If you’ve ever dreamed of having the entire Hoh Rain Forest to yourself, then go there in January. While it won’t legally be yours, there’ll be so few people there that you can pretend it is.
At least, that’s how it was when I went there last January.
The area was so quiet, in fact, that I nearly walked into a tern on the way back to the my car.
I was in the parking lot and had just entered a short trail that connects the two primary parking lots. The tern burst into flight no more than five feet away from me.
The bird flew a little ways and then settled back down by the water. Using my ninja-like stealth, I got close enough to take the glorious picture you see above.
The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the prettiest parts of Olympic National Park, which makes it one of the prettiest parts of Washington state. It’s also more difficult to access than any other part of the park simply because it’s on the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula. The closest town to it is Forks.
The Hoh Rain Forest is beautiful in January because the mountains in the distance are snowy while the lower ground is not, creating a nice aesthetic contrast.
I stood on that riverside you see to the left for a solid twenty minutes and only saw one pair of people other than myself. It was quiet and peaceful there, even though I was less than half a mile from the parking lot.
My favorite Hoh trail is the Hall of Mosses. Less than a mile long, it takes you on a walk through a forest of enormous trees blanketed in moss. The place feels ancient, as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and traveled back to a time before human beings. This is doubly true in January.
But, the purpose of this post isn’t to go into specific hikes or sights; I’ll add those things in other posts later. For right now, I just wanted to pass on a little insider information.
Go to the Hoh in January (or presumably any time around that), and you’ll find lots of silence to roam in.
I’ll never forget the moment I stepped outside the Fort Lewis barracks door and saw Mount Rainier on the horizon for the very first time.
I’d been brought into the base the night before, fresh off the Ranger Indoctrination Program. It was first time ever in Washington, but I’d been dreaming of going there for years. Being an outdoorsman, and also being a product of the 90s grunge generation, the state was almost a mythic place to me. There was no way, however, to be prepared for the awe-inspiring sight that is Mount Rainier.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked to many people who told me that the first time they saw Mount Rainier was practically a religious experience.
From that moment on, I knew the Pacific Northwest was my home. One could even say the Northwest Nomad was born that day.
Nearly 15 years later, and still there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at the mountain in awe and gratitude. This excludes the many days when it’s not visible at all (which as we Northwesterners know is pretty damn common), but when it’s out, I’m as in love with it now as ever before.
So, here’s just a little letter of appreciation to the mountain. I’ll never forget ye, nor the day I first laid eyes upon you.
Anybody else out there in the ether remember the first time they saw Rainier? Got a story to tell? Please do.
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.”
I still can’t believe that Wolf Haven International has been in my backyard all this time, and I’d never even heard of it before two months ago. Luckily, I did happen to stumble upon information about the site, and I immediately decided to visit. I would have done so already a dozen or so times if I’d known it was there.
Located in Tenino, Washington, just outside Olympia, Wolf Haven is a sanctuary for wolves that have been rescued from unhealthy or just unhappy situations. Some of the animals have dramatic stories of being sold into travelling circuses and living day after day hooked to a wall by a chain barely longer than they were. Others were taken in by well-meaning but ill-equipped adopters who didn’t realize that wolves can’t be domesticated the way that regular dogs can. Whatever the wolf’s particular story, Wolf Haven exists to give them a safe space to live in with dignity and a measure of freedom.
The sanctuary is located on a beautiful piece of land full of towering trees and mossy rocks. Even before you step inside the sanctuary itself, the area has a great energy to it, that deep, rich smell of untrammeled nature.
The sanctuary itself is located beyond a metal gate. Within that area are several fenced enclosures, ranging in size from 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre. Each one of the enclosures is home to two wolves, a male and a female. Each of these has a name, and each has a story, which the guide will you about during your tour. You have to make reservations to join in on one of the guided tours and can’t lead yourself through unattended.
This wasn’t exactly what I expected, to be honest. For some reason I didn’t research the details of the sanctuary, and I thought it was going to be a wide open space with the wolves ranging freely about.
Still, I wasn’t disappointed. What was most important for me was knowing that the animals had a safe place to call home, away from the abuses of their former lives. Besides, while these wolves are accustomed to their homes, they are still wild at heart. You can see it in their eyes. Even with the fence between them and you, the animals’ savage grace was apparent in every powerful movement.
There are Eagles, Too
Though it’s not advertised and not part of the sanctuary’s mission, there are several bald eagles frequenting the area. I watched one hunt a raven and attemp to snatch it out of a tree branch (the raven caught on and escaped in the nick of time) and watched three of them fly together for a while and then perch in treetops, crying out to the sky.
The trip would have been worth it for the eagles alone. Seeing them so close and hearing them calling out to each other was awe inspiring.
A Sense of History and Community
There was a real sense of history at the sanctuary, and the love that the volunteers put into the place is obvious.
Outside the wolf enclosure area is a trail winding through a wolf graveyard, with each of the animals honored by a burial site and a stone with their name and time of passing.
The gesture made it clear how deeply and sincerely the people at Wolf Haven care about the animals under their care.
Nearly everyone in my tour group seemed touched by the energy of the place, and they asked for volunteer forms so they could help out, too.
There’s no way to know how many will actually follow up on those applications of course. I’m just happy I got mine before the office ran out of them.
Wolf Haven International is well worth the visit. I’ll be going back again soon.
The list of “Places I’ve Been in Washington” is pretty extensive, but one place stands out above ALL the others. You’ll find it on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula, right off State Route 101. It doesn’t get the press that Mount Rainier or Seattle gets, but for my money there’s no place in Washington I’d rather be. Even beyond the rugged beauty of a glacially-carved lake (as if that weren’t enough in itself), there’s just no shortage of things to do at Lake Quinault.
It’s an ideal destination for solo excursions, family trips, romantic getaways, and for introducing visiting family and friends to what Washington has to offer. Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rain Forest are like a second home to me. So hop on in and let me show you what Lake Quinault has to offer.
Things to Do at Lake Quinault #1: Wildlife Viewing
Bring a pair of binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for the critters and creatures you’ll encounter at Lake Quinault. Every season of the year offers excellent bird watching for the avian-inclined visitor. A basic guide book on bird identification is helpful for identifying species, but for the casual viewer, a keen eye and couple of hours is all you need.
For bigger game, consider checking out the Roosevelt Elk, frequently found off of the northeast section of North Shore Road. They’re a pretty reliable sighting, and chances are you’ll be part of a very small crowd; the elk get few visitors, practically guaranteeing a few minutes alone with some big-time wildlife.
If you want to try your luck at other big game, Lake Quinault is home to black bears, black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and mountain lions. I’ve seen them all on the back trails.
Things to Do at Lake Quinault #2: Relaxing Beside the Lake or ON the Lake During a Boat Tour
Few things are more soothing than the sound of Lake Quinault’s great blue expanse lapping up on shore. For some visitors, a day sitting on the shore and soaking up the sun and fresh air is what it’s all about.
The tours are set up on morning, afternoon, and sunset schedules. The morning and afternoon tours are informative expeditions. You’ll learn about the history of the lake and the surrounding environment. For those who prefer a more quiet and reflective time on the lake, the sunset tour is your best option. It’s designed to help you wind down after your day exploring Lake Quinault.
Things to Do at Lake Quinault #3: Drive the Loop
After my brother visited Washington and returned home, I asked him what his favorite parts of the trip were. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, “Driving the loop!”
A total distance of 31 miles, the Lake Quinault Forest Loop Drive is a nice jaunt for the viewer, and you can enjoy it from the comfort of your car. Venture into the depths of the park and take a gander at the waterfalls along the road. All of the wildlife that calls Lake Quinault home is viewable on this trip, and the road takes you by some great places to get out and stretch your legs.
Things to Do at Lake Quinault #4: See Giant Trees
The second favorite part of my brother’s trip was seeing the giant trees. Dwarfing every other tree in the nation, except the sequoias in California, the giant trees of Lake Quinault are a “you’ve gotta see it to believe it” kind of experience.
First on the list is the Quinault Big Spruce Tree. A clear and relatively flat trail leads to the base of this monster. There isn’t much that gives you a sense of scale like the Big Spruce Tree.
The Quinault Big Cedar Tree is next to check out. It collapsed during a wind storm in the last few months of 2017, but champions like this are astonishing even in defeat. It’s still a great, short hike to take, and you’ll see some huge standing trees along the way. Besides, it takes more than a little storm to take away the grandeur of a tree like this. They’re like gods fallen to Earth.
Don’t let the unassuming names for these trees trick you; they’re immense and majestic, Grand Canyons of the tree world.
Things to Do at Lake Quinault #5: Day Trip Hikes
Lake Quinault has hikes for every fitness and interest level. For a quick out-and-back journey, check out the 2.2 mile long Irely Lake Trail. Dead trees rise up from the water in this secluded section of hiking trail. It can get a little muddy and washed out early in the season, so make sure to wear good boots.
The Quinault River-Pony Bridge Day Hike is 2.5 miles long. Hikers typically turn around when they reach the bridge, but the walk goes on considerably farther for those interested. Sections of the trail can be a bit rocky. Hiking poles aren’t necessary, but they’ll make the going a little easier for those inclined.
Not for the faint of heart, the Colonel Bob Trail is a serious undertaking. It’s a 14-mile trip that climbs to a height of nearly 5,000 feet. At the apex of the trail you’ll get a stunning view of the mountains and forests of the Quinault region. Prepare for rocky sections of the trail with loose footing. Hikers are advised to bring plenty of water; the final uphill battle of this hike is taxing and demands hikers be prepared.
Ready for More?
This article was meant to be a launching point for things to do at Lake Quinault, and by no means exhaustive. Talking about it has me jonesing for a trip there myself.
If you want any custom insider guidance, shoot me a message here on the Nomad. This entails no sales pitch or product push. I’ll happily help you out with any information you need. I don’t get any money from any of the areas I write about, and this is all straight talk about the places I’m passionate about. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll get back to you with the information if I have it, or I’ll point you towards someone who does.