The Lake Quinault Area of Olympic National Park actually lies just outside of Olympic’s boundary in Olympic National Forest. There is plenty to do in this area, and planning a half day to a full day seemed about right to get a sense of the area. Below are a few highlights of Lake Quinault, and suggestions of things to see when you visit this area.
Drive around Lake Quinault
First, you can drive all the way around Lake Quinault. We don’t really recommend this, as a significant portion of the road is gravel washboards, and there isn’t much to see on the north side of the lake. Still, the road is easily passable by car, and there isn’t much traffic on the narrow portions of the north shore. For our purposes, we drove in on the south shore, crossed the bridge, and drove back on the north shore. That took about an hour and a half of driving time. Of course, there are several nice stops along the south shore of the Lake. If you have limited time, stick to the south shore.
Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail
The first stop is the Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail. We really liked this one mile walk. It meanders through an ancient forest of mossy trees. These towering giants block out much of the sunlight, which gives the forest a cool, pungent feel. The trail passes by one massive tree that appears to reach all the way into the heavens. This tree is one of the largest Douglas firs in the world! This 1.0 mile hike was definitely worth the 30-45 minutes we spent on it.
Farther up the road is the town of Quinault. There is a store and small Visitor Center that makes a nice bathroom stop. You can also pick up information about the trails. The Visitor Center was closed when we visited, but we did admire the large blue flowers outside.
Just across the street from the Visitor Center is a two mile hike to Cascade Falls. This hike climbs slightly as it approaches a nice double cascade. It’s difficult to get a good picture of this waterfall, but it is really pretty. Though the trail makes a loop, we went directly to the waterfall and then turned around.
Largest Sitka Spruce
After the Quinault store, there is a small parking area on the right for the largest Sitka Spruce in the world. It is a very short walk to the tree, which stands 180 feet tall. The tree is also nearly 60 feet around! We learned that this area of Washington has 6 record breaking trees for their respective species.
A few miles up the road, the pavement ends. Plenty of travelers continue across the washboards to see two waterfalls. Merriman is the first, and most impressive waterfall. It is on the right side of the road and there is a little pullout so you can view the falls. To find Merriman Falls, drive 6.0 miles along the South Lake road (from the turnoff from Highway 101). It is just past the Colonel Bob trailhead. Here is more info on the Forest Service website.
A few more miles past Merriman Falls is Bunch Falls. This pretty waterfall zig-zags down the side of the hill on its way to a small pool at the bottom. It was hard to get a great picture, but the setting is very picturesque. Bunch Falls is 5.5 miles past Merriman Falls down the dirt road.
Lake Quinault River Bridge
Just past Bunch Falls, a large bridge crosses the river to the north side. There is a beautiful view at the bridge. After you cross, turn left and the dirt road continues back to the pavement along the North Shore road of Lake Quinault.
Maple Glade Nature Trail
There is a ranger station on the north side of the lake, too. At the sign, turn right and take the short drive to the station. We had lunch at the picnic table and then we took our final hike called Maple Glade Nature Trail. We missed out on the trail guide, but the walk was only half a mile and wound among some massive ancient trees. It was much like Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail, but still impressive.
North Shore of Lake Quinault
There is one more short walk on the north shore that leads to the Quinault Big Cedar Tree. It is only .2 mile, but we were unable to do it. We also skipped the 1.5 mile Kestner Homestead Trail that starts at the Visitor Center on the north side. Without those, we spent about a half day in the Lake Quinault area. For other ideas in this area, use this map to help.