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thing2. Olympics SOUTH

Updated February 2014
See also: A Trail Less Traveled


Section 2: Olympics South

This sequence of buses around the south side of the Olympic Peninsula gives you access to the lush green rain forest valleys of Olympic National Park: the Quinault, the Queets, and the famed Hoh (fairly, though, they all are famed, or should be...). You will have easy access to the small but impressive Colonel Bob Wilderness, perched above Lake Quinault. There are also several very large trees you might want to take a thorough look at; some are at roadside, others require a little sidetrip, and some are ontrail. More info below.

Col. Bob Wilderness Enchanted Valley North Fork Quinault Irely Lake Graves Creek / Six Ridge All of these trips could be approached from the north (as in Chapter 1: Olympics North) but, for all destinations south of Forks, this southern approach will get you there quicker (and cheaper!). Itʼs cheaper because you avoid taking the ferry across Puget Sound; instead, youʼll take a couple Sound Transit commuter runs down the I-5 corridor, followed by a couple Grays Harbor Transit buses. Details to follow.

Now that you can register with Olympic National Park for your visit online, thereʼs no longer any specific reason you have to stop at an ONP ranger station or visitorsʼ center (provided you have your own bear-resistant food canister--check with ONP to learn where you absolutely MUST HAVE one of these to camp, and where you can borrow one from the Park).

The last bus youʼll catch in this sequence, Grays Harbor Transit (GHT) 60, also connects with West Jefferson Transit after it leaves the Quinault Mercantile (henceforth, the Quinault Merc). The GHT 60 continues on to the base of the Quinault North Shore Road before turning back south toward Aberdeen. The WJT shuttles back and forth between here and Forks several times a day. If your destination is between here and Forks, youʼll gain some time advantage with this south route. Itʼs not much, but if you plan on walking a fifteen mile road, hey, an hour can mean two to three miles....

(Trips on the west side between Quinault North Shore and Forks are described in Chapter 1.)

Trail Options:

A - Colonel Bob Wilderness

Bus stop to trailhead: 3.5 miles
Roundtrip, trailhead to summit: 14.5 miles

Youʼll disembark GHT 60 at the Quinault Mercantile, contemplate what a joy it must have been when the Merc was open for business and you could get a burger and a Coke before setting off for points unknown, but, alas...anyway, you can still get something to drink a few yards up the road at the tiny grocery store, check out the huge Sitka spruce in the parking lot of the resort (you canʼt miss the signs), and head on up the road.

Itʼs only 3.5 miles to the trailhead, just off the road. Long switchbacks in cool, old growth forest lead eventually to a junction with another trail heading up from the other side of the ridge, and eventually to a marshy, boggy hollow with good campsites and year- round water.

From the summit, you seem to be looking straight down at Lake Quinault. All youʼll have a great view in all directions. Youʼll understand why there was once a fire-spotterʼs cabin up here: thereʼs a vast view of some fine timber country (though there used to be a lot more of it; that which is outside of the protection of the national park is largely clearcut). Pick out the mouth of the Columbia River, and the southern coast of Washington, all laid out like a map. Or, if it clouds up, see a whole lot of nothing. It happens....

N.B.: As of Fall 2013, there were a lot of trees down in the first couple miles of this trail. The Forest Service is currently working to repair the damage (remember: Wilderness Areas are within the jurisdiction of Olympic National Forest, not the National Park). You may wish to seek updated info on current trail conditions before heading up there. Know that a few downed trees will pretty much guarantee your having the trail to yourself. Know also that a bunch of downed trees can be somewhere between a pain in the ass and a scary ordeal. It all depends on your comfort level.

B - Enchanted Valley

Bus stop to trailhead: 12-18 miles
Round trip, trailhead to Enchanted Valley chalet: 27-39 miles

(The variable distances are listed because, from year to year, the upper end of the Quinault Road washes into the river. Essentially, the trail begins where the road is no longer negotiable.) Simply disembark GHT 60 at the Quinault Merc and walk up the South Shore Road until it becomes the trail (youʼll know it by all the cars parked there).

One of the premier destinations of the Park, the Enchanted Valley trail starts out as a gentle, flat, rain forest trail that meanders past enormous trees. Itʼs an easy, gradual walk, eventually climbing to delightful meadows, bracketed by sheer 3000-foot rock walls, festooned with countless waterfalls.

The chalet mentioned above is long-since-defunct ruin; no camping is allowed in it.

If youʼre planning to go all the way to the Enchanted Valley, you may want to take a good look at the map, carefully measure the distances, and decide if you really want to go back out the same way you came in, or if you want to go forward, crossing Anderson Pass, and taking any one of several routes out the east side of the Olympics (see Chapter 3). Heading back over the same ground is boring; going out the other side can be much more exciting.

C - North Fork Quinault

Bus stop to trailhead: 13.5
Trailhead to Whiskey Bend Trailhead (see Chapter 1): 45 miles

Leave GHT 60 at the boarded-up Quinault Merc, walk up the South Shore Road 10.5 miles to the North Fork Bridge, cross there, and follow directions to the North Fork Ranger Station. If you havenʼt registered online, you can do so there. Thereʼs a campground near the Station, if youʼve run out of daylight.

The North Fork is the less-visited of the Quinaults, and is a relatively easy river trail, occasionally entering dense forest. The Low Divide, at 3200 feet, separates the North Fork Quinault from the Elwha River drainage. There are three fords along those upper reaches; use a stout staff to aid in your crossings.

Remember: you donʼt have to do the whole thing; thatʼs just for the rabid, and athletically OCD. You can just go up trail for a few hours, or a day or two, and have an equally delightful time. Additionally, a couple different loop trails on the North Fork side offer day trip possibilities: make camp along the main river, and scamper up the side trails without all that weight on your back.

D - Irely Lake / Skyline Trail

Bus stop to trailhead: 13 miles

Follow instructions to North Fork Quinault. The Irely Lake trailhead is about half a mile shy of the North Fork Ranger Station. Youʼve either registered online, or continue there to do so.

Itʼs an easy mile to the lake, a tiny beaver pond destined for eventual meadow-hood. Camp sites are hidden around the lake. Beyond, the Three Lakes Trail quickly climbs to Tshletshy Ridge and continues as the Skyline Trail. Somewhere in there, youʼll pass the largest known Yellow Cedar, about 1,100 years old, and wonderfully gnarly and ancient- looking.

The Skyline Trail drops back down to connect with the North Fork just shy of the Low Divide.

E - Graves Creek / Six Ridge

Bus stop to trailhead: 12-18 miles
Trailhead to Staircase trailhead: 23-29 miles
Staircase to Highway: 15 miles

(Again with the variable distance because of the South Shore Road...) Follow instructions to the Enchanted Valley above. Just .2 mile past the entrance and Visitorsʼ Center, turn onto the Graves Creek trail. It heads steeply uphill. Success Creek Camp is about three miles in; it would make a great base camp for day trips onto the nearby ridge to the south. Or continue east along obscure Six Ridge (you will likely have this one all to yourselves, you and the cougars that pace up here, sniffing and listening for elk below), dropping down the other end and exiting via the North Fork Skokomish (Chapter 3).

F - Fletcher Canyon

Bus stop to trailhead: 10 miles
Trailhead to end: 2 miles

The height of obscurity. About 10 miles up the South Shore Road, be on the lookout for a tiny sign. Itʼs brushy, buggy and secluded, you will likely hear, if not see, bears. There are some very large trees, and if you follow Fletcher Creek youʼll eventually meet the backside approach to Colonel Bob Mountain.

Other Option: Big Tree Inspection Tour.

big treeWashingtonʼs largest Western red cedar stands along the north side of Lake Quinault, within the borders of Olympic National Park. Itʼs not the worldʼs largest; thereʼs one is British Columbia that recently overtook it, at last measuring. The North Shore Quinault cedar has a circumference of 63.5 feet, which puts its diameter at just a shade under 20 feet. Isnʼt that tall; only about 160 feet. Itʼs just massive. Itʼs worth standing next to, for a few moments.

To reach the tree, as you arrive at Lake Quinault, do not leave the bus at the South Shore, but continue on to the North Shore Road, the northern turn-around for GHT 60. Ask the driver precisely where you'll board the bus for the return trip: this is always important.

Head up the road. There are several large trees right along the road, but just wait! It is only a two mile walk. A few feet past the Lake Quinault Resort is a sign "BIG CEDAR TREE" with an arrow. Follow the arrow to the easy little trail. Even walking slowly, you'll be there in ten minutes. Note how long it takes you to walk in so that you'll be sure to make your transit connection on the way back out.

From the Lake Quinault Resort, you could continue eastward and upriver toward the Park (N.B.: Signs warn drivers that the upper end of this road is primitive and could easily f-up their car, so donʼt expect a whole lot of traffic; the chance of a ride is remote along this stretch). You could take that next GHT 60 back to the Quinault Merc on South Shore, camp at one of the many campgrounds, and continue your BIG TREE INSPECTION next day on the Quinault Loop Trail #854 (see below).

Alternatively, you could also take Jefferson Transitʼs Olympic Connection from Amanda Park to points northward.

Quinault Loop Trail #854.

big tree(Itʼs not on the little thumbnail sketch map at the top, but Iʼve made a new one for it below. I just learned about the existence of the treasures up here in early 2014.) Iʼd
been walking right past it for years; Iʼd get off the GHT 60 at the Quinault Merc, sniff at the “self-guided, wheelchair-accessible trails” in Olympic National Forest that started right behind the Merc as being not worthy of notice.

And then I started reading about them. There are some big-ass trees up there, record trees, trees that for some reason or the other they forgot to log. Thereʼs a grove of Douglas firs thatʼs only 350 years old that has individual trees that are 4 to 8 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall; this grove, called by foresters and other big tree aficionados the “Miracle Acre,” holds the record for biomass (total living weight) in an acre for the entire Pacific Northwest. There are several individual trees in the general area with diameters of 10 to 13 feet. It is believed there may be other trees up there even bigger-- theyʼre just daring us to look for them.

There are several short loops starting in the area around the Quinault Merc. Camping up there is discouraged, as itʼs a terribly boggy tangle offtrail (there are reasons it never got logged, Iʼm sure...), with no real camping spots.Iʼd suggest camping at one of the campgrounds along the lake, and making a day trip of it. Take one or more of the loops, then set out to find your own record tree, perhaps.

As to which map to use, the area in question is so small that the Green Trails map is of limited use. I'd go with the downloadable map available from the Quinault
National Forest website (Quinault Loop Trail #854); this same map is available in paper form at the QNF Ranger Station right there across the road from the Quinault Merc.


Seattle to Olympics (South Route) – Monday through Friday only

Sound Transit 592 leaves Seattle; 2nd & University @ 6:07 AM Arr. SR 512 Park & Ride @ 7:08 AM
Intercity Transit 603 leaves SR 512 P & R @ 7:10 or 7:30 Arr. Olympia Transit Center @ 7:55 or 8:15
Grays Harbor Transit 40 leaves Olympia Transit Center @ 7:50* or 9:35 Arr. Aberdeen Transit Center @ 9:20 or 11:00
GHT 60 leaves Aberdeen Transit Center @ 11:30 AM Arr. Quinault South Shore @ 12:35 Quinault North Shore @ 12:53 PM
West Jefferson Transit leaves ** Quinault North Shore @ 12:53 Arr. Forks Transit Center @2:30 PM

* Note the time discrepancy. You might manage to catch the 7:50 GHT to Aberdeen; itʼs often late. But if you donʼt, itʼs no big deal. Go find breakfast or coffee nearby--make sure youʼre back for the 9:35 bus. Youʼll still make your connection in Aberdeen.

** The West Jefferson Transit Olympic Connection shuttles back and forth between Quinault North Shore and Forks. If youʼre heading up any drainage between the Quinault and Forks (that would be the Queets, Hoh--upper or lower, or the Bogachiel-- all of which are described in Chapter 1) taking the bus sequence described here in Chapter 2 would give you a bit of an edge in time. Your choice.

Olympics South Side (Quinault) to Seattle (Monday through Friday – early run)

GHT 60 leaves Amanda Park
Quinault Mercantile
@ 8:35 AM
@ 8:45 AM
Arr. Aberdeen Sta. @ 10:00 AM
GHT 40 Aberdeen Sta. @ 11:30 AM Olympia TC @ 1:00 PM
IT 603 Olympia Transit Ctr. @ 1:30 PM SR 512 P & R @ 2:15 PM
ST 594 SR 512 P & R @ 2:33 PM downtown Seattle 75 minutes later

Olympics South Side (Quinault) to Seattle (Monday through Friday) - late run

WJT lvs Forks @ 11:05 AM arr. Quinault North Shore @ 12:32 PM
GHT 60 lvs* Quinault Merc.
Quinault N. Sh.
@ 12:35 PM
@ 12:55 PM
arr. Aberdeen T.C.. 2:00
GHT 40 lvs Aberdeen TC @ 3:30 PM arr. Oly T.C. @ 5:00 PM
IT 603 lvs Oly Trans. Ctr. @ 5:05, 5:35 arr. SR 512 P & R 6:00 PM,
6:30 PM
ST 594 lvs. SR 512 P & R :28, :58, :28, :58… arr. Seattle 75 minutes later

* This is kind of a goofy one. If youʼre leaving from the Quinault Merc, youʼll catch GHT 60 at 12:35. Then that bus heads north to the North Shore to make that connection with West Jefferson Transit before turning back south and heading on to Aberdeen

As of Spring 2016, Grays Harbor Transit has resumed Saturday bus service, so you can access this area on Saturday. There is still no service on Sunday. The service on Saturday is slim, but itʼs there. There is one bus sequence possible heading toward Lake Quinault, arriving 4ish in the afternoon. And there are two bus sequences heading back toward Seattle. Iʼm not going to plot them for you; use the transit links if youʼre interested.

Sound Transit $3.50 (ask for transfer)
Intercity Transit $2.50 (present transfer)
Grays Harbor Transit $2.00 (day pass)
West Jefferson Transit .50

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