The Quinault Loop Trail makes for a pleasant, easily accessible jaunt through forest alongside a picturesque lake. There's also the opportunity to see some of the largest trees of their kind nearby.
The forest is mostly cottonwood, willow, alder, salmonberry and a tangle of other trees beneath a canopy of Sitka spruce, western red cedar, Douglas-fir and western hemlock. Some of the area was logged, but many giants remain.
The loop forms a four-mile circuit, with several points of access and options to extend the hike.
I began just past the ranger station, immediately before Falls Creek Campground. I chose to hike along the shore first and followed the trail down toward Falls Creek. Falls are seen as soon as the creek is reached. On the far bank campers went about their play in the campground. A large fence keeps hikers out of the lodge's cabins on the left.
The campground - built in the 1920s - was a seasonal fish camp for the Quinault. It continues to be popular fishing site.
The trail crosses the grounds of Lake Quinault Lodge. Blue smoke rose from the stone chimney, while families played on the manicured lawn. Sounds of chain saws, or motorboats, buzzed from across the lake, while cars hissed by on the nearby road and birds chirped playfully in the trees.
In boggy areas along the shore were thick patches of skunk cabbage. Dense thickets of thimbleberry blossomed with little white flowers while pink Oregon oxalis bloomed closer to the ground.
Nature revealed its marvels as a large tree grew tall from the decaying trunk of a long-since logged tree; a metal sign, now blank, once might have told hikers the significance of a nurse log or some other such bit of naturalist lore.
A small overlook of the lake gave a glimpse of families paddling canoes in the blue waters while a motorboat passed by father from shore. On the far east end of the lake. white-capped mountains peek above the trees; white fluffy clouds floated in the sky above the mountaintops.
The trail passes below several houses and cabins, between them and their docks, giving a sense of trespassing as one hikes along the trail, but soon you are once again ensconced in the wilderness.
A small footbridge crosses a little creek. A little waterfall tumbled beneath an archway formed by a fallen tree covered with moss and lichen. Soon the trail wends its way through the Willaby Campground. Past the campground (signs make it easy to stay on the trail) a series of small waterfalls tumble beneath the South Shore Road bridge. It's worth it to take the five steps off the main trail to get a view of the pool beyond before climbing beneath the road bridge.
Past the road, the Quinault Loop joins with a portion of the Rain Forest Nature Trail Loop. The nature trail is a half-mile, accessible loop with educational signage. The trail segment in the shared portion overlooks Willaby Creek as it travels in a small canyon. A wooden fence keeps folks on the trail from falling in.
The forest here is the most massive along the route with luxuriant rainforest vegetation: tall trees, verdant moss and lichen and ferns of all sorts lining the forest floor.
After the two trails part company, the Quinault Loop Trail climbs a short, steady distance up to a sunny area with numerous blown-down trees in the site of a former burn. At a juncture with the Willaby Creek Trail - which leads to a big cedar tree - one learns that trail is closed after half a mile because of numerous fallen trees from the December 2007 storm that still block the trail.
Continuing on the loop trail, one soon comes to a series of sturdy boardwalks traversing a cedar bog with numerous dead snags. Amid the muddy ground and pools of standing water, the pungent bouquet of skunk cabbage wafts through the air. The aroma is aptly named, though not nearly as strong or offensive as its namesake.
At Falls Creek, there is the first option to return to the ranger station. Instead, I opted to cross the creek and take a slightly longer way home. Cascade Falls rushes noisily beneath a wood bridge. A viewpoint below is fenced with orange ribbon, the actual wooden fence having fallen some time in the past.
It's amazing how quickly the rushing roar of the falls recedes into the quiet background babble of the creek. Rather than turn left and take the direct route back, I opted to head uphill toward Gatton Creek, but immediately turned left to follow Cascade Creek back toward the campground.
I stopped for lunch on the rocky bed of the creek. Water flowed by in a soothing burble past a couple of fallen trees. The babble of the brook created that unusual aural phenomenon known as "river voices." At first it sounded as if a radio were playing but the creek noise obscured the words, or perhaps hikers were chatting just beyond my sight. But there was nobody present but me, and I dined on hard salami and crackers while I rested my feet, the sun warm on my back.
After eating, I took a moment to place my sandaled feet in the water to cool them off in the brisk flow. The frigid water was practically ice cold and quickly turned my feet pink from the chill. I didn't stand in the ankle-deep creek for long.
My sandals squelched the short distance back to the car.
There are numerous opportunities to extend your hiking in the area. The closest is a one-third mile trek to see the world's largest Sitka spruce.
The trail is a short distance farther down the South Shore Road, just past the Rain Forest Resort village.
It is a wide, well-groomed trail and quite easy. A bridge crosses Morrison Creek onto the resort's property. The spruce truly is a massive tree. Its top boughs loom high above the surrounding trees. Its trunk is massive; several other hikers climbed upon its roots and were dwarfed by its bulk. It's a big tree.
Leif Nesheim is hiking columnist and a former reporter for the Sequim Gazette. He is editor at the Montesano Vidette. He can be reached at editor