Days 36-37 (September 3-4)
Olympic National Park, Washington: Quinault Rainforest & Hoh Rainforest.
My “perfect day” begins in the mountains and ends on the coast, or vice versa. That dreamy combination awaits us on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. We’ve set aside a week to explore the area, although I imagine that even a lifetime of wandering this region would not allow for seeing all of the amazing natural wonders here.
We arrive in the Quinault Valley early enough in the day to score a sweet lakeside site in the small and deeply forested Willaby campground. The south shore of the lake is within Olympic National Forest (not the National Park), and is the hub of the Quinault Valley activity. That being said, it’s still pretty quiet compared to the coastal, mountainous, and hot springs areas within the National Park.
The north side of the lake is inside the Olympic National Park boundary. We drive east to the tiny town of Amanda Park (within the Quinault Indian Nation) and then along the north shore of Lake Quinault to check out the area, and find it practically abandoned this time of year. I am guessing that the north side of the Quinault Valley is lightly visited because of more limited public access to the lake, although due to a recent property acquisition by the NPS, it looks like that may change in the not too distant future.
From Willaby campground we are just a short drive or a couple miles hike from the village of Quinault. The Lake Quinault Lodge is warm and welcoming and just what one would envision a classic Pacific Northwestern lodge to look like.
The large grassy back lawn overlooks a small pebble beach and boat dock, where one can rent a canoe, kayak, or SUP.
In spite of the comfortably warm temperature this afternoon, there is already a fire roaring in the fireplace. As lovely as the lodge is in summertime, a winter visit appeals to me just as much.
The beams in the lodge’s great room are decorated with Native American motifs, and the wall alongside the staircase is lined with black and white photographic portraits of Native American women. A piano which was salvaged from the first lodge that was built on this spot (which burned in 1894) is there for guests to play, with a few mellow house rules posted.
There are a number of trails in the Quinault area. Most of the trails are fairly short, but what the trails lack in length they make up for in beautiful scenery. The .3 mile Big Spruce Tree Trail at the north end of the Quinault valley takes one to the largest Spruce in the world. A monster tree, this Sitka Spruce is estimated to be around 1,000 years old.
We read that the largest western red cedar and Douglas fir also live in the Quinault Valley, though we do not allow enough time here to find their locations.
A side trail leads one to a small waterfall grotto so pretty that it looks Hollywood-created. We continue on the Quinault Loop trail and connect with the Willaby Creek Trail, which we hike for a short time before heading back to the campground to cook dinner and enjoy the golden light of the “magic hour” by the lake.
As the sun sets, we skip stones and watch a happy dog frolic in the lake. While at Willaby campground we meet several fellow campers: a retired couple (former Tennesseans for 40 years, now Tacoma residents), and a social worker from Port Townsend and her recently retired shipwright husband, plus their two adult children who now reside in Olympia. Our new friends offer helpful suggestions for our remaining travels through Washington State.
We have a lot of ground to cover on the massive Olympic peninsula, so reluctantly after one night of camping in Quinault we decide to move on to see another rainforest valley. We drive west toward the coast, then turn northward on Highway 101. We arrive at Kalaloch campground before 11am and snag one of the last available first-come-first-serve sites. After setting up camp we weigh our options and decide to postpone beach time for a few hours and instead take a little side trip.
The Hoh Valley begins a multi-month closure on September 5th for maintenance/repairs, so on the 4th we make the long drive for what we’ve read to be a “can’t miss” experience within Olympic National Park: hiking the Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh rainforest. Apparently thousands of other people are also trying to fit in a visit to Hoh before the closure, and we experience Disneyland-like crowds, with a constant line of people moving along the trails.
Having just spent time in the idyllic quietude of Quinault rainforest, honestly the Hall of Mosses is a bit of a letdown. I’m sure that in a wetter season, on a day without the big crowds, I would enjoy this part of the park more. In spite of our Hall of Mosses experience being anti-climactic, the drive through the Hoh Valley was really lovely and the Hoh river so pretty that I’ve added a Hoh Valley backpacking trip to my bucket list.
Next up: those fantastic Olympic coast beaches!