You reach the trail by driving down the South Shore Road to its very end - 19 miles from highway 101. You'll pass the Graves Creek campground just before the trailhead. We picked up two Evergreen College students along the road at Quinault who needed a 12 mile ride to the campground. They had arrived by bus and we came along at just the right moment for them. They were planning a one week camping trip in that remote spot. The drive beyond Lake Quinault and along the Upper Quinault River was very beautiful: both the deep green mossy forest all around us and the rushing river on our left.
We dropped off our hitchhikers and reached the trailhead. The trail starts at a bridge over Graves Creek, which is itself a beautiful spot. If you didn't want to hike, just a drive to this point and the view from this bridge would be worthwhile.
The hike to the Pony Bridge is two and a half miles long. It lies along a longer 11 mile trail to the Enchanted Valley in the middle of the Olympic National Park, which I read is one of the special places on the Earth. We passed several backpackers who were returning from there. Our portion of the trail rose steadily for 2 miles; however, the climb is gradual - not too strenuous. At the top of this climb is an ancient, rotting picnic table, which was mentioned in the guidebook. Up to this point the trail used to be a road. You could see where the park service had strewn logs and debris to narrow the trail to a normal track, encouraging native vegetation to grow.
From the old picnic table the trail climbs down towards the bridge. You get a glimpse first of some rocks carved by the river when the water level is high. The guidebook said you could sun yourself here on a the rare sunny and warm today. This day was not so warm. Also, there's no obvious trail down to these rocks. You would have to struggle through a lot of undergrowth.
Shortly beyond this viewpoint we reached the bridge. The whole scene on every side here was breathtaking. Downstream the river raced through a narrow canyon bordered by steep rock walls. Every crevasse on these rocks was taken over by an opportunistic fern. Looking upstream was a wider view of the river issuing out of the forest and careening against the solid rocks. The sound and the drama of the place heightened the experience. We climbed down some steep rocks to a small beach at the riverside. The water in the middle of the channel seemed like it was rushing by at 60mph. If you fell in, there would be no hope for you.
On the other side of the bridge we followed the river down an informal trail for further views of the canyon. Altogether, I think we spent an hour around the bridge.
I'm getting old. A five mile round trip hike is about the limit of what I can handle. When we reached that grassy meadow on the way back, I flopped on the ground and had a long rest.
On the drive back towards Quinault we were lucky to come across several Roosevelt Elk.
by Bob Kelly