Olympic National Park – Part 1: Quinault & Hoh Rainforests

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.

View of Lake Quinault from our campsite, Willa Campground Olympic National Forest
View of Lake Quinault from our campsite in Willa Campground

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.

Nurse log at our campsite in Willaby Campground, Olympic National Forest Washington
Nurse log at our campsite in Willaby Campground, Olympic National Forest

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.

Historic Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Forest Washington
Historic Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Forest
The Boathouse lodging at Lake Quinault Lodge Olympic National Forest Park
The Boathouse lodging at Lake Quinault Lodge

The large grassy back lawn overlooks a small pebble beach and boat dock, where one can rent a canoe, kayak, or SUP.

Lawn at Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic National Forest peninsula Washington
Lawn at Lake Quinault Lodge
Kayak and SUP rentals at Lake Quinault Lodge Olympic National Forest Park Washington
Kayak and SUP rentals at Lake Quinault Lodge

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.

Lake Quinault Lodge Olympic National Forest Park Washington
Lake Quinault Lodge

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.

The world's largest Spruce tree Olympic National Forest Park
The world’s largest Spruce tree

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.

The world's largest Spruce tree Olympic National Forest Park Washington
Robert checks out the world’s largest Spruce tree

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.

Hiking the Rainforest Nature Trail in the Quinault Valley Olympic National Forest
The Rainforest Nature Trail in the Quinault Valley

The half-mile Forest Service Rainforest Nature Trail and longer Loop trail near our campground wind through lush (even in dry season) rainforest filled with giant trees.

Quinault Rainforest mosses Olympic National Forest park Washington
Quinault Rainforest mosses

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.  

Pebble beach at Willaby Campground Lake Quinault Olympic national park forest Washington
An hour before sunset – pebble beach at Willaby Campground
Pebble beach on Lake Quinault Willaby campground Olympic National forest park Washington
Pebble beach on Lake Quinault

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.

September Sunset over Lake Quinault Olympic national forest park Washington
September Sunset over Lake Quinault

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.

Map of Olympic National Park rainforests
Moving on from Quinault to Hoh…

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.

Massive ferns and trees in Hoh rainforest Olympic National park Washington
Massive ferns and trees in Hoh rainforest
Moss-draped trees in Hoh rainforest at the end of dry season Olympic national park
Moss-draped trees in Hoh rainforest at the end of dry season

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!

Visit the links below to see our entire journey through Olympic National Park.

Part 2: Pacific Coast Beaches
Part 3: Rialto Beach, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc Valley
Part 4: Hurricane Ridge & Port Angeles

To catch up on all of our Washington travels so far, click here to see our series of Washington posts

***Curious where else we’ve been? Click here to check out our list of parks visited.***

 

 

10 Comments

    1. Olympic NP really is a stunningly beautiful place. With the exception of the Sol Duc hot springs “resort” and lodging area (which we found a bit depressing), every other part of the park that we visited exceeded our already high expectations. Definitely add it to your U.S. travel wish list – you won’t be disappointed.

      Thanks so much for visiting my blog. I can already tell that I’m going to spend hours reading yours!

      Liked by 1 person

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