Far from the busy cities, stresses and traffic of your daily life in Clark County, a wilderness wonderland is coaxing you for an adventure. Whether you want to wander around spawning salmon and bugling elk, explore snowcapped mountains, walk the tumultuous coastline, or discover raging rivers, picturesque waterfalls and dripping moss in rainforests, Olympic National Park is your ultimate Autumn destination.The Quinault Rainforest is a crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest, offering world class hiking, incredible drives and iconic lodging opportunities. A lifetime can be spent exploring the Quinault Rainforest, with no better time than this fall to experience this beautiful land.
The southwestern end of Olympic National Park, known as the Quinault Rainforest, is located three hours north of Vancouver and is the perfect introduction to the wilds of Olympic. Heading north on Interstate 5, the easiest route to Olympic is to hit up Highway 12 West, weaving through small towns along the Chehalis River before reaching the small town of Elma. In Elma, an underrated, hidden gem for food is Smittys In & Out. Offering delicious burgers, amazing fries and incredible milk shakes, a stop here is guaranteed to make your taste buds rejoice.
Further west on Highway 12, you’ll soon reach Aberdeen, the logging capitol of Washington. This is your last stop for supplies and numerous food options, so make sure you take a bit of time enjoying the twin cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam. To best understand the incredible and unique history of Grays Harbor, stop by the Polson Museum on your way into town. A favorite stop here is South Bay Coffee Co. 2 in Aberdeen, giving you a chance to refuel and caffeinate before diving into the wilds of the rainforest. For those looking for a bit more of the quirky history of the region, Billy’s Bar and Grill is a great stop. Offering traditional American fare and a glimpse into the region’s past, eating your fill here will give you the energy needed for an adventure. Another must-see local establishment is the Sucher & Sons Star Wars Shop in Aberdeen. Anyone with nostalgia for Star Wars will love this stop. Once you leave the towns of Aberdeen and Hoquaim, a short 36 mile drive will get into the stunning wilderness of Olympic National Park’s Quinault Rainforest.
The Loop Drive
The Quinault Loop drive is a perfect introduction to this wilderness. There are ten main stops on the Quinault Loop drive, each of which should be seen during the fall months. While we would love you to see all of them, there are four that should be added to your “must-see” list.
During the fall months, the broadleaf maples that dot the region turn colors, contrasting against the lush greens of the rainforest. Driving the loop, you’ll see stunning displays of colors and even a few elk roaming through the untouched wilderness. Make sure you stop at the World’s Largest Spruce Tree near the Lake Quinault Lodge. Said to be over 1,000 years old, the tree stands at over 191 feet and is over 58 feet in circumference, visible after a short 1/4 mile walk.
Just a few miles further up the road, away from the lodge and Highway 101, is Merriman Falls. Tumbling down 40 feet, this roadside waterfall is iconic, picturesque and especially beautiful after the fall rains have returned. After Merriman Falls, drive down to Graves Creek and explore the Quinault River up close before heading back on the other side of Lake Quinault. After crossing the Quinault River Bridge and heading back along the North Shore Road, take a quick stop at both the Kestner Homestead and the July Creek Picnic Area for short, family-friendly trails leading through huge trees and ending with impressive views of the water and the rainforest. The Kestner Homestead Trail is like the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rainforest, giving you a perfect taste of the rainforest and the culture of the region without much effort. Expect to see elk in the tall ferns and eagles overhead.
Hikers the world over have been raving about the beauty found on Quinault Rainforest trails for decades. Yet, once fall hits Olympic, the areas trails are rarely visited. This is the ideal time to hike here. There are literally hundreds of miles of trails in and around the Quinault, but three trails in particular will give you a feel for the region and are impressive experiences for all levels of hikers.
The first is the Colonel Bob Peak hike that puts you on top of the rainforest with views of the entire Olympic Peninsula. From Mount Olympus to the coast, the views here are stunning, especially as you look down on Lake Quinault. Keep in mind that this is not a beginner’s hike and the closer to winter we get, the more likely this hike will have substantial snowfall to the summit. The second hike is easier and accessible enough for nearly anyone who can hike. Found at the end of the road at Graves Creek, Pony Bridge is a five mile round trip trek through old growth forests to a jaw-dropping view of the Quinault River from a wooden bridge. In the fall, the drive and the hike will have you head-over-heels in love with the beauty of Olympic. The final hikes of the Quinault can be found close to the Lake Quinault Lodge. Known as the Quinault Rainforest Nature Trail, the paths leading around this section of rainforest are stunning and give you up to 13 miles of adventure for all levels of hikers. Here, you’ll see towering trees, incredible cascades and a glimpse into the beauty of the Quinault wilderness.
Those visiting the Quinault region of the Olympic Peninsula in the fall months can experience incredible lodging destinations as beautiful as the rainforest itself. The crown jewel is the historic Lake Quinault Lodge on South Shore Road. Built in 1926, the lodge is located right along the lake shore and is beautifully designed. Visited by Presidents and backpackers alike, it is the crown jewel of lodging near any of the west’s National Parks. Just a few miles past the Lake Quinault Lodge, the Rain Forest Resort Village offers rooms and cabins right along the lake. Offering breathtaking views and quick access to hiking trails, this is a fantastic base camp for families and couples. On the opposite side of the lake, the Lochaerie Resort is another gorgeous and historic destination for lake and rainforest adventures. Built in the 1920s, the resort offers 1-3 bedroom cabins with fireplaces, free firewood and even offers loaner canoes and kayaks to explore the lake.
All this and more awaits you in the Olympic National Park. For more incredible off-season destinations, pick up this author’s Fall Guide to Olympic National Park.