When considering a hike or hikes at Lake Quinault for your next hiking adventure, keep in mind a couple of things. One, it will likely be wet, one way or another.
Two, it will not be a simple day hike. And that’s a good thing.
My wife/hiking partner Patsene and I have made several treks to the Quinault Valley. Our first initiation was in late spring. It’s almost always rainy season here, but in March it was downright ridiculous. To put things in a bit of perspective, we passed Noah and family headed the other way.
But a fall hike at Lake Quinault proves to be a slightly drier and even more pleasurable experience.
Nestled about 18 miles inland from the Pacific and about an hour south of Forks, the Quinault Valley already was getting splashed with a moderately heavy storm by our arrival on a Friday afternoon. (One of the hotel employees told me, “Yes, we do get sunshine here.” A wistful look spread across his face. “A couple of weeks ago it was beautiful,” he said. “Now this. Again.”)
After a restful stay in one of the lakeside boat cabins at the Lake Quinault Lodge (highly recommended, as they are cheaper and quieter than the main lodge rooms), we set out for the Colonel Bob Trail on the lake’s south side. Colonel Bob, it turns out, was Colonel Robert G. Ingersol, a Civil War veteran, politician, orator and “free thinker.”
He also never set foot on the trail that bears his name. My guess? He’d be thinking, “Why on earth would they name this trail after me? Did Walt Whitman put you up to this?”
Step it up
Apparently, since a 2007 windstorm, the Colonel Bob has been what one Washington Trails Association trip reporter called a “hike from hell.” Already a steep hike with several switchbacks and about 30 blowdowns, the trail has been getting a makeover from the trails group since then.
In July 2012, trail workers finished clearing the trail from the lake side.
The Colonel Bob, as far as you want to go, is a swell hike — once you get past the jagged, broken rock that covers the first quarter-mile. It’s a nice albeit workmanlike jaunt through old-growth conifer forest, past deep beds of ferns, the occasional carnivorous beetle (True! I saw one going to town) and all the trappings of a great Western Washington forest hike.
There’s actually another way to the top of the Colonel Bob, by way of The Pete’s Creek Trail. Because of the closure of Forest Service Road 2204 in September of last year, however, access to that trailhead is shut down. Seems there’s always something going on with the Colonel Bob.
One way or another, if you are brave/energetic enough to go the seven-plus miles to the top, there’s a great view at the 4,492-foot summit.
From the top, assuming it’s a clear day — and that’s never really a guarantee here, but possible — you can get neck-bending, jaw-dropping views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, the Pacific and, of course, good old Lake Quinault.
On our way back to the lodge, we hit a sure-fire tourist trap, particularly for the lazy hiker. About one-fourth of a mile from the main South Shore Road is the world’s largest Sitka spruce. No joke. An easy 10-minute saunter brings you to a clearing and, well, there she is. All 191 feet of her. This beats the world’s largest ball of twine, right? (That’s in Darwin, Minn. Or Cawker City, Kan., or Lake Nebagamon, Wis. Or Branson, Mo. All depending on your parameters, i.e. weight, by single person or community — I digress).
South side, north side
The Quinault offers more than a few great hikes, which we still are finding out about with each visit. Our favorite is the Rain Forest Nature Trail.
Start out at the lodge and skirt the lake’s south shore, and in nine-tenths of a mile the trail meanders into the Willaby Campground. Just south of the campground, turn off the main trail and onto the Rain Forest Nature Trail loop. Here is when the lake view drops away and the real fun begins. Surrounded by lush maidenhair ferns, Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, Sitka spruces and western red cedars, you step into a tropical rain forest minus the heat. Everything drips life, from the yellow chanterelles, skunk cabbage and Oregon lungwort to the banana slugs underfoot.
The trail eventually crosses Willaby Creek, revealing stunning views of small- to medium-sized waterfalls, and loops back to the lodge.
It’s a beautiful, easy hike. Of course, bring a raincoat or three.
On the north side, there are several other fine hikes, including the Irely Lake and Three Lakes trails, Big Cedar Trail and trails along the North Fork Quinault.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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