By Douglas Scott
The Quinault Region is steeped in history, has a wealth of culture and is home to some of the most stunning views and rainforest experiences in the world. Receiving 115 inches of rain annually, the Quinault rainforest is one of the greenest, most lush places you can explore, and it is in out backyard. Many choose to explore the region, but few seem to know the hidden gems all around the region. Luckily, there is a loop road for those looking for a rainforest adventure, offering amazing opportunities of all kinds.
The Quinault Loop composes of two roads, the North Shore Road and the South Shore Road. Many know the South Shore Road, as it offers chances to see and explore waterfalls, hiking trails, giant trees, incredible lodges, old cabins and even a chance to see wildlife. Most drive the road, but for those looking for a slower, more personal look at the Quinault Loop, the area makes for a fantastic mountain bike ride. The road is paved for approximately half of the 34-mile loop, and the gravel sections might be a bit rough for those looking to travel this in an RV or camper. However, compact cars can make this drive with no real problems, aside from the occasional pothole.
The Quinault Loop can be driven or ridden in either direction, but the recommended driving or biking direction starts at the South Shore Road, crosses the Quinault River and returns along the North Shore Road. Be aware that bear and elk are commonly seen along this loop, especially in the early morning and late evening hours. Keep your eyes open for them, as well as the other 10 amazing highlights of this rainforest loop road.
10 Incredible Stops on the Quinault Loop
Complete with a paved parking lot, a bathroom and interpretive signs, the Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail Loop is a great introduction to the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula.With waterfalls, cedar trees that seem to reach to the heavens, picturesque creeks and a gorgeous trail system, the Rainforest Nature Trail can get you hiking anywhere between one and eight miles in gorgeous terrain.
Once you have explored the wilderness of the rainforest trail, take some time to discover the history and splendor of the Lake Quinault Lodge. Situated on Lake Quinault, the lodge has served lunch to US Presidents, as well as becoming a sought after destination for tourists from around the world. The rustic architecture of the lodge makes it a perfect place to have lunch, take a dip in the lake or see the latest rainfall totals for the region with the rain gauge in the back of the lodge.
Up the road from the lodge, visitors to the Quinault area are fortunate enough to see the world’s largest spruce tree. The tree, said to be over 1,000 years old, stands at over 191 feet and is over 58 feet in circumference. After taking the short walk 1/4 mile walk to get to it, feel free to stand next to it, climb the roots and feel dwarfed by this massive monster.
This waterfall is a classic to those who know the area well, but is often passed over by those driving quickly down South Shore Road. At over 40 feet tall, and surrounded by lush, green vegetation, Merriman Falls instantly becomes associated with the beauty of the Olympic Rain Forest. With trails around the base, and even a very sketchy one to the top, Merriman Falls will be a family favorite in the beautiful Quinault Rainforest.
One of the least visited hikes in the Quinault Rainforest, the Fletcher Canyon Trail is remote, quiet and full of old growth timber, ferns, and moss, making it the perfect rainforest hike. At just 4 miles round trip, but gaining 1,100 feet, this short, but steep hike is ideal for anyone looking to explore the wilderness of the Quinault Region.
6. Bunch Falls
Located at the entrance to Olympic National Park along South Shore Road, this waterfall cascades down 60 feet of mossy, rocky terrain before meeting with the Quinault River. With trails leading to numerous vantage points, this waterfall is a photographers dream, especially in the spring and after heavy rains.
7. The Quinault River Bridge
Crossing the Quinault River Bridge is something you have to do to complete the loop, but it is also a great place to stop. Looking upriver, the snowcapped Olympic Mountains become visible, and the trees are often lined with bald eagles looking for salmon below. Feel free to park at either end and walk along the shore. Keep an eye out for quartz crystals lining the banks of the river!
If you are looking for history, natural beauty and a guided tour, the Kestner Homestead and Maple Lane Trail is exactly what you want. The trailhead is located at the Quinault Ranger Station on North Shore Road, and weaves through a beautiful maple forest before arriving at the 100 year old Kestner Homestead. Ranger guided tours are available seasonally.
9. July Creek Picnic Area
July Creek Picnic Area offers incredible views of Lake Quinault, including a chance to look across the lake and see the back of the Lake Quinault Lodge. With eagles, woodpeckers and the occasional elk sighting, the short trails and picnic area make for a great spot to rest and enjoy the majestic views of the Quinault region.
10. Quinault Cedar
Located just two-tenths of a mile from the road, the trail to the Quinault Cedar is decent. Boardwalks and stairs are sporadic, but are extremely well-maintained. Standing nearly 174 feet tall and 61 feet around, this tree is huge, nearly impossible to capture in a single photograph. The tree is hollow, and the view from inside is unique and makes for a memorable picture of you and your family.