One of the most accessible trails in the Lake Quinault area The trail is very short and is also wheelchair accessible.
Packs a punch At less than a half-mile long, the trail is very short. In that short space, though, it gives a great feel for the flora of the Quinault rain forest.
It’s literally right next to another fun, short trail The Maple Glade Nature Loop trail starts only a few yards from the Kestner Homestead Trail.
Leisurely Reader Discussion
The trail is easy to find. Just park at the ranger station embedded in the map below and you will see the trail-head right there. You can hike it on your own time or you can talk to the rangers and see when they’re doing a guided tour. I have not done the guided tour myself so can’t speak to that, but I have talked to the rangers around that station and have always found them to be friendly and knowledgeable.
I assume the guided tour is a good experience. As for going it unguided, the trail is short and wheelchair accessible, but by no means is it short on sights.
You get a good look at the giant sword ferns, maples, spruces, and other prehistoric-sized trees. You also get a good look at the thick coats of moss that cover the trees, which I personally find to be the most remarkable phenomenon there.
The trail intersects with the Kestner Homestead trail, which I’ve written about here. If you have the time and energy, the two trails together make a great pairing. Or just stick to the Maple Glade trail. It’s good fun and a way for everyone to enjoy the magnificent Quinault Rain Forest.
Easy. At only 1.1 miles long, the Kestner Homestead Trail is also very flat, making this a great selection for those looking for a relatively easy walk.
Great for lovers of nature and lovers of history alike. The main attraction of the trail is the Kestner Homestead historical site, but getting there also takes you through a beautiful stretch of temperate rain forest.
Low-stress for those unused to the wilderness. Though hikers should always be mindful of wildlife (mandatory legal disclaimer), this trail starts near a well-visited ranger station and ends close to a road with a small house beside it. The trails around Lake Quinault tend to be rugged and to take you far away from civilization, but the Kestner Homestead Trail is about as safe as it gets.
It’s literally right next to another short, easy trail. A few yards from the Kestner Homestead trailhead is the trailhead for the Maple Glade Nature Loop Trail.
You can do this trail guided or unguided. The park rangers lead tours along the Kestner Trail, stopping at spots along the way to share educational talks on important points. You can also hike it alone on your own time (this is how I did the trails).
Leisurely Reader Discussion
Getting to this trail is easy. Simply park at the ranger station (location embedded below) and you’ll see the clearly marked trailhead. There’s a restroom in the parking lot as well. The rangers at this site have always seemed particularly friendly and relaxed. It’s such a quiet location on the sparsely-populated North Shore Road of the Lake Quinault loop, and an easy-going vibe resonates there.
At the trailhead a bridge crosses Kestner Creek (which was almost completely dried up when I was there in July 2019) and takes you into a hall of gigantic hemlocks, maples, and spruces, most of them covered in thick, shaggy coats of moss. There are also impressive sword ferns and skunk cabbage. It feels like stepping back into the age of the dinosaurs.
You follow this flat, well-maintained trail until it reaches a wide open area with the remnants of the Kestner Homestead. A crab apple tree stands out front with some rusting farm machinery. The primary attraction of course is the old house, barn, and work buildings. The front door of the house is locked but other than that the stuff is there to be explored freely.
This is apparently a good spot to view the Roosevelt elk (the area I’ve had most luck in finding them is shown here), but I didn’t see any while there.
the homestead, the trail loops back towards where you started. Before you get
to the end of your circuit, you can switch over onto the Maple Glade Rain
Forest Trail where they intersect, or you can continue on your way back to the
Either way, have fun and enjoy the Kestner Homestead Trail.
I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve hiked the Irely Lake trail just outside Lake Quinault, Washington, but during my latest visit I witnessed a something I’ve never seen there before. Swarming along every step of the path was a great, hopping, flopping multitude of frogs. Baby frogs, to be exact.
Yes, baby frogs as far as the eye could see, my friends.
I’m sure this must be an annual occurrence, but when I told a ranger about it the next day he was as unaware of the phenomenon and as fascinated at hearing the news as I was in experiencing it. He was also unaware that Irely Lake was almost completely dried up. This is one more thing I’ve never witnessed before in all my excursions up that path.
To my memory, the lake’s
always been filled up to the woodline, giving little shore-space. On this day,
however (July 12, 2019), the lake had shriveled down to a little pool in the
middle of a muddy flat—a muddy flat also swarming with baby frogs.
The little buggers made the hike very slow-going. I had to tiptoe along the entirety of the trail and pause several times to let a particularly big cluster of baby frogs leap off into the sword ferns growing alongside the trail.
When I reached the dry lakebed, another hiker (the only other hiker I encountered that day) said he’d encountered a mountain lion on the trail. He seemed an experienced outdoorsman. I don’t doubt his account. For me, though, there was no mountain lion (though I did encounter one a few years ago in that same area)—there were only the baby frogs.
One of my favorite things about nature is how nothing is ever the same from one day to the next. You can hike the identical stretch of woods every morning for a year, and every morning you’ll see something slightly different. Sometimes, you’ll see something spectacularly different. In this particular case, I’ve hiked the Irely Lake Trail dozens of times and this was the first I ever saw the swarm of baby frogs.
Though they slowed my progress, the frogs made every foot of the trail a pleasure. It was a privilege to witness that spectacle of nature, and the frogs made for a hike I’ll never forget.
The Irely Lake Trail has a funny way of surprising me. For a modest mile of hiking trail, it’s sure given me plenty to write about.
It’s the same reason why I maintain that Lake Quinault and the surrounding rain forest are the best spots in Washington. A part of me wants to keep quiet on that and keep Quinault under-visited, but another part of me wants to share that amazing place. There’s no place I’d rather spend a long weekend or a vacation than in the Lake Quinault area. I made that conclusion long ago, but the place never stops strengthening its case.
Frogs, my friends. Baby
frogs. A whole multitude of them. I’m grateful I decided to do Irely again that
day. Dang near missed it.
Mosses cover the deep forest, blanketing rocks and fallen trees, clinging to the living spruces and firs like babies embracing their mothers. In some places a pale-green, stringy species dangles from branches like clots of witch hair. The vast, living coat absorbs sound and leaves the whole area in a hush. This is Lake Quinault in winter, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.
Lake Quinault in winter barely resembles its summer self, when tourists fill the area. In winter, the rain almost never stops. There are windows of sunlight here and there, always brief and always glorious, but for the most part it’s a persistently gray time. The upside of that is a region left in solitude and silence, perfect for those who yearn for those things as a break from modern life.
The hiking can be a slog. At times, it can be downright sloppy. But, the slog and slop keeps everyone else away, and even a short hike will leave you feeling like the whole of the rain forest is yours’ and the animals’ alone.
The Irely Lake trail, a short trek usually full of hikers in summertime, leaves you feeling continents away from the modern world. The trail is frequently flooded and blocked by fallen tree — great for keeping out the halfhearted. I’ve had conversations with trees there, and there wasn’t a single person (other than myself) to call me crazy for doing it.
You don’t even need to get on the trails, really. Very few people drive the “loop,” which is what I (and presumably others; it’s not all that unique or creative of a moniker, after all) call the North Shore and South Shore roads that will take you in a complete circle around the lake and a good portion of the river feeding into it.
You can simply drive out along the road, park your car, and walk that. That’s nice way to do it, really, because the river adds a pleasant musical backdrop. There are also many things to see right off the road, including Merriman Falls and the Roosevelt elk.
My favorite place to stay in the area is the Quinault River Inn, but that’s just my personal preference. The Lake Quinault Lodge is a beautiful building with the best views of the lake.
No matter where you go, you’ll find a quiet place, perfect for silencing that mental cacophony that’s been driving you batty.
If you find yourself somewhere along the Irely Lake trail talking to trees, please tell them the Northwest Nomad said “hello.”