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Lake Crescent is a majestic glacial lake located at the northern tip of the Olympic National Forest in Clallam County, Washington. Glaciers during the last ice age carved a deep valley in the Olympic Mountains through which Indian Creek flowed. A massive landslide about 8,000 years ago dammed the creek, creating 5,127-acre Lake Crescent. Water flowing into the valley eventually found an outlet into the Lyre River, which follows a route north over the Lyre River Falls before emptying into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Today, several creeks feed into the lake, including Barnes, Smith, Aurora, Lapoel, Cross, and Eagle Creeks.
Lake Crescent is serenely scenic, nestled at the base of Mount Storm King, an imposing 4,534-foot peak located on the south side of the lake. Most of Lake Crescent's shoreline is mountainous, except at either end. Known for its pristine turquoise water, Lake Crescent is 8.5 miles long and reaches depths of 624 feet, one of the deepest lakes in Washington state. The bottom of the lake is actually below sea level. Local native legend claims that Mount Storm King grew tired of fighting between the Clallam and Quileute tribes, so he threw giant rocks to stop the warring. The rocks created the deep depression that is now Lake Crescent.
Found in the crystal blue water of Lake Crescent are two unique trout species, the Beardsley (a subspecies of rainbow trout) and the Crescenti (a subspecies of cutthroat). The Beardsley trout are known to reach large size and put up a good fight. However, due to their declining population, catch and release rules are now in effect to protect and preserve this native trout found nowhere else on earth. There is healthy fly fishing for steelhead trout and salmon in the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula's West End, from the Lyre River on the northeast to the Quinault River on the southwest.
In addition to fishing, Lake Crescent is popular for boating, kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, camping, hiking, bird watching, and picnicking. Boat rentals are available through resorts scattered along the shoreline. Although there is not much aquatic life in Lake Crescent, shore dives to an underground forest and to sunken boats is easy due to the extremely clear water and lack of current. Light penetrates deeply into the lake's clear waters, so divers are cautioned not to dive deeper than planned and to fly a dive flag.
Lake Crescent is roughly 15 miles west of Port Angeles on US 101. The highway runs the length of the lake along the southern shore, just a few feet above the water for a striking view of the lake and surrounding mountains. Just off of US 101 is the Storm King Ranger Station with trailheads to the Moments in Time Nature Trail and the Barnes Creek Trail to Marymere Falls. The ranger station offers modern bathrooms, picnic facilities, docks, and a boat ramp. The Moments in Time Trail is a 1/2 mile loop along the banks of Lake Crescent through massive cedar and Douglas fir trees. The Barnes Creek Trail is a one mile hike to the stunning 90-foot Marymere Falls. The one mile Storm King Trail splits from the Marymere trail and climbs more than 3,000 feet with beautiful views across the lake. The National Park Service recommends against climbing to the summit due to hazardous conditions.
Along Lake Crescent's northern shore are the Spruce Railroad Trail and the Pyramid Peak Trail; both reward hikers with beautiful lake vistas. The Spruce Railroad Trail follows an old railroad built during World War I to transport Sitka Spruce trees to Seattle. Pyramid Peak is accessible from the Spruce Railroad Trail. It is a strenuous hike, a 3-1/2 mile climb to the summit at 3,125 feet with views all the way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The Lake Crescent area is prime bird watching territory. Hikers will be treated to views of the American dipper, gray jays, thrushes (particularly along the waterfall trail), warblers, flycatchers, and vireos during the daytime. Nighttime sightings include the Northern pygmy, Northern saw-whet, and barred owl.
Lake Crescent accommodations include campgrounds and vacation rental homes, or for a historic and luxurious stay, check out the Lake Crescent Lodge, built in 1916. Famous visitors included President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. Rowboats are available to rent from the lodge. Homes line small coves along the tranquil northern edge of the lake. Another option for visiting is the Log Cabin Resort on the northeast shore of the lake. There you can rent A-frame chalets and rustic cabins, as well as campsites and RV hook-ups. Boat, canoe, and kayak rentals are also available.
Olympic National Park has 16 campgrounds operated by the National Park Service. The Fairholm Campground is located at the west end of Lake Crescent. The campground is open from April through mid-fall with a boat launch nearby; RVs and trailers up to 21 feet can be accommodated. Also at the western end of the lake is the Fairholm General Store and Cafe, where s'mores and other supplies can be found. There are campsites and RV hook-ups on site, plus a cafe serving hot meals on a deck over the lake. The general store also rents motor boats, rowboats and canoes to get you out on the water.
So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head for Olympic National Park to spend quality time on and off the waters of Lake Crescent.
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