In the rainforest

A view of the Lake Quinault from the hiking trail

This weekend, my husband and I took a trip to Lake Quinault in the Olympic Peninsula, where we stayed at the old Quinault Lodge, a lovely example of an early 20th century northwestern lodge. While we were there, I went off on a hike of the Quinault Loop Trail. I didn’t manage to finish the trail because I mistakenly got off on the Rainforest Nature Trail and took that, and then I started worrying about getting back to the Lodge before our dinner reservation. However, I hiked about 3.5 miles, counting the portion of the Quinault Loop Trail that I hiked plus the Rainforest Loop.

Quinault Loop Trail plus Rainforest Nature Trail

Colonel Bob Wilderness and Olympic National Park, Quinault, Washington

Difficulty: Middling

Panting stops: 1-2

Distance: 3.8 miles for the Quinault Loop, .9 for the Rainforest Loop

Elevation change: 367 feet

You can begin the trail from the Ranger’s Station next to the Quinault Lodge, by walking across the highway to the trailhead. Since I was staying at the lodge, however, I just walked back to the trail where it crosses behind the lodge and started there, going south. From there, the trail runs along the lake for nearly a mile before cutting up through the forest and crossing underneath the highway. Shortly after you cross the highway, you can continue on the Quinault Loop path or go off on a tangent for the Rainforest Nature Trail. I was thrown off because the Quinault Loop itself is not marked, just the Rainforest Nature Trail. I got confused about the name of the path I was taking, so from then on, I was on the Rainforest Trail. This loop goes through the rain forest, and the change in surroundings is obvious. The Rainforest Nature Trail features informative signs about what you are seeing in the forest.

I was totally confused about where I was on the maps, which after a point did not show the You Are Here spot, so I thought I was much further along than I was and took the trail to the parking lot after I finished that loop. When I arrived at the parking lot, I realized I wasn’t at the one I expected to be, and since I was late, I just walked up the highway to Quinault instead of continuing on the trail back. In fact, by that time, I would have been quite far off the track of the Quinault Loop and would have had to spend a lot of time backtracking.

The scenery is quite spectacular, from the path along the lake, then to waterfalls and the deep forests of the rainforest. The path is narrow and has some footing issues, particularly along the lake, where I encountered several places with rocky, rough footing. It is a dirt or rock trail. The footing issues and some big elevation changes (but not too big) are why I rated this trail Middling instead of Easy, as it is rated in most guides. In particular, as you hike up the hillside from the highway, there is a really big step, about twice as high as a normal step. I didn’t have my sticks with me (always bring your sticks!), so as I looked at it, I considered whether I would have to turn around. However, I didn’t want to traverse some of those rough footing areas going downhill. So, I got as close to the step as I could, where the step wasn’t quite as high, and I used a nearby fallen tree to haul myself up. It was a good decision, because the trail was easier on the other side of the step.

Also, it is a rain forest. It was raining when I took the hike, and I got to walk through lots of mud puddles. So, be prepared with some decent footwear. I saw only one party out on the trail, and they had on athletic shoes and some even less suited to hiking. I don’t know how far they had gone, but they are on their way back to the lodge when I saw them, and I suspect they couldn’t get very far wearing the shoes they had on.

I enjoyed the hike, though, and hope to return sometime when I have more time to take the entire loop.

How to get there

From Portland or Vancouver

Take I-5 north toward Seattle. Take Exit 88 in Tenino and follow Old Highway 99/US 12 West. Follow US 12 until you see the signs for 101 North in Aberdeen. Take 101 North through Aberdeen and Hoquiam and continue on it north along the edge of the peninsula.

About 20 miles north of Aberdeen, you will see signs for Quinault. Take S. Shore Road to Quinault. The trailhead is about two miles up the road, opposite Lake Quinault Lodge, or you can go behind the lodge and take the trail from there like I did.

From Seattle

There are two ways to get from Seattle to Lake Quinault. You can take the ferry to Bainbridge Island and then drive around and across the peninsula, or you can drive south down I-5. These directions are for the I-5 route, which is shorter.

Take I-5 south toward Portland. Take Exit 104 for US 101 North. Take the Exit for WA-8 toward Montesano and Aberdeen. WA-8 merges with US 12 in Elma.

Follow US 12 until you see the signs for 101 North in Aberdeen. Take 101 North through Aberdeen and Hoquiam and continue on it north along the edge of the peninsula.

About 20 miles north of Aberdeen, you will see signs for Quinault. Take S. Shore Road to Quinault. The trailhead is about two miles up the road, opposite Lake Quinault Lodge, or you can go behind the lodge and take the trail from there like I did.

Parking and facilities

There is parking at the ranger station in Quinault and a small lot across the road from the lodge. If you are just interested in the Rainforest Nature Trail, there is a trailhead across the road from the Willaby Camp Ground. That parking lot has rest rooms. I did not see any other facilities on the trail.

Short trail to a big spruce

This little walk almost doesn’t qualify as a hike, but it has a trailhead, so I decided to count it. At the end of the hike is a big Sitka spruce to admire. The road to this spruce also goes right past the Quinault Lodge, a classic northwest rustic lodge built in 1926, where, by the way, I’m dying to stay. Stop by and check it out, or have lunch in their restaurant.

Big Spruce Trail

Rating: easy peasy

Panting stops: 0

Distance: 0.6 miles out and back

Elevation changes: very little

Somehow my brother did a panaroma shot to get this entire tree.

The valley around Quinault Lake is called Valley of the Giants because it contains six of the largest trees in the world. One of them (although I guess this is debated by Canada) is the largest Sitka spruce, at almost 200 feet high and 18 feet wide. It is an impressive tree! The walk out to it is on a pleasant needled trail surrounded by huge trees.

In any case, the Olympic Peninsula is gorgeous and full of beaches, rainforests, and viewpoints and other places to stop. This little hike makes a nice break from driving around to see the sights.

How to get there

Quinault National Recreation Trail System, Olympic National Forest, near Quinault, WA

From Aberdeen, WA

The base of the Sitka spruce. Note the size of the people behind the sign.

Take US 101 north for 45 miles to South Shore Road in Quinault. Turn east on South Shore Road, pass the Quinault Lodge, and the trailhead is on your right about three miles up the road.

Parking and facilities

There is a small parking lot at the trailhead.