Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lake Quinault Loop Drive

Today, Saturday, May 31, 2008, we had unexpectedly fine weather. Mostly sunny and we all went around without jackets. My wife says it rained back home in the Seattle area. I had four boys with me: the twins, Austin and Konrad; their friend Scott; and little James - 5 years old next month.

This day we drove around Lake Quinault - an approximately 25 mile circuit. About 1/3rd of the time you are driving on narrow gravel roads. These are well-maintained without a single pothole - at least on this day.

Your first sight of the lake is at its western end from Highway 101. We started out on the North Shore Road for a clockwise circuit of the lake. Our first stop was for the Quinault Big Cedar. "Big" is an understatement. One might have said "ancient". The tree is barely alive - a few green branches can be spotted at the top. The outside of the tree is grossly gnarled and has lost all it bark - nothing like a young, straight cedar with the familiar strips of straight, red bark. The tree was entirely hollow inside. All five of us stood inside of it at once. Looking up within the tree you could see a patch of sky, so the hollowness extends clear to the top. It was a strange and fascinating sight.

On the way back to the car, the kids spotted a stream, and we played there for a while. The big boys climbed onto a large log fallen and suspended over the stream. Little James tries to follow them wherever they go, but the climb onto this log was a bit too challenging.

A few more miles down the road we stopped at the July Creek picnic area. One picnic table in particular has the finest view of any picnic table I know, with a commanding view of the lake and the hills behind. Directly across the lake you could just make out the historic Lake Quinault Lodge. There was a small beach here that the kids enjoyed.

Beyond the eastern end of the lake we stopped at the trail to the Kestner Homestead. The sign on the road says "Maple Grove Trail" and the ranger station is here (closed this day). This was a most enjoyable hike: flat, short (1.5 miles), and with varied scenery. The trail starts out by following a dry stream bed through the forest. The trees are mostly maples here, but this being the rain forest, everything was draped in moss. The kids found a way down to the stream bed at one point, and played among the rocks. Further on, you reach a bridge over the dry stream - some very old, very large maples are to be seen here. And then you come out of the forest to open farmland and the homestead.

The homestead was established around 1900 and the park service has recently begun to restore it. The grassy path, old wooden fences lining the fields, and the dilapidated farm buildings in the distance gave us all a sense of having stepped back into time by 100 years. Even the kids commented on it. The setting is lovely with forested, high hills in the distance and a peak of snowcapped mountains here and there. We found an old delivery truck, rusting away in place. The driver's cabin was entirely filled with vines. You could just make out some writing on the side: "local and long-distance" and a phone number. Beyond the old truck we settled into a meadow of tall grass for a rest.

After the homestead, the trail returns to the forest: maples and moss again, but even more lovely than before. The next noteworthy sight was a crystal clear pond, where a certain leafy green plant grew both below and above the pond surface. It was difficult to spot where the surface was - a kind of strange optical effect.

At least half of the drive around the lake leaves the lake and follows the Quinault River above the lake. We pulled the car over a few times for a fine view of the river and hills beyond it. Eventually, you reach a bridge and cross over to the South Shore Road. You'll pass three waterfalls visible from the road along this route.

There are many possibilities for hiking along the South Shore Road, but it was getting late, so we made just two short stops. We spotted a large sand bank in the river and the road widened just at this point, so I found a spot to park and we played down by the river. The boys threw rocks into the river, while I went off looking for a good vantage point for pictures. After that, they noticed a large rock - tall as a house - looming over the river, so they had to climb that and risk falling into the icy waters below. I helped James up after the big boys and we all found room at the top of the rock.

Our last stop was at the Lake Quinault Lodge for a drink. We found a picnic table behind the lodge and enjoyed our drinks, the sunshine, and the view of the lake. We had planned to rent a boat here, but it was too late in the day and the rental shack had closed down. Also, they didn't have a combination of boats that would work for one adult and four kids. We decided to go to Ocean Shores the next day to rent one of the electric boats that take up to 10 people. See:

The Quinault River Inn provides links to excellent maps that I used in planning our excursion:

Check out the pictures of this trip at my website:

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