5 Scenic Nature Drives in Grays Harbor

nature drive grays harbor


By Douglas Scott

hanson motorsLiving in the Pacific Northwest, especially on and near the Olympic Peninsula, we are lucky to have access to some of the scenic drives in the country. From old growth forests housing elk, bear, bobcat and deer to coastal vistas that are wilder than anything seen along competing coastlines, the scenic beauty in our neck of the woods offer great opportunities for exploration. While many know that all you need to do is drive along Highway 101 around the Peninsula for fantastic views and experiences, few know the joy of experiencing a remote forest service road.

The remote roads around Grays Harbor not only show us the beauty of the region, but they also give us a glimpse into our shared history and culture. Driving along a dirt road in the middle of the woods, it is easy to see what drew so many settlers to this area and why the native populations have called this place home for millennia. On your next day off, pack a picnic, hop in your car and explore these nature drives around Grays Harbor.

nature drive grays harborDonkey Creek Road to Wynoochee

Car Type: Any

Road: Sections of Paved and Maintained Gravel

Best Season: Summer and Early Fall

Directions: http://goo.gl/maps/T3w2A

Many forest service roads are known for being rugged and far off the beaten path, but the Donkey Creek Road to Wynoochee route is special. The road is known for bear sightings, deer and grouse constantly crossing the road, and sections of old growth forests along sublimely beautiful rivers and creeks of the southwestern Olympic Peninsula.

With bridge crossings over Donkey Creek, the Humptulips and Wynoochee Rivers, this trek follows old logging routes that have been used for more than 75 years. There aren’t numerous picnic or hiking trails along this route, but traveling from Highway 101 to Wynoochee is something everyone should experience. Crossing the southern end of the Olympic Peninsula, the dirt road weaves and meanders along waterways and through forests home to various woodland creatures. Perfect for both sunny and rainy days, this drive is one best taken in the early morning hours or late evening, as that is when the animals are most active.

nature drive grays harborAberdeen to Wishkah to Wynoochee

Car Type: Any

Road: Sections of Paved and Maintained Gravel

Best Season: Summer and Early Fall

Directions:  http://goo.gl/maps/OnycG

The road from Aberdeen to Wynoochee Lake, via Wishkah, may only be 47 miles of road but driving along the once heavily forested roadways of the southern Olympic Peninsula is similar to a time machine. Almost immediately leaving the city you are transported to an area seemingly unchanged over the last 75 years. Passing through areas once rich in timber dollars, this drive follows the route of one of the ways that Grays Harbor became what it is today. The road also skirts next to the Olympic Wildlife Area, 2,030 acres of estuary and wetland habitat, set aside to protect a wide range of wildlife, from big and small game animals, birds and native fish populations, a few of which are federally endangered.

As the road continues north toward the Wynoochee Dam, it passes through a checkerboard of freshly logged forests and forests untouched since the first logging. With deer, elk, an occasional bear and more trees than you can count, it is easy to see why the Wynoochee Valley has been a fruitful place to live for hundreds of years. The road is narrow at times and tough on cars with low clearance or bad shocks, but it does give a glimpse into nature’s resilience as well as mankind’s impact on her. As you reach Wynoochee Lake, sit back along its banks, explore the waterfalls and bask in the gloriousness and beauty of the southern Olympic Peninsula.

The area is also home to the mythical Sasquatch, which is said to roam the forests of this little visited region. While sightings are less frequent in recent years, the area has been featured on the television show, Finding Bigfoot. If you are a Squatcher, or just curious to have an encounter, driving this road in the early morning or late evening could get you up and close with one of these huge beasts.

Wynoochee Area Hikes: http://www.graysharbortalk.com/2014/05/13/wynoochee-river-valley/

nature drive grays harborHighway 109 to the Quinault’s Cape Elizabeth Road

Car Type: Any

Road: Sections of Paved and Maintained Gravel

Best Season: Any

Directions: http://goo.gl/maps/uWLPj

Few drive the entire length of Highway 109 along Washington’s coast from Ocean Shores to Taholah, but those that do make this 37 mile trek are rewarded with some of the most raw and wild sections of coast in the state. Starting at the Ocean Shores jetty, make your way north along the coast, passing numerous beach entrances and small coastal towns. Possible stops along this drive include four state parks, each of which offer great chances to watch for whales, sea otters, shorebirds and numerous deep sea creatures that have washed ashore.

Historically speaking, Highway 109 played an important role in the settlement of the North Coast. The Pacific Beach/Moclips section of the road has been around since the early 1900s, when the region was the terminus for the railway line. Huge hotels were built along the coast and the area experienced the windfall of the riches of the logging industry. In the 1940s, Pacific Beach was used as a military installation for the better part of a decade before they left the region, as did the timber dollars.

The road continues north to Taholah, where it enters the Quinault Reservation. Most people will stop, as a permit is required to cross the bridge along the Quinault River. Once you cross the Quinault River, the road becomes Queen Elizabeth Road and leads to some of the most beautiful and rarely seen sections of coast in the country. If you are able to obtain access to this region, take full advantage of it and enjoy the ruggedness of the Washington Coast. If you are not able to obtain a permit, do not enter the private land of the Quinault under any circumstances. Instead, respect and honor their historic land rights.

Information on obtaining permits can be found by calling 360-276-8211 or 1-888-616-8211

nature drive grays harborLake Quinault Loop

Car Type: Any

Best Season: Spring, Summer and Fall

Road: Sections of Paved and Maintained Gravel

Directions: http://goo.gl/maps/OS4CN

The Lake Quinault Loop is one of the quintessential drives for anyone interested in our region’s history, heritage, culture and wildlife. Between the waterfalls lining South Shore Road, the world’s largest sitka spruce tree and a giant cedar tree on either side of the lake, the Lake Quinault Loop can serve as either a day trip or a week-long vacation destination.  The loop, with over 15 miles of family-friendly, dog-friendly rainforest trails maintained by the National Forest Service, gives this road trip numerous options for adventure. Highlights of this route include Merriman Falls, Quinault rainforest nature trails, the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree, the Lake Quinault lodge, moss-covered maples, Lake Quinault, the Quinault River and the July Creek picnic area.

For wildlife lovers, the Quinault Region is second to none. Elk are commonly seen on both sides of the lake, as are eagles, hawks and deer. Possible bear sightings may occur, with the highest likelihood to see a black bear occurring on the North Shore Road just before the bridge crossing the Quinault River.

The Loop, built on the land of the Quinault Nation, gives us a glimpse back to the days before the comforts of modern society. Stopping at the Olympic National Park’s Quinault Rainforest Ranger Station on the North Shore road, discover what it was like to homestead in the region by experiencing the Kestner homestead trail.

Need an itinerary for the Quinault Loop Drive? Visit http://exotichikes.com/olympic-national-park-lake-quinault/.


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