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Exploring Lake Quinault & Queets in Olympic National Park

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Encompassing nearly one million acres, Olympic National Park includes rain forests, hot springs, old growth forests, mountain ranges and even 70 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean. Dating back to 1897, the area was first protected as Olympic Forest Preserve by President Cleveland. In 1909, the area was upgraded to a National Monument and then in 1938, President Theodore Roosevelt created Olympic National Park. We spent a weekend exploring along the remote southeast corner of the park in the Lake Quinault & Queets regions. From rain forests full of giant trees, beautiful waterfalls and scenic drives to beautiful Lake Quinualt - here is how to spend a weekend exploring this wonderful portion of Olympic National Park.

View of sunset at Lake Quinault from Lake Quinault Lodge.
Beautiful sunset view of Lake Quinault






While normally, we are a tenting family, for this weekend getaway we chose to stay at the Lake Quinualt Lodge. Built in 1926, this rustic lodge offers numerous lake view rooms, an indoor pool and a small beach along the shores of Lake Quinuault which fit the bill for an early spring adventure. For anyone that loves history, the lodge also includes the Roosevelt Dining Room which was visited by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1937 when he was visiting the area and working to upgrade Olympic National Monument to Olympic National Park. We definitely enjoyed having breakfast in this historic location and enjoyed the beautiful lake views out the window. Our 3 year son particularly liked staying at this lodge due to the 'Sasquatch' statues found inside the lobby and outside the lodge. It was his first introduction to Sasquatch and we were on the lookout for Sasquatch the rest of the weekend as we explored and hiked thru the park - thankfully we didn't run into Sasquatch! Although for those interested in the subject of Sasquatch, the entire Olympic National Park region is home to numerous stories and tales of sightings of this mysterious creature!



To start off our weekend, we first headed to explore along the Queets River. This area is visited by few and offers compete solitude. An 11 mile unpaved road follows along the Queets River offering access to various hiking trails and views thru the glacial carved valley. Unfortunately, the road has been washed out at mile 8, making access to the Upper Queets region much more difficult to reach. Using Forest Service roads, you can get around the road closure and make it up to the last few miles of the original road for access to various trails including the Queets River Trail (16.2 miles) or Sam's River Loop (2.8 miles). It is also possible in the late summer to ford across the Queets River where the road washed out. For us, we were visiting in March with a young toddler - so fording a river was not an option. Instead, we just choose to drive the first 8 miles of the road until we hit the road closure and enjoyed playing along the river and taking in the views.




To begin our exploration in the Lake Quinualt area, we set off to drive the South Shore Rd of the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive. Our first stop was at the Rain Forest Nature Trail. This 0.5 mile walk is actually located just outside the boundaries of Olympic National Park in the Olympic National Forest but is worth a quick stop to get an introduction to the Quinault Rain Forest. The trail follows Willaby Creek and provides informational exhibits and great views of ancient old growth trees.



Our next stop was to hike the 1.8 mile Cascade Falls Loop. With only a little over 200 feet in elevation, this easy trail provides another opportunity to enjoy the Quinault Rainforest and to see a lovely waterfall along the way. Cascade Falls is a 20 foot veil waterfall along Falls Creek and is one of numerous falls that can be found in the Lake Quinault area.

Gorgeous Cascades Falls near Quinault
Gorgeous Cascades Falls near Quinault



The Lake Quinault area is home to some of the largest Sitka Spruce trees found anywhere on the planet. In fact - the area has been given the nickname 'Valley of the Rain Forest Giants' as the area is home to six of the world's largest trees. While most aren't accessible to reach, this impressive giant is actually located at the Rain Forest Resort Village just outside the National Park boundaries and can be visited via a quick 0.3 mile walk. Thought to be about 1,000 years old, the tree itself is 191 feet tall and about 18 feet in diameter. Looking up at this tree is almost unreal! The spruce is absolutely massive!



Located along South Shore Rd before crossing into Olympic National Park is beautiful Merriman Falls. This is the most accessible waterfall in the Lake Quinualt area and can be viewed from the roadside. Merriman Falls plunges about 40 feet over a cliff-side splashing down thru the lush ferns and moss that surround the falls.

View of the 40 foot tall Merriman Falls surrounded by the lush green rainforest.
One of the beautiful waterfalls found near Lake Quinualt - Merriman Falls



The second of the two waterfalls located along South Shore Rd is Bunch Falls and can be found right along the roadside as you enter into Olympic National Park. This lovely 60 foot waterfall is a beauty! This is the tallest waterfall in the region and luckily can be accessed right from the roadside. We were able to get out and scramble along the rocks around the waterfall but fair warning - the mossy rocks around the falls are super slippery - do be careful!



Beautiful view of Graves Creek with surrounding forests.
View overlooking Graves Creek

Once inside Olympic National Park, the gravel Graves Creek Road is an extension of the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive and continues to Graves Creek where the road ends. Following the road to the end provides for more scenic views of the Quinault River and is worth the drive if you have the time. Upon reaching the end of the road, numerous hikes leave from the parking lot. We spent a few minutes wandering across the bridge that spans Graves Creek enjoying the views. For those looking for a longer Wilderness hike into Olympic National Park - the 17.5 mile Graves Creek Trail leaves from here.




Sadly, this tree and trail are no longer here. Although the National Park map still calls out the Big Cedar Trail, the tree has since blown down. We spent a bit of time driving back and forth looking for this spot with no avail and upon some research later found out the tree is no longer standing.



Leaving from the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station, this 1.3 mile hike takes you back in time for a bit of history of the area. The homestead dates back to 1891 and today you can explore the remaining buildings of the Kestner Homestead including the old farmhouse, various barn buildings and farming equipment that still are found around the property. Our 3 year son loved this hike and still talks about hiking out to see the 'old farm and tractors'.



Another quick hike that departs from the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station is the Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail. This half mile trail provides a great way to experience some of the beauty of the Quinault Rain Forest without having to trek too far. Olympic National Park can receive up to 12 feet of rain each year providing for a unique environment for these temperate rain forests that are found within Olympic National Park. As you walk along this short easy trail you will come across a mossy draped forest filled with ferns, more moss and giant Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees - many of which are hundreds of years old. The lush greenery is absolutely beautiful!



Continuing along North Shore Rd, keep your eyes open for Bunch Fields. This is a known area for viewing the Roosevelt Elk that are numerous in the area. To our surprise, an elk herd was actually here as we drove by. Bring your binoculars and spend some time watching these magnificent animals! Today Olympic National Park protects 3,000 to 4,000 elk and Bunch Fields is one the best areas in the Quinault area to try and spot these beautiful creatures!

View of a herd of Roosevelt Elk in Olympic National Park.
Watching the iconic Roosevelt Elk in Bunch Fields



For those wanting to find a place of almost complete solitude, continue following the North Shore Rd along the Quinault Rain Forest Drive. The road follows the Quinault River and offers some beautiful views of the river valley. Upon reaching the end of the road you will arrive to the North Fork Campground. This is the smallest campground in Olympic National Park offering 9 tent sites and is first come, first serve. For those willing to venture out this far, you will be rewarded with peaceful campsites right along the river.

Blue waters of the Quinault River and blue skies along the scenic Quinault Rain Forest Drive.
Quinault River view along the North Shore Rd of the Quinault Rain Forest Drive.


Interested in planning your own trip to Lake Quinault and Queets in Olympic National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!

Day 1: Arrive to Lake Quinualt Lodge. Then drive out to explore the Queets River area - drive 11 mile road up the river.

Day 2: Drive the South Shore Rd of the Quinualt Rain Forest Loop Drive: Rain Forest Nature Trail (0.5 miles), Cascade Falls Loop (1.8 miles), Quinault Big Sitka Spruce Tree (0.3 miles), Merriman Falls, Bunch Falls, drive Graves Creek Road.

Day 3: Drive the North Shore Rd of the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive: Kestner Homestead Trail (1.3 miles), Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail (0.5 miles), Bunch Fields - good place to view elk, North Fork.

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