Olympic National Park - Washington

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Day Hikes | Sol Duc Hot Springs | Hoh Rain Forest

Lake Crescent

Lying at the northern edge of the Olympics, this beautiful natural lake has an elevation of 579 feet and is almost nine miles long. The lake flows into the Lyre River, which empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about five miles beyond its western end.

South of Lake Crescent, Aurora Ridge serves as the divide between the Lyre and Soleduck valleys. Beyond the eastern end of the lake, Mount Storm King dominates the skyline, rising to an elevation of 4,580 feet.

While almost all of the Olympic park lands have been left in their wild state, without the kinds of visitor facilities found in many popular national parks, Lake Crescent has facilities which, fortunately, blend into the lovely landscape. Lake Crescent Lodge is an historic building nestled amongst the hemlocks and firs, beside the lake. The operation offers rooms in the main lodge or in cottages with fireplaces. Nearby are two additional complexes: Marymere Motor Lodge and Storm King Motor Lodge, providing standard motel-style units, with the same woodsy, lakeside ambiance.

The lodge is a wonderful building, constructed before the national park was created. The fireplace cottages were built in 1937, at a time when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was touring the area, considering the idea of a national park. There's a huge stone fireplace in the lodge lobby. The dining room has a fine view of the lake. The food is mainly Northwestern cuisine, accompanied by an extensive wine list. The season extends from Late April through October. The lodge provides box lunches for those wishing to take day hikes, or to pursue other activities in the area. Rowboats may be rented. The lake attracts anglers who go after the famous Beardslee trout. For information and reservations, call (360) 928-3211.

Crescent Lodge is just off Highway 101, west of the park ranger station. Piedmont Road leads along the north shore of the lake, from the junction with the Olympic Highway (101) 15.9 miles west of Port Angeles. It climbs through the forest and then drops to lake level and into the national park. It provides access to another (smaller) tourist operation, Log Cabin Resort.

The origins of this rustic resort go back to 1895. The cabins were built in 1928, and have lake or mountain views. Each cabin has a private bathroom with a tub or shower. The camping log cabins are minimal facilities with two double beds. You can bring your own bedding or rent bedding from the management. There is no indoor plumbing in these cabins which accommodate up to four persons. A picnic table and campfire barrel are found outside each building. The resort offers rooms in the lodge, and the separate chalet. The chalet rooms include private bathrooms with showers, plus a kitchenette. Bring your own cooking and eating utensils. The lodge has rooms with queen beds and private bathrooms with showers. Trailer sites are also available, with restrooms, showers, and laundry. For information and reservations, call (360) 928-3325.

Boundary Creek Road branches to the left, crossing the Lyre River, entering the national forest and ending at the parking area for the Spruce Railroad Trail. Piedmont Road continues to the right, crossing State Route 112 and ending at the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait at the village of Salt Creek (camping).

The paddle wheeler Storm King provides four 90-minute lake cruises each day from the last weekend in May to the end of October. Cruise tours depart (by bus) from the Storm King General Store, on Highway 101. Departures are at 10 am, noon, 2 pm and 4 pm, and is it necessary to be at the general store 30 minutes before departure time. For information, call (360) 452-4520.

Day Hikes near Lake Crescent

Marymere Falls is a spectacular 90-foot waterfall, one mile from Lake Crescent. A trail leads through the lush old-growth forest, with wheelchairs able to get to the 3/4 mile point where there is the Barnes Creek Overlook. The trailhead is near the Storm King Ranger Station.

Mount Storm King Trail

This popular trail climbs about two-thirds of the way up the slope of Mount Storm King. To access the trail, park at the Storm King Ranger Station, and take the Marymere Falls Trail. One-third mile from the trailhead, the mountain trail branches off, climbing through a Douglas-fir forest. The trail then has a series of switchbacks with a succession of viewpoints, offering fine views of Lake Crescent, the Barnes Creek Valley, and Aurora Ridge. As the trail climbs the mountain, it runs along a steep hogback, with more overlooks. You will reach a sign warning that hikers should not proceed further.

Only experienced hikers should venture on the trail beyond this point. It becomes extremely steep, reaching an overlook with an even more stupendous view of the surrounding territory. Climbing to the peak, beyond the overlook, is an activity designed for only serious, talented climbers, and climbing gear is required, as well as backcountry registration. The volcanic scree (crumbled rock) makes it a difficult task.

Spruce Railroad Trail

This is an easy trail, following the roadbed of the old Spruce Railroad, along the north shore of Lake Crescent. The railroad was built during World War I, when spruce lumber was required for building airplanes. This is a trail which may be hiked in both summer and winter. It is below the usual snow level, at an elevation of about 600 feet. The trailhead is located at the end of Boundary Creek Road (see above). The trail ascends from near the end of the lake, turning onto a former logging road before descending to the Spruce Railroad bed. It then hugs the shore, offering fine views of Mount Storm King and other peaks. Avoiding a collapsed tunnel, the trail crosses some cliffs, climbing around Devil's Point (more great views), crossing a cove on a bridge. The trail returns shortly to the railroad route, passing basalt cliffs and avoiding a second tunnel. Lake Crescent Lodge is seen on the other side of the lake, only a half-mile away. In its final moments, the trail leaves the railroad grade to descend to its end at North Shore Road. This is a four-mile, one-way hike.

Fairholm Campground Trail

The campground is located at the western end of the lake, off Highway 101. This nature trail leads from the campground entrance, taking a loop route and returning to a point 200 yards from the trailhead. The trail runs near the highway but the thick Douglas-fir forest muffles the traffic sounds. The length of the loop is .7 mile.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

The Sold Duc River is one of the longest rivers on the peninsula, with its source high in the northwestern corner of the mountains. It runs below the mountains, from the north, winding through several valleys and joining the Bogachiel River to form the Quillayute before emptying into the Pacific near Forks. It has a tortured course, through several chasms with stretches of very white water, and through lowland forests of Douglas-fir and western hemlock. The river is also called Soleduc, and you'll see signs spelled either way.

Highway 101 and Soleduc River Road provide access to Sol Duc Hot Springs. The springs were long used by Native Americans who regarded these springs and the Olympic Hot Springs as the tears of two dragons who fought a battle on the nearby peaks. The duel is said to have ended with no victor and the dragons both wept in shame. These are the only two thermal springs in the national park. Michael Earles, a timber baron, bought the springs in 1910 and built a resort hotel. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1916 and was not rebuilt. There is a small tourist operation at the hot springs, with food service.

Soleduck River Road runs along the park boundary, around Aurora Ridge, then follows the river through an old-growth Douglas-fir forest. Seven miles from Highway 101, the road provides views of the Salmon Cascades, the scene of a salmon run in spawning seasons. The road then leads to a campground with tent and trailer sites. This is a popular family camping place during the summer and fall months. The hot pools and campground are closed from October until spring returns. The Soleduck Trail is found at the end of the road, one mile beyond the campground.

Day Hikes at Sol Duc Hot Springs

The trail to Sol Duc Falls leads not quite a mile from the end of Sol Duc River Road, a walk through a dense forest.

Mink Lake Trail begins at the Sol Duc Hot Springs resort and climbs 1,400 feet in about 2.5 miles, through the forest to the lake, which is stocked with eastern brook and lake trout. This is a lake in the final stages of life. A portion of it is choked with grasses and other vegetation. Birds, including loons, are plentiful in this marshy environment. The trail continues above Mink Lake, to the 4.3-mile mark where it intersects with the Bogachiel (backcountry) Trail, at Little Divide. There is a small meadow at this point, offering good views of nearby peaks, and several varieties of summer wildflowers.

Ancient Groves Nature Trail offers a half-mile loop through old-growth forest, connecting two roadside turnouts. For safety's sake, we suggest returning on the trail to your starting point, rather than risk being in the path of traffic.

Hoh Rain Forest

What was once a long glacier which flowed all the way from the Olympic peaks to the Pacific Ocean is now a long river valley, where the Hoh River tumbles to meet the ocean at the Hoh Indian Reservation. It begins by receiving the outflow of the Hoh Glacier, gathering water from creeks and smaller rivers, with the milky water of five additional glaciers (White, Blue, Black, Ice River, and Hubert). The South Fork is the river's largest tributary.

The river and its tributaries run through what is considered the finest temperate rain forest in the world. The Hoh River Road provides access to the Hoh Valley and to all but one of the major attractions of the rain forest. The road parallels the river from Highway 101 to the Hoh Ranger Station and park information center. The road passes through ranch lands and second growth forest at first, with little enclaves of rain forest in which you'll find the Willoughby Creek Campground and Minnie Peterson Campground and Picnic Area. Minnie Peterson ran pack trains into the mountains for many years. At the five-mile mark, the Peak 6 Adventure Store is a source of campers' supplies, including rain gear for the rain forest. Its main business is organizing hiking, climbing and biking tours. Owned by the pioneer Peterson family, the shop is on the historic Peterson Ranch. The Westward Hoh Resort (5.5 miles) has a grocery store, gasoline, and a guided river trip service.

The road enters the national park and it is here that the rain forest really appears, with huge, tall spruces and firs, and lacy vine maple underneath. You'll pass a giant Sitka spruce, named in honor of Preston Macy, the first superintendent of Olympic National Park. The tree is 270 feet tall, and about 700 years old.

The road ends at the Hoh Ranger Station and Visitor Center, the point of entry for several short and long trails in the rain forest. The information center has a supply of maps and books, in addition to interpretive sheets and other standard park literature.

The South Fork of the Hoh River is accessed by other roads: Honor Camp Road, and Road 1000. The trailhead area, called the Bert Cole Forest, is outside the national park boundaries, on state land. Honor Camp Road joins Highway 101, 7 miles south of the Hoh River Road intersection. Road 1000 leads from Honor Camp Road to the trailhead for the South Fork Trail. This is a narrow valley with steep walls, without access to the higher mountain slopes. However, it a paradise for anglers who find lots of salmon and steelhead during the seasonal runs, and a lush rain forest inside the national park boundary, with huge spruces, western hemlock and a lesser number of Douglas-fir. This is an excellent place to observe animal life.

The main Hoh Valley is much wider, and leads to high elevations in the Bailey Range and beyond. The Hoh Trail is one of the park's three or four major backcountry trails, and the main route to Mount Olympus.

The area close to the ranger station is a wonderland of dripping vegetation, with a variety of bird and animal life.

Hoh Rain Forest Day Hikes

Hall of Mosses Nature Trail

This is one of two short trails near the Ranger Station and Visitor Center, a loop route crossing Tarft Creek and climbing slightly to bench land with Douglas-firs at first, and then through a spruce-hemlock forest before reaching the Hall of Mosses. Here, the big-leaf maples are covered with moss, in a cathedral-like setting. In addition to moss, the trees play host to ferns and selaginella. In the days before the park brought people to see this amazing sight, the tree trunks were covered with mosses to a thickness of six inches or more. Human visitors, not elk, have rubbed most of the moss off the lower parts of the trunks, the cost of allowing us into this once-pristine setting. The trail continues through the spruce forest, thick with vine maple, returning to the trailhead. The total loop is only three-quarters of a mile.

Spruce Nature Trail

This trail offers a 1.25-mile round-trip walk between the Hoh Trail and the river. Elk and deer are often seen close to the river, and the vegetation is a prime example of the thickest type of rain forest. There is also a paved mini-trail, suitable for wheelchairs.

Hoh Trail

While hikers use this trail to access the Olympic high country, a short walk along the first section of the trail offers a wonderful trip through the rain forest. The trail begins at the ranger station, crossing Taft Creek, and runs through the forest on a level route through prime rain forest, with the understory covered with mosses, ferns, liverworts, lichens, plus masses of vine maple, salmonberries and red elder. Everything you could wish for in a forest is found here. The growth of new trees from the fallen logs of this forest is particularly profuse. In the first 1.5 mile, you'll pass through stands of alder and big-leaf maples, and into a forest area where Douglas-fir predominates. The path continues on the level bench to a viewpoint where Mt. Tom can be seen (at 1.5 miles). If you wish to walk farther, the trail then descends to the Hoh River and climbs again to cross two rushing creeks until meeting the turnoff to the Mt. Tom Trail. This point is at the 2.8-mile mark. Hiking this far, and then returning to the ranger station, provides a fine day hike with little exertion.

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