The haunting natural beauty of Forks – and there's more to it than 'Twilight tourism'

It's one of America's wettest towns, but it's no washout, says Chris Leadbeater

Midway down East Division Street, a family of four has paused on the sidewalk. Dad has the look of a man who would rather be elsewhere, but mum is smiling gamely, projecting a convincing air of fascination. Yet it is the two girls – somewhere in their early teens – who are most enthralled by their surroundings. Indeed, one of them squeaks in delight as she stares at the white clapboard house opposite, reaching quickly for her camera phone.

To the uninitiated observer, this might seem odd. The property in question is the Miller Tree Inn, a pleasant bed-and-breakfast bolthole on this unassuming American avenue. But the giveaway is the big image of Robert Pattinson, which gazes – red of eye, chalky of complexion – from an upstairs window. The younger daughter emits another squeal.

Here is the Twilight effect in action. For this, of course, is Forks, the little town that won the Hollywood lottery. Wedged into the far north-west corner of the US, 130 miles west of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula (the thickly forested promontory that rears up as the last hurrah for Washington State), this tiny speck on the map was largely unknown until the novelist Stephenie Meyer set her stories of lovelorn teenage vampires and schoolboy werewolves in its remote streets. When the movie industry latched onto the Twilight saga (the first film was released in 2008, the fifth and final instalment, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 was released on Friday) Forks was shoved, blinking, into the spotlight.

For the last half-decade, legions of fans have flocked to the town hoping to peer into the lives of the three main characters – the vampiric Edward Cullen (Pattinson), the lupine Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and the object of their affections, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).

The surge in visitor numbers has astonished the town. "The Twilight effect has boosted tourism in Forks by 1,000 per cent," says Rianilee Belles, who offers guided trips around the key sites through her company Twilight Tours in Forks. "Interest tends to tail off a little between movies, but it will soar again with Breaking Dawn – Part 2."

What makes this travel craze all the more remarkable is that scarcely a second of the five movies has actually been shot in Forks (most scenes were filmed in British Columbia and Oregon). Indeed, the Miller Tree Inn, despite marketing itself as "The Cullen House", concedes this fact on its website. "Though it looks nothing like the movie version, our inn closely matches Stephenie Meyer's description of the Cullen family house," it confesses.

But, while it is understandable that a hotel might seize a golden opportunity, I am more intrigued to see that the rest of Forks has also embraced the phenomenon. At 775 K Street, a sign hammered into the lawn brands the property as "Home of the Swans." The police station boasts a Twilight display. And Leppell's Flowers and Gifts, once a simple florists, is one of several stores that now devote a considerable amount of floor space to souvenirs.

"When Twilight happened, it was a breath of fresh air for the town," owner Charlene Leppell tells me. "It can get busy at times, when we have three weddings and a funeral to prepare flowers for, and the shop is packed with Twilight fans. But it's great."

On the exterior of the Chamber of Commerce, a sign betrays the true cause of Forks's elevation to celebrity, recording that it receives 120 inches of rain every year. Meyer had not seen the town when she started writing, but selected it as her central setting because such deluges make it one of the dampest – and most atmospheric – locations in America.

The weather blesses Forks with portentous skies, perfect for yarns about juvenile blood-sucking. But it also dresses the town – and the countryside around it – in leafy verdancy.

And here is the real reason to visit this lonely patch of the USA. The Olympic Peninsula is a dramatic slice of wilderness, huddled at the end of the line for the American nation. It is craggy and tree-laden, the 6,900ft Mount Olympus rearing up (as any mountain with this title should) at its heart, the Olympic National Forest coating most of the interior. When I stroll in the dense pocket of the Quinault Rain Forest, 60 miles south of Forks, the congested branches arch overhead so keenly that, in parts, they block out the heavens.

This idea of distance – of a place on a limb – is exacerbated by Cape Flattery. The most north-westerly point of the contiguous USA lurks 30 miles above Forks – though the journey is closer to 60 miles by road, Route 112 meandering unhurriedly along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the neighbourly bulk of Canada's Vancouver Island visible on the far side of this silver-blue channel. The Cape itself is reached via a mile-long trail where tumbled pine needles cushion each footfall. When I re-emerge at the water's edge, I am greeted by the sight of the Pacific in all its blank magnificence, reaching for the horizon.

Indeed, the seafront is arguably the Olympic Peninsula's grandest asset. This is the same American flank that flirts with the sun in California, but here is a decidedly different west coast, the sand grey, damp and sullen. Ruby Beach, 20 miles south of Forks, has a name that sings of jewellery. But, dominated by a huge bluff, torn from the landmass and dropped into the surf, it has an ambience that is more lost world than light and sparkle.

Forks, too, has its secret coves. On the adjacent Quileute Reservation – the home of Lautner's Native American wolf-child – La Push Beach is split into segments. Of these, Second Beach is the most glorious, accessed by another one-mile path between colossal cedar trunks. The shingle is littered with fallen giants, arboreal corpses rejected by the ocean and returned to sender as driftwood. The resulting scene is raw and achingly beautiful – and will remain so long after the final teenage vampire has discovered a new obsession.

Travel essentials

Getting there

The only non-stop flights from the UK to Seattle are on BA (0844 493 0787) from Heathrow.

Staying there

Miller Tree Inn, 654 East Division Street, Forks (001 360 374 6806, millertreeinn.com). Doubles start at $115 (£72), including breakfast.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'