Much of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is explored on the northern edge giving a spectacular view into Vancouver, and that is a great way to take in the magnificence of Washington’s natural beauty, but if you’re looking for a trail just a little less traveled, come a bit south into the Lake Quinault area and explore the rain forest waiting for you further south of Mount Olympus.
By no means abandoned and vacant, the trails here still have avid hikers on them but you will get a new point of view on trails such as the Quinault Loop Trail than you’d get just a few miles north in the more popular regions.
In the small valley at the foot of Bell Mountain and south of Wooded Peak is Lake Quinault, a constant draw for hikers and campers far and wide. The forest trails here easy to hike for the entire family, they are regularly maintained, and there are park facilities close by when you emerge from the trails at the lake front or campground.
The main road into the Quinault area has many spots where you can get off the road and get onto a trail. In fact, South Shore Road continues deep into the valley and terminates in the Graves Creek Trail area, but for this guide, we’ll be talking about the considerably more friendly hike at Quinault Loop Trail. It offers just under four miles of rain forest splendor and sights, nearby facilities, and a cool refreshing lake to have a dip to relax before finishing the day’s activities.
To see a further breakdown of the Quinault Loop Trail, please visit the official page for the Washington Trails Association. Link to the relevant page on wta.org for the hike.
HISTORY OF THE Quinault Loop Trail
If you go to Lake Quinault today, you’re likely to see the result of the constant rain and damp atmosphere that has developed a rich and varied temperate rain forest ecosystem in the valley.
However if you were around during the last ice age, you would have seen an enormous glacier slowly ripping, tearing, and crushing the land as it carved out the valley you’re standing in today. When the ice receded, what remained was the Quinault Valley and the nearly four mile long, two mile wide lake that is fed by the icy runoff coming from the Quinault River.
The lake is the territory of the Quinault Tribe and trespassing onto tribal land is expressly forbidden, but the south shore of Lake Quinault is accessible to the public and that is where we will find a spectacular array of campgrounds, lodges, lakeside attractions and plenty of hiking trails to entertain even the most experienced hiker.
Quinault Loop Trail won’t offer a particularly strenuous trail for the adrenaline junkie, but it offers the opportunity to escape into nature, share the love of hiking with those that maybe are first experiencing it for the first time, and get them interested in hiking longer and more exhilarating trails.
Quinault Loop Trail is easy enough for a family with children to hike it, pet friendly so you can bring the dogs along, and long enough that it is not overly long for the young ones, and not too short for those wanting a lengthy hike. Quinault Loop Trail is a perfect rain forest hike for the family.
GETTING TO THE Quinault Loop Trail
If you’re coming to Quinault Loop Trail from the “big” city are of Washington, such as Seattle or Tacoma, you’ll be driving I-5 south to Olympia and then jumping on to WA-8 and merge onto Olympic Highway all the way into Montesano. Just outside of town you’ll turn north onto Wynoochee Valley Road and your venture up into the peninsula begins.
However, stay alert as you’ll turn off Wynoochee Valley Road and onto Wynoochee Wishkah Road and if you’re not familiar with the area, this similarity in names could go unnoticed and lead you deeper into the middle of the peninsula rather than the outskirts where the Quinault Loop Trail is. To make matters even more confusing, you’ll turn off Wynoochee Wishkah Road onto Wishkah Road and then onto Hoquiam Wishkah Road, before finally turning onto Hoquiam Road…
Not too far down after a few twists and turns, you’ll finally join onto the 101 and stay on the main road all the way up to Lake Quinault where you’ll find your destination on the right at South Shore Road. If you cross the Quinault River and see North Shore Road, you’ll know you’ve gone too far.
The directions may seem crazy, and if you’re not from the area they may be a bit much, but wven if you’re coming in from Bremerton on the east coast of the Olympic peninsula, the fastest route is the same, taking the main roads south to join the route above at McCleary or Olympia. The only other option would be taking Olympic Highway all the way into Hoquiam and taking the 101 north from there, but that is a bit out of the way.
PARK FACILITIES AND REGULATIONS
Quinault Loop Trail is one of our favorite hiking trails in Washington because it is so easily accessible and family friendly. The south shore of Lake Quinault is a popular getaway for the summer and you’ll find family vacations and honeymooning couples all along the shoreline.
Several well-cared for campgrounds line the shore waiting for the crowds to pour in and the surrounding lots have hotels, restaurants and shops to cater to the influx of visitors. The area can become busy, but never feels crowded or “touristy” but always feels friendly and comfortable.
The National Forest Service maintains the public areas of the park and you will find Quinault Loop Trail and the surrounding trails clean and well maintained year round. The Quinault Ranger Station is centrally located to the recreational area of the lake and provides plenty of parking for day trippers who aren’t staying at the nearby hotels or campgrounds. The visitor center is open to the public for learning about the wildlife in the area, mapping out your hike, and they have comfortable clean indoor bathroom facilities as well.
Dogs on their leash are welcome on the Quinault Loop Trail as well as the rest of the trails in the Quinault National Recreational Trails area. The trail is open and maintained year round so come visit often and experience the damp spring thaw, the warm summer breeze beneath the rain forest canopy, the turn of the autumn foliage, and the breathtaking beauty of winter in Washington.
NAVIGATING THE Quinault Loop Trail
The four mile hike is truly a loop with backtracking along the route so no matter where you join in, you can complete the Quinault Loop Trail circuit and end up back where you started. If you’re staying at the local campgrounds or hotels, you’ll likely be joining on from there, and if you came in for just the day of hiking, you’ll most likely begin the Quinault Loop Trail at the Ranger Station and Visitor Center.
We suggest before embarking along the trail you stop into the ranger station and pick up one of the maps to keep you on the trail. It’s not so much that you could get lost, but there are a number of short trail spurs that wind off from the main Quinault Loop Trail that you could become confused with which trail you are on.
Going counter clockwise, you’ll take a great mile long walk along the shoreline of Lake Quinault and cross under South Shore Road at Willaby Creek. At the split, turn to the right to get the full rain forest experience, turn left to take the trail along the creek instead. Either way, it is a quarter mile and the two trails will meet up once again. You’ll cross Willaby Creek once again as Quinault Trail Loop turns east and gains the most elevation you’ll find along the entire route, a total gain of about 350 feet total.
It’s all a gentle downhill slope from there but if you find you’ve had too much, there is a spur off to the left as you approach Falls Creek that will take you off Quinault Loop Trail and return you to the back side of the Quinault Lodge next to the ranger station. Continuing onward, you’ll be rewarded with the beauty of Cascade Falls before coming back around under the main road once again and finishing Quinault Loop Trail at the parking area where you started.
Four miles of lake side beauty and temperate rain forest grandeur. What’s not to like? The climb is subtle and the walk is gentle. Quinault Loop Trail is perfect for bringing the family along for a much-needed “walk in the woods”. A true loop hike, you won’t be doubling back on any of the ground you’ve already covered and the area is popular and maintained enough that you’ll never be isolated or lost.
If you’re out for a hike with the family, with your favorite four legged furry friends, or maybe just out to get some fresh air, the Quinault Loop Trail is one of the better Washington hikes in the entire Olympic peninsula as it offers something for everyone and won’t be too much for anyone.
Getting to the lake may be the most difficult thing about your hiking excursion when you come to Quinault Loop Trail, and if a pleasant drive is the worst part of the day, there is little else to say other than, “pack your hiking boots”. The entire Quinault recreational area is designed to give you that escape from the ordinary and offer a necessary visit back to nature. Come hike the Quinault Loop Trail, it will invigorate you; body and mind!