A land of enchantment

Isolated and stunningly beautiful, the Enchanted Valley is a long hike worth the trek for every serious hiker in the Olympics.

It's not a particularly difficult hike - it gains about 1,300 feet of elevation in a steady up and down over 13.2 miles - but the distance pretty much means at least an overnight stay and the corresponding gear. My pack weighed in at 42 pounds.

But the trip is worth the effort as the valley, also dubbed the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls, is breathtakingly gorgeous. June is particularly rapturous as impossibly tall waterfalls cascade down the valley's high cliff walls in glittering silver ribbons. In places they evaporated into mist only to re-form below; elsewhere they divided into narrow ribbons, cut through snowfields or toppled over steep crags.

As the snowmelt decreases, the number of waterfalls dwindles but the valley's beauty still should be enough to entice hikers.

The hike begins near the Graves Creek Campground at the Graves Creek Trailhead at the end of Lake Quinault's South Shore Road.

The road climbs gradually to a rise far above the river before ending at the top of a rise. From here, a narrower path continues, steeply downhill in places to the Pony Bridge at 2.5 miles. The bridge crosses the river over a narrow gorge. Ferns and lichens cling precariously to the mist-laden walls.

The trail makes many small ups and downs and crosses numerous creeks and rivulets. Riverside camps pop up here and there after Fire Creek. O'Neil Creek Camp is

at mile 6.6.

Past the creek, the trail drops back to the riverbed for a gentle ascent through alders and bigleaf maples, though massive spruce, cedar and hemlock rise far into the sky.

Pyrites Creek, 9.8 miles in, boasts pleasant campsites on both sides of the creek.

Bear and elk are common sightings farther up the trail.

The first view of the valley and a triple waterfall threading its way down the massive rock face of the valley's north wall is just before a large bridge with a single sturdy railing that crosses a gorge.

The valley soon opens up into a clearing surrounding the Enchanted Valley Chalet.

Built largely of local materials - with the exception of window frames and other milled lumber and bricks carried in from Hoquiam - the chalet was completed in 1931. The Olson brothers managed it as a resort until selling to the park service in 1939. It housed aircraft spotters during World War II and reopened to hikers in the 1950s before being closed due to vandalism and neglect in 1980. Restored by the Harbor's Olympian Hiking Club in 1983-1985, it now serves as a summer ranger station. It was closed and shuttered when I arrived.

Bear roam the campsite so the use of bear-proof canisters or bear wire to hang food and gear is necessary.

From the chalet valley, the trail heads up the south wall of the valley toward Anderson Pass through a hemlock forest. In two miles, an unmarked spur trail to the left leads to the largest known western hemlock.

The main trail continues uphill to gorgeous views of the valley below and the peaks above at Anderson Pass.

Leif Nesheim is hiking columnist and a former reporter for the Sequim Gazette. He is a reporter at the Daily World in Aberdeen. He can be reached at lnesheim

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