkles with colors that range from the deepest sapphire blue to turquoise. It is the largest lake in Olympic National Park and the second-deepest lake in Washington. Even though the size doesn’t match Lake Tahoe or Crater Lake it is just as, or for me, more beautiful.

Location

From Port Angeles follow U.S. Highway 101 west for 18 miles and you will enter the north side of Olympic National Park. The lake will be on the north side of the Highway. Highway 101 flanks the south side of the lake along the southern shoreline.

Google Terrain Map of Lake Crescent
Google Terrain Map of Lake Crescent

Access

Public access to the lake is at East Beach and along East Beach Road. East Beach Road is located on the northeast corner of the lake. Additional access is at the Fairholme Campground on the western shore.

Camp David Jr. Road starts at Fairholme and provides road access along part of the northern shoreline and leads to the Pyramid Peak Trailhead. Continuing by foot along the northern shoreline you will follow the Spruce Railroad Trail eastbound. Somewhere along the trail, the name changes its new name becomes the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Driving our RV along Highway 101 on the shoreline of Lake Crescent.
Driving our RV along Highway 101 on the shoreline of Lake Crescent.

The Lake Crescent Lodge is at the narrow point of the lake where Barnes Creek flows into the lake. These three locations are the only major access points. Parking is also available at multiple points along the Highway.

History

Historically Lake Southerland (to the east) and Lake Crescent were all one lake flowing into the Elwha River. About 8000 years ago, a landslide from Mount Storm King on the southeast side of the lake changed the area forever. The valley was divided and Lake Crescent was formed. It didn’t take long for the abundant rainfall in the area to fill the lake making a new outlet at Lyre River.

Looking east across Lake Crescent toward Mount Storm King
Looking east across Lake Crescent toward Mount Storm King.

Weather

We visited Lake Crescent while we were staying at the Dungeness Recreation Area north of Sequim Washington. You can get a good feel for that area in our post about Sequim in this post. Olympic Rain Shadow

Lake Crescent looking to the north at Pyramid Peak.
Lake Crescent looking to the north at Pyramid Peak.

The weather on both days we were at Lake Crescent was beautiful. Rainfall however should be noted as a real possibility. The mountain that created the landslide and created Lake Crescent is called Mount Storm King. This should be a good description of the year-round weather. The lake isn’t in the Olympic Rain Shadow. Rainfall totals are about 60 inches per year.

Our Visit

From Sequim, our drive to Lake Crescent was at about our forty-mile limit but we are so glad we visited for the day. After a slow start (typical for us) we arrived at the lake in the early afternoon and immediately saw that we should have been camping closer to the lake so we could have made multiple visits. A better campground for us would have been at the Salt Creek Recreation area to the north of the lake.

East Beach at Lake Crescent is an ideal place to launch our kayaks.
East Beach is an ideal place to launch our kayaks.

Camping

Reviews stated that the Fairholme Campground was not big rig-friendly so that wouldn’t have worked. Since then I have learned that there are a few sites at Fairholme that might have worked but I have not personally verified the sites.

Kayaking

For that one day, we made an afternoon trip out on the lake launching from East Beach. From the beach, the beauty of the Lake was obviously amazing. The water was calm with no wind. As we started out we could see what I estimated to be more than one hundred feet to the bottom of the lake. After about a half hour we covered nearly a mile heading across the lake and we picked up a tailwind. That tailwind should have been our clue to turn around immediately. A tailwind going out means a headwind going back.

Kayaking on Lake Crescent.
Kayaking on Lake Crescent.

It was a hard return trip back to the beach. Just before our arrival the wind completely stopped. The water went back to flat calm.

Driving West

A couple of the photos included in this post were from our drive along Highway 101 on our way to the westernmost point in the continental United States.

Highway 101 is called the Olympic Highway along the shoreline of Lake Crescent.
Highway 101 is called the Olympic Highway along the shoreline of Lake Crescent.

As I am sure you recall our goal of crossing the states was nearing completion. Nine months earlier we departed Key West Florida with the goal of a complete crossing. Driving along the shoreline of Lake Crescent put us closer and closer to our goal.

Better than Lake Tahoe and Crater Lake

How could this small lake located at the north edge of Olympic National Park be better (for me) than these two iconically beautiful lakes? In our travels, over the last five years, we have visited both Lake Tahoe and Crater Lakes and we love both of them. As for Crater Lake, it is very hard to get to the shoreline. Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake with Wizard Island Oregon
Crater Lake with Wizard Island Oregon

Someday we will stay at Lake Tahoe but it is so popular that it isn’t the wilderness that I prefer.

Our visit to Lake Crescent was far too short. I can say this for the entire Olympic Peninsula. I think visiting for a couple of months would be about right. For me, it needs to be a summer visit. I don’t think I would have fun in “abundant rainfall”.

Our visit to Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge

Hoh Rain Forest

Kalaloch Beach

Olympic Rain Shadow

Quinault Rainforest and Kestner Homestead

Other Links

Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent

Lake Crescent Lodge

15 thoughts on “Lake Crescent Olympic National Park”

  1. I suggest you find Muncho Lake in beautiful British Columbia, on the Alaska Highway. You might find that it rivals Lake Crescent. I hope you get to experience Alaska. Let us know if you head that way, and we might be able to join you! We spent three wonderful months on that trip this summer.

    1. The water is so clear because it is very pure. The reason that water usually isn’t clear is that it has suspended particles in it.

      Typically the contaminant is natural algae is one of the most common suspended plant life. Algae don’t grow in Lake Crescent because the water lacks nitrogen. Nitrogen is a common fertilizer.

      Lake Crescent lacks nitrogen because the rainwater feeding Lake Crescent is very pure and abundant. The forests around the lake strip nitrogen to fertilize the forest.

      The forests around Lake Crescent also lack tannic acid that tends to stain water to a slight rust color.

      The depth of Lake Crescent also contributes to water clarity. Plant material often ends up sinking into the depth where light is very low and temperatures are near freezing. Thus the plant material doesn’t decompose readily and this lack of decomposition helps keep the water clear.

      Unfortunately, the downside of crystal clear water is that it doesn’t support other life (bugs and fish) nearly as well as slightly stained water.

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