The Olympic Peninsula in Washington State lies northwest of Olympia and due west of Seattle. (TIP: If you’ve got kids and you’re coming to the peninsula from Seattle, break up the 3-hour drive with a halfway stop by the Hands on Children’s Museum in Olympia. It’s fabulous!!) Olympic National Park makes up nearly one million acres on the peninsula and contains rain forests, mountains, beaches, lakes. While Lake Crescent may be the more popular lake on the peninsula, Lake Quinault on the southwestern end, deserves some hearty recognition as well!
The 4-mile long, 2-mile wide glacier-carved and glacier-fed lake is located in the Quinault Valley, which is a destination in and of itself. This region of the peninsula also contains the truly magical Quinault Rain Forest and is a must visit attraction on the Olympic Peninsula.
Things to Do Around Lake Quinault
Before our visit to the Quinault Valley, we weren’t quite sure what all there was to do around Lake Quinault. However after a stop by the Quinault ranger station, we quickly realized that we would have no trouble filling several days. With so many hiking trails, scenic drives, and historical places to discover, there is certainly no shortage of things to do around Lake Quinault.
Here’s a look at our first visit to the Olympic Peninsula…
Visit a Quinault Ranger Station
Just as we did, we encourage you to start your visit with a stop by one of the two ranger stations. You’ve got the Pacific Ranger District Quinault Office off of South Shore Road, right next to the Lake Quinault Lodge, which we’ll tell you more about later on. And you’ve got the Quinault River Ranger Station along North Shore Road. Both ranger stations are mere steps away from some great hiking trails, so pop in, get some advice about the surrounding area, then head out on the trails!
Lake Quinault Hiking
Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll or a strenuous trek, there are some great hikes near Lake Quinault. With hikes as brief as a half-mile and as lengthy as 20 miles, you’re bound to find something that suites your hiking desires.
Quinault Rain Forest Trail
The Quinault Rain Forest Trail is what this region of the Olympic Peninsula may be most well known for! It’s easily the most popular of all Quinault hikes. (Read: Parking may be limited at the trailhead.) There aren’t too many places in the continental US where you can hike through a rain forest. In fact, Quinault Rain Forest is one of only three temperate coniferous rain forests in the Western Hemisphere. An easy (accessible) half-mile loop takes you through a dripping moss-covered old-growth rain forest in a truly awe-inspiring setting.
The surroundings are breathtaking. If you’re interested in learning more about what lies in front of you, take time to read the educational signs lining the forest path. Educate yourself on the local floral and fauna to have a deeper understanding of the unique ecosystem that surrounds you.
Maple Glade Nature Trail
On the opposite side of Lake Quinault (just under a 10-mile drive from the Quinault Rain Forest Trail) is the equally magnificent Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail. This path is also a half-mile loop, starting near the Quinault River Ranger Station. Cross the bridge over Kestner Creek, pick up a trail guide, and begin your journey. Giant moss covered trees greet you at every turn. In the forest, take a moment or two to be still. Listen closely to hear the song of birds or the rustling of leaves from chipmunks and other forest creatures.
More Lake Quinault Hiking Trails
Since we are currently traveling with our almost 2-year old, we stuck to pretty easy hikes. We didn’t embark on any trails longer than 2 miles in length. In addition to the two 0.5-mile loop hikes mentioned above, we also took a stroll on the Cascade Falls Trail and part of the Gatton Creek Trail (both pictured below). Be sure to pick up a Lake Quinaulat Hiking Map at either Quinault ranger station. This map details trailhead locations and distances. Many hikes are located along South Shore Road and, more often than not, leave from one of several campgrounds.
Waterfalls Around Lake Quinault
Lots of rain = rain forest. Lots of rain also = waterfalls! Each year, the Quinault Rain Forest gets an average of 120-140 inches of rain! As such, waterfalls are abundant in this area. There are 4 noteworthy falls near Lake Quinault. Willaby Falls is easily accessed from Willaby Campground via a short walk just past site #14. You can also access the falls from a slight detour on the Quinault Rain Forest Trail. From the rain forest trail, take the short, but semi-steep path from the main loop. You’ll head under the bridge on South Shore Road and soon there after see the falls on your right.
Gatton Creek Falls is a 60-foot multi-tiered waterfall that can be accessed from the Gatton Creek Campground (0.6 mile to the falls). Or get to the falls from a shorter trail (0.3 mile) just off Wrights Canyon Road. Merriman Falls is a 40-foot waterfall located right off South Shore Road along the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive we’ll outline for you soon. No hiking is required to lay eyes on these beautiful falls. And last, but certainly not least, is Bunch Creek Falls, which can also be seen right off South Shore Road.
World’s Largest Sitka Spruce Tree
The Quinault Valley is no stranger to BIG trees! In fact, it has been appropriately named the Valley of Rainforest Giants, as it contains 6 champion conifer trees. The behemoth trees include the largest Western Red Cedar in the world, the largest Douglas Fir in the world (co-champion), the largest Yellow Cedar in the US, the largest Western Hemlock in the US, the largest Mountain Hemlock in the world, and the largest Sitka Spruce in the world (shown below)!
This massive spruce tree measures in at 191-feet tall and 58-feet 11-inches wide. It is estimated to be about 1,000 years old! An easy 5-minute walk from the Rain Forest Resort Village brings you right to the base of Washington State’s 3rd largest tree (and the largest sitka spruce in the world)!
In the late 1800s Anton Kestner built this homestead (1891) for he and his young family (his wife Josepha and their 7 children). Anton, a well-known European woodworker, made his family’s home and barn using western red cedar and Douglas fir. The furniture he made from big leaf maple trees.
Many settlers who attempted to make the peninsula their home either abandoned or sold their claims within 10 years of settling. The Kestner family, however, stuck it out and spent 4 decades in the valley. Take a free self-guided tour through remnants of their original homestead and try to imagine what life was like for this large family at the start of the 20th century.
Boating on Lake Quinault
Sure, Lake Quinault is pretty to look at, but to truly experience the lake, you’ve got to get out on the water! Take a leisurely boat tour from the Lake Quinault Lodge on a captained vessel. Or be your own captain and rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddle board from the lodge. Better yet, do like us and rent a lakehouse that comes equipped with kayaks and stay out as long as you wish! (More on where we stayed in a bit.)
Lake Quinault weather can be finicky, so be sure to check the forecast before heading out. Wind tends to pick up more in the afternoon, which might be better for sailing, but not so much for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Mornings are typically pretty calm on the lake, so
Swimming in Lake Quinault
Swimming in Lake Quinault is absolutely allowed if you’re willing to brave the cooler northwestern temperatures. Outside temperatures can get pretty warm in the later summer months, so the lake is a welcomed reprieve from the heat. Many of the campgrounds along South Shore Road have day use areas (fees required) where you can access the waterfront even if you are not staying in the campground. We particularly enjoyed the day use area at Willaby Campground (shown on the right in the next photo).
Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive
For spectacular views and to get a sense of the area, take a scenic drive around Lake Quinault. Cruise though lush forests and past gushing waterfalls on this 30-mile loop. The drive takes you along the north and south shores of the lake and into the heart of the Quinault Valley. The paved road turns to dirt and gravel for the final 4 miles on South Shore Road. The road is unpaved again for a few miles once you pass over the bridge to North Shore Road.
We really think the Quinault Rainforest Loop Drive needs to be a part of your Olympic Peninsula itinerary. Therefore, we’re going to point out some of the highlights you’ll see along the drive. Allow at least 2 hours for this scenic journey and much, much longer if you plan to stop often.
South Shore Road
Your journey begins where South Shore Road breaks off from Highway 101. (We suggest you set your odometer to 0 immediately upon turning onto South Shore Road, so you can follow the instructions/mile markers that follow.) Just over a mile on the right, you’ll see the parking area for the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail. 0.2 miles further down the road on your left, you’ll come to Willaby Campground. Here you can access their day use area (fee required) and take a short (0.2 mile) walk to the picturesque, but slightly hard to see, Willaby Falls. Within the next mile, you will come to the Lake Quainult Lodge and Pacific Ranger Station on the left and the Quinault Mercantile and Lake Quinault Museum on the right.
Just after the mercantile and museum, you will see the starting point for the Cascade Falls trailhead. (It’s not too well marked.) This trail links up to several other trails, so you can make this trek as long or a short as you want. After you pass Falls Creek Campground on the left, you’ll see the turn off for the Gatton Creek Trailhead on your right. This is another easy (less than 2 miles) hike to a beautiful cascading waterfall.
At about the 3.5 mile mark (on your odometer), you’ll see the Rain Forest Resort Village and Salmon House Restaurant on your left. Just beyond that is the sign leading to the (0.3 mile) trail for the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce Tree.
Here is where it becomes very handy to have set your car’s odometer to 0 when turning from Highway 101 to South Shore Road. Once you’ve gone a total of 6.6 miles, you’ll come to Merriman Falls. (Know that the odometer readings may be a little off if you’ve pulled off any any stops along the route thus far.) We would’ve driven right past Merriman Falls ourselves, if we didn’t have the windows rolled down to hear the sound of rushing water.
At just past the 12-mile mark on your odometer you’ll come to Bunch Falls just before you turn left over the bridge to get to North Shore Road. (Remember, the last 4 miles of this portion of the drive is on a dirt and gravel road, so it can be a little bumpy!)
North Shore Road
Views from the bridge overlooking the east fork of the Quinault River as you pass from Shore Shore Road to North Shore Road are superb. If nobody is behind you, stop your car, and take a moment to take it all in! While there aren’t as many stopping points along North Shore Road, it’s still a beautiful journey. This portion of the drive begins in a lush forest with views of the Colonel Bob Wilderness, part of the Olympic National Forest, across the river. Continue on to about the 21-mile mark where you’ll find a parking area to take a quick stroll to the Kestner Homestead.
A half-mile further down on the right is where you’ll find the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station. Here you can access the trailheads for the (0.5-mile) Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail and a 1.3-mile trail to the Kestner Homestead, should you desire a longer walk to the historical homestead. As you make your way back to Highway 101 to round out the journey, keep your eyes peeled for the July Creek Picnic Area on the left. It’s a nice place to stop, enjoy a snack, walk the quick and easy loop trail, and take in gorgeous views of the lake.
This was our second visit to the peninsula. During our first visit years ago, we fell in love with its captivating and moody coast. Typically when you go to the beach, you crave blue skies and sunshine. However, in the Pacific Northwest, gray skies and fog truly help set the right mood! Ruby Beach was our only repeat experience for our return visit to the peninsula. And when you see our pictures of the tidepools, you’ll understand why!
Despite the early morning 45-minute drive from Lake Quinault, we had the most wonderful time! It was great for us and our young son to discover colorful sea creatures who otherwise hangout below the surface. You’ll need to check the tide chart and plan your visit accordingly if you want to see the tidepools. Otherwise, Ruby Beach is still a piece of magnificent shoreline filled with driftwood, seastacks, and stacked rocks. Rialto Beach is another Olympic Peninsula beach with incredible tidepools. Though because it’s another hour north of Ruby Beach, it would be close to 2 hours from Lake Quinault.
Lake Quinault Lodging
Lake Quinault Lodge
Built in 1926, the Lake Quinault Lodge is a charming and rustic 92-room accommodation. The lodge now holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a great place to disconnect with the world and reconnect with nature. Most rooms don’t have a phone or TV. It’s in a prime location, along the south shore of the lake. Lake Quinault Lodge offers its guests and visitors to the area dining options, a gift shop, and boat rentals.
Quinault Lake House Rental
While rustic lodges are nice, they can’t quite offer all of the comforts and luxuries of a vacation home rental! We prefer a little more solitude and space to spread out when we travel. With limited dining options in the Quinault Valley, it was so nice to have a full kitchen and grill. We enjoyed enjoy several home-cooked meals on the back patio. We recommend stocking up on groceries before reaching the Lake Quinault area. Grocery store options are also somewhat limited.
Our lake house rental in Amanda Park, Washington sat on 7 private acres and offered absolutely gorgeous lakefront views. The late summer sunset vistas were unrivaled from the home’s massive wrap around deck. This particular home sleeps 8, so it’s great for larger families or travel groups. Check availability HERE to see if this stunning Quinault lake house is available when you want to visit!
Lake Quinault Camping
Got a tent or RV and prefer to camp during your visit to the Quinault Valley? There are several Lake Quinault campgrounds to choose from. Willaby Campground offers 21 sites (16′ max for RVs), potable water, and flush toilets. As mentioned, they have a day use area complete with boat launch and trailer parking (16′ max). You can access Willaby Falls and the Quinault Rain Forest Trail from Willaby Campground. Falls Creek Campground also has 21 sites/10 walk-in (16′ max for RVs), potable water, and flush toilets. You can reserve your site at Willaby and Falls Creek campgrounds by visiting Recreation.Gov.
Gatton Creek Campground offers 5 walk-in tent sites, potable water, and flush toilets. This campground, unlike the others mentioned here, is not located right on the lake, but rather just across the street. Rainforest Resort RV Campground has 31 RV sites to choose from (including several lake-front). Most sites are big enough to accommodate even the largest of RVs. While the campground is open year round, the restrooms are closed during the winter months. Rainforest Resort does currently not take reservations for their RV sites and is on a first come basis. For more information, including nightly rates, check out their website.
More Things To Do on the Olympic Peninsula
As mentioned, this was not our first visit to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. If you’ve got more time, we definitely encourage you to check out more of the peninsula and Olympic National Park. Read more about our experiences on various attractions around the peninsula. We’ve also written about Lake Crescent, Rialto Beach, Second Beach, Sol Duc Falls, Hoh Rain Forest, and Hurricane Ridge. Be sure to read through these articles to get even more ideas for your visit!
We truly hope you enjoy your visit to Quinault Washington and the Olympic Peninsula!