Four Great Day Hikes around Lake Quinault, Washington

Quinault is a launch-point to adventure for people of all fitness levels.

You don’t need to be an athletic super-freak to experience the place’s magic. You also don’t need to have endless amounts of time. Just a pair of comfy shoes and a couple hours will do.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that the Quinault area is my favorite place in the Pacific Northwest. I can write a whole book about all that you can see there (and I intend to). But, in this piece, I keep things simple.

I list five of my favorite Lake Quinault day hikes below. Each entry notes the trail’s level of difficulty as determined by my completely unscientific classification system.

Try one. Try them all. Whatever works for you. Enjoy. Tell me about the experience (or not)!

Happy nomadding, friends.

Kestner Homestead and Maple Glade Nature Loop Trails (both easy)

I’ve listed these trails together they each start within feet of each other in the parking lot of the Quinault Rain Forest Station. You can hike one or the other or do both.

I’m going to cheat a little bit here because I’m lazy. At least, I’m feeling lazy at the moment. I’ve going to link to the pieces I’ve already written for these two locations.

I’ve written about the Kestner Homstead Trail here:

I’ve written about the Maple Glade Nature Loop here:

Irely Lake (easy once you get over the initial elevation gain)

Irely Lake is my favorite Quinault day hike. I don’t know why. I don’t try particularly hard to figure it out, either. Something about trail’s energy just speaks to me.

Getting to the trail can take a little while, but it’s a beautiful drive. You have to go all the way to where the South Shore Loop Road turns into the North Shore Loop Road (or vice versa).

Once you reach the trail-head, it’s 1.2 miles to the lake. Right off the road you’ll climb a little ways. It’s rather steep, but it doesn’t last long. Past that point, it’s mostly smooth, level sailing all the way to Irely.

Irely is a dark little lake tucked away in the center of gigantic fir, cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees. If you go down the short side trail to its shore, you can see all kinds of life out there.

I’ve seen elk hitting the lake for a drink. I’ve seen countless birds. I once saw a Biblical plague of baby frogs there. They were fascinating, adorable little guys that I wrote about here.

The trail gets sloppy in the winter. Oftentimes wind will blow branches or whole trees over the trail in the stormy season.

The mountain-lion warning signs there are no joke. I’ve had a couple encounters with the animals in the area around Irely Lake (one on Irely Lake Trail specifically). So, factor that into your preparations and estimations of risk tolerance.

I’ve pinned the location to a Google map you can see below.

Colonel Bob (hard)

Ah, Colonel Bob. My ancient nemesis.

I frequently see this trail rated as “medium” difficulty on other sites. Then again, I’ve also seen Mount Storm rated as “medium,” and that is just preposterous.

Bob isn’t as difficult as Storm King, but it’s given me a hard workout even when I was in peak fitness. Still, its 13.6 miles can be done in one day (which of course is why I included it here as a day hike). Unless you’re in very strong hiking shape, you will be tested to complete the Colonel Bob out-and-back without camping for a night, so be warned.

My misadventures with Bob have been the result of circumstances (snow and an injury) rather than the difficulty of the trail itself, but I’ve always thought of Colonel Bob as a person I held a friendly grudge against. I try to get up there once a year.

The view atop bob is one of the best but, I’m ashamed to say (considering i run a travel site), I don’t have a picture of it at the moment. I plan on remedying this soon. For now, I’ve pinned the location to a map.

You’ll just have to trust me: it’s a nice view. Or else just check out the folks at Outdoor Society for pictures.

A Trip to Ocean Shores during Phase Two of the COVID-19 Washington State Lockdown

Sun setting on the beach at Ocean Shores
Sun setting on Ocean Shores at the end of my first trip since COVID-19 broke.

On May 24th, Washington State Secretary of Health Jonn Wiesman placed Grays Harbor in Phase Two of the COVID-19 lockdown. That placement means that Ocean Shores’ hotels, restaurants, and even beaches were open (with stipulations).

Last Thursday, very first chance I got to go out that way, I made a murder-hornet-line (sort of like a beeline) for the coast.

Today, I’m grateful that I did.

Ocean Shores Beaches in the Midst of COVID-19

I’m actually not a big beach person. I greatly prefer the mountains and the forest. Still, Ocean Shores has always held a place in my heart. I’ve even written about it once before but, this time, my motivations were different than the usual.

I’ve been able (thank God) to get outdoors since the state parks opened back up a couple of weeks ago, so what I really wanted with my trip to the coast was to enjoy the simple fruits of civilization again. I wasn’t disappointed.

The beach didn’t have nearly as many people as usual for a day with beautiful weather. This was a positive for introvert me, but also good to see that people were being responsible in their enjoyment of the beach and not simply bucking all of the COVID-19 health guidelines out here.

It was very peaceful (though windy as all hell) out there in the sand and sun. After more than three months of the COVID-19 lockdown, that simple peace and open air felt downright profound.

Breaking my Fast at the Galway Bay Irish Pub

For the first time in four months I sat down in a restaurant and enjoyed a meal. This would have been thrilling enough on its own, but it also just happened to be at my favorite restaurant in Ocean Shores: Galway Bay Irish Pub.

To make it even better than THAT, I was at the tail end of a twenty-four fast, which means I was voraciously hungry. The sum of all these variables was one of the most unforgettable, delicious eating experiences of my life.

The Galway Bay menu calls what I ordered the Tipperary Steak, but I consider to be “colcannon with Tipperary steak on the side.” Then again, I consider ALL Galway entrees to revolve around the colcannon.

That stuff is just mindbogglingly delicious.

I thought it would feel strange to eat in a restaurant with people spaced several feet apart and servers wearing face masks and the shadow of COVID-19 looming over everything, but it ended up feeling nothing but “great.”

The food was delicious. It was a pleasure to crack jokes with strangers again and to chat with a server. Such simple little things seem so precious after being penned up with End-of-the-World fears for so long.

It’s funny, as I think about it. Before COVID-19, my idea of getting away was always getting to the most secluded natural areas I could find and finagling ways to avoid people.

Now, after months of COVID-19 lockdown, I appreciate most of all the simple pleasure of human contact, a seat in a good restaurant, and the sound of laughter.

And colcannon. Definitely colcannon.

Nomad Poem for Aberdeen, Washington (An Ode to a Rough Diamond)

A One Way sign and a pipe on an alleyway wall in Aberdeen, Washington.
Image from an Aberdeen alleyway.

I love Aberdeen, Washington. The place just has a gritty character that speaks to my soul and imagination. For most people it’s a gateway to the Olympic coast or the peninsula, but the city itself has a peculiar magic all its own.

I wrote a poem about Aberdeen titled “Not the Lying Down Kind.” I originally published it on Medium, but I want to include it here, as well.

Not the Lying Down Kind (for Aberdeen, Washington)

The city’s bridges sag over rivers 
like hunchbacked men carrying too-heavy loads 
for too long.

On the streets, tired, 
dim-eyed cars float into mist 
as a foreign country’s nighttime 
overtakes the city’s sleep.

Orange lights glow in pub windows, 
buildings thus resembling cooling embers from a scattered fire. 
They’re the secret hearts of this world carved out of fog, those pubs. 
Their walls thump with rock, pop, and hip hop.

A tortured, mewling voice echoes faintly through the alleyways. 
“Come as you are,” it says, 
“and then be gone with you.”

The whole of Aberdeen sleeps on the threshold of yesterday, 
dreaming of beds.

In the warm thump of the secret hearts the people laugh. 
Nothing said ever lasts. 
Every word fades into fog rolling down mountains.

Yet, for all their subtracted voices, 
the people stay, 
and in staying they honor a history of hard work and tough family. 
Their’s is not a surrendering sadness.

No, it’s not that kind.

Triumphant and proud, 
it laughs. 
It harvests life out of the hollow, 
it doesn’t give a damn for lying-down things.

Aberdeen is a mother nursing her baby 
after a double shift.

Aberdeen is a grim lumberjack, 
hands numb with callouses, 
laughing with abandon as his son tickles his stomach.

Sometimes hobbled, 
but never cowed, 
Aberdeen is the people
of Aberdeen.

Copyright 2018 Jeff Suwak

Birds of Mount Si

I saw some birds while hiking atop Mount Si in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As usual, it was mostly Canada Jays (also known as Camp Robbers), which are a popular Si attraction because they will eat out of people’s hands without hesitation. I’m not endorsing the practice and don’t indulge in it myself, but the fact is that it’s a pretty regular thing up there for people to do.

Canada Jays no top of Mount Si
These Canada Jays, also called Camp Robbers, can be found all over the top of Mount Si. They will eat right out of your hand (literally).
Canada Jay eating on Mount Si.
Here’s a Canada Jay eating some crumbs on Mount Si. This particular one was on top of the Haystack.

This was the first time I ever saw a Blue Jay on top of Mount Si, which was a thrill. They’re beautiful, noble birds.

Blue Jay on top of Mount Si.
This blue was on the “false top” of Mount Si. Beautiful, regal animal.
Blue Jay on top of Mount Si.

Hiking Mount Si in the Time of COVID-19

Washington State parks reopened for hiking on May 5, 2020. Two days later I grabbed my trusty Discover Pass and headed for Mount Si in North Bend, Washington. 

I kick off every hiking season with a trek up Mount Si and have had many memorable climbs there, including the time I saw a guy carry a tuba all the way to the top. This year’s trip was unique, though, and I suspect I’ll never forget it. It came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and was the first time I’d gotten out of house (other to walk down the street or grocery shop) in months.

Mount Rainier seen from top of Mount Si.
Mount Rainier as seen from atop Mount Si.

This hike will forever be burned into my psyche as the most life-affirming outdoor experience of my life. It was a reminder of everything I love about the Pacific Northwest, the outdoors, and just plain-old being alive. 

I went from top to bottom of Si without stopping to rest one time. At one point I even broke out in a run. I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape during this winter season, but the fuel that sent me to top of Si was pure elation at being free and outside in the sun on a beautiful day.

Not Nearly as Many People On Mount Si as I Usually See on a Beautiful Day

I didn’t know how many people to expect coming across on the trail. I counted them for the first leg of the hike but quickly lost that effort to the simple joy of being outdoors again.

All I can say is that I’ve done Mount Si dozens of times, and the crowd I saw there this time seemed far smaller than ever before. The weather was perfect, yet the parking lot was at only about 1/4 capacity when I pulled in at 8 am and at maybe 1/2 capacity when I left at about 1 pm. 

Smiling, Friendly People Hiking

Some folks on the mountain were understandably concerned about COVID-19 and wore face masks. They were the exception, but just about everyone was conscious of maintaining space.

Everyone kept at a distance from everyone else the best they could. It wasn’t like the usual Mount Si hike where I’d cross people on the trail and trade hearty “hellos” and jokes about how we don’t know why we subject ourselves to that ascent. People weren’t unfriendly. Just cautious.

Looking out from top of Mount Si
View from atop Mount Si.

The Haystack’s No Joke

This isn’t COVID-19 related, but I want to share something I was reminded of on this hike.

The spot that most hikers consider to be “the top” of Mount Si is not actually the top. If you climb up the boulders of that “false top,” you’ll link back onto a short trail that takes you to the bottom of a stony mound called the Haystack. 

The Haystack is not a hike. It requires actual climbing. The rocks are porous and give good grips, but the fall is no joke.

I think people underestimate the Haystack because there are no warning signs and because so many people hike Mount Si. Don’t be fooled, though, the Haystack is enough of a climb that many people find themselves terrified and clinging to the rocks wondering why the hell they went up there.

I know this for a fact. I’ve seen it a few times in the past, and I saw it again on this trip.

Northwest Nomad climbing up Mount Si's Haystack.
The Northwest Nomad climbs up the Haystack of Mount Si.

I love the Haystack climb, but partway up I looked down and realized that it’s really not something to take lightly. There was never a point where I felt like I was going to fall, but in several sections I looked down and knew that if I did fall I would be seriously injured.

One fellow who I ended up making friends with (shout out to Deepak) told me repeatedly that he couldn’t believe how shady that climb is, considering the fact that there are warning signs or guidelines about using any gear.

I laughed, but Deepak was right. I saw with my own eyes how often the Haystack catches casual outdoors-people off-guard and scares the beejezus out of them.

I love the Haystack climb. It’s my favorite part of Mount Si. If you’ve got the physical conditioning, dexterity, and desire, I fully recommend you go for it.

Just know that it might be above your comfort level once you get up on those rocks. Be mindful of your own limits and all that jazz.

Already Planning Mount Si Hike #2

Early on in the COVID-19 lockdown, I vowed to myself to spend as much time as possible outdoors this year, to really embrace the beautiful world around me and my precious freedom. I intend to uphold that vow.

I have many plans, but a second time on Si is a certainty, and probably sooner than later.