OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
FEW NATIONAL PARKS MAKE PICKING your poison so gut-wrenching as Olympic does: Should you light out for the 7,000-foot-and-higher peaks and sparkling lakes of the Olympic Peninsula's interior? The rugged headlands and tide pools of the 65-mile Coastal section, a lengthy ribbon of primitive coastline? Or the moist air and brooding old growth of the temperate rainforest? Tough call, but this should help: For a gratifying combo of remoteness, adventure, and greenery so lush you'd swear you can hear the plants breathing, set aside three or four days to BACKPACK part of the 15-mile out-and-back Queets River Trail, in the park's southwestern area. To reach the trailhead, drive 45 minutes from Highway 101 along a one-lane gravel washboard, and then ford two rivers, the shallow Sams and the trickier Queets. (Use caution on the Queets; the riverbed is rocky, uneven, slimy in spots, and unpassable at times in spring and early summer.) The trail wanders among Sitka spruces and red cedars, with riverside sandbars inviting quick dunks in the martini-cold Queets and well-situated tent sites. Elk herds have been known to make a cameo. Pick up your wilderness permit ($5, plus a camping fee of $2 per person per night) at any ranger station or information center.
ROSS LAKE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
Shortcut across Puget Sound to your second destination: Ross Lake National Recreation Area, hard by the Canadian border. Drive north on Highway 101 along the coast to Port Townsend, where it's a 30-minute ferry ride to Whidbey Island and the cozy Captain Whidbey Inn (doubles, $150$295; 800-366-4097, www.captainwhidbey.com). Next day, drive three hours on State Route 20 to 24-mile-long Ross Lake and the captivating Ross Lake Resort (doubles, $92$197; 206-386-4437, www.rosslakeresort.com). First, there's one more transportation leg: Ditch your car at milepost 134 on State Route 20 and hike a mile to the water, where a resort boat will ferry you to one of 15 floating cabins. Mellow Ross Lake, home to beavers and beatniks, has premier LAKE PADDLING, with 20 designated boat-in campsites if you want to sleep out (pick up a free backcountry permit at the Wilderness Information Center on State Route 20 on your way in; 360-873-4590; the resort rents canoes and kayaks). Afternoon winds tend to blow strongly uplake, so move in the morning. Your warm-up: Paddle the four miles up and down the Ruby Arm inlet. Or ride a motorboat to the trailhead for 6,100-foot Desolation Peak. It's a 4.7-mile, 4,300-foot billy-goat hoof up to the lookout, where Jack Kerouac is rumored to have camped for 63 days. The viewsof glacier-capped peaks and glistening Ross Lakeare nothing short of majestic.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK