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.
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.
There are few easily accessible hikes I’ve ever seen turn away more would-be climbers than Mount Storm King does. I met the victims, walking wounded, several times on my way down the mountain.
“Are we almost to the top?” these strangers asked between labored gasps. They tried to smile, but the desperate glint in their eyes indicated something other than humor.
I would answer with something like, “You’re pretty close,” but then, compelled by a humanistic urge to Truth, would add, “but the trail only gets harder. A lot harder.”
Sometimes they would laugh, thinking that surely I jested. How could the trail possibly continue to go straight upwards any longer without reaching the sun itself?
“It’s rough-going,” I would say. Then I would reach deep into my motivational bag of tricks. “But the view from the top is my favorite view in the state” (this statement is true, by the way).
Some of them would continue on, and some would even make it to the top. Others would simply sit there, waiting for me to pass out of sight so that they could shamefully surrender to Storm King’s cruelty. These I occasionally ran across in the parking lot below, shuffling along shamefacedly and trying to evade my harshly judgmental gaze (I assume this is what they’re doing, anyway).
The trail is not long, only 1.9 miles, but that brevity is deceptive. The trail starts steep and it stays that way. I don’t recall any stretches of the trail that give even a temporary level-graded respite.
Do I say any of this to deter anyone? Of course not. The kind of people who do the King are the kind of person who will be intrigued at the promise of cruelty and despair. These words are sweet talk to the breed of people who will make this climb. Are you feeling seduced right now? Feeling hot?
Step inside my office, then, my friend. The King awaits.
Where to Find the Storm King Trail Head
The Storm King trail head branches off of the very popular (and much easier than Storm King) Marymere Falls trail, which itself begins at the Storm King Ranger Station. I’ve pinned this location below for your convenience (I do strive to be a good guide…please, please tell me I’m good).
The Final Trial of Storm King, and Then Those Views
There are a couple places to stop off for nice views on the way to the top of Storm King. The views are striking enough that I personally think they make the climb worth it, even if a person doesn’t make it all the way to the top.
In a way, there are two “ends” to the Storm King trail. The first provides stunning views and awards imaginary medals for toughness and courage to all who make it.
The “second end” of Storm King takes another level of irrational persistence. To make this final run, you’ll have to climb up a very steep slope of loose dirt, pulling yourself up with a rope. Allow me to stress here that I’m not saying the rope is there as a novelty or as a convenience. The rope is necessary to get up the loose-footed rise, and you will be relying largely on upper body strength.
Beyond this is another such climb. When I hiked this a few years ago,there was a rope there as well, and I believe there should STILL be a rope there. As of the date of this writing, however, that second rope is gone.
Going up these two sections is a bit tough, but nothing too crazy. Where things get a slight bit hairy is when you have to go back down. Falling down either of these two steep sections carries a legitimate risk of serious injury, and possibly death (in some nightmare scenario where the momentum carries a person clear off the side of the mountain).
But, those brave adventurers who make it to the end shall be treated visually thusly:
There’s Birds in Them Thar Trees
Up at the top of the mountain, you’ll find plenty of these grey jays cruising around and looking for handouts.
They’re an athletic bunch of birds to watch…and to envy the ease with which they maneuver through the territory you just sacrificed a piece of your soul to reach.
Like All Things Worth Doing, the Suck is the Best Reward
Like a ruptured quadriceps or a torn calf muscle, Mount Storm King is an event you’ll never forget. The views are amazing; they are probably my favorite views in the state, in fact. But, what really makes Storm King terrific is how much suck it manages to pack into a mere 1.9 miles of trail.
It’s the kind of hike you laugh about years later, fondly recalling that time you asked your hiking partner to kill you so that you wouldn’t have to go on…that time your hiking partner responded, “Only if you kill me first.”
This is the good stuff. Take on the King. He is harsh and he is cruel, but he rewards those who persevere to the end.