Looking for emerald rain forests dripping with verdure, rushing creeks, cascading waterfalls, jaw-dropping mountain vistas towering above the Quinault River Valley, and enough switchbacks to drop a Yetti?
Check out the Col. Bob Trail in Olympic National Forest.
You don’t have to be part mountain goat to navigate the steep, serpentine coils of this 4.1 mile trail (one way) to one of the most rugged, spectacular, and isolated peaks in the Olympic Mountains. But it helps. Ditto BYO bottled oxygen.
I recommend starting from Pete’s Creek. (See below for directions.)
We tackled this trail in mid-June, starting out at about 0830. The trail was wet and steamy. Pockmarked by mini-Amazon rivers, the path was choked with enough undergrowth in places that Sasquatch would have cause for pause. It was also quite muddy.
The trail is also strewn with enough tangle foot, rocks, tree roots, moisture-slicked boulders, and downed trees to warrant a warning from the Surgeon General. Wear. Waterproof. Boots. And keep a sharp eye out to avoid that pesky trip to the E.R. for a twisted ankle or worse.
The trail also includes a couple creek crossings that involve foot logs and/or rocks drenched in rain forest ‘perspiration,’ and thus slick. Watch your step.
The trail isn’t that strenuous for the first mile or so along cantering Pete’s Creek. After you hit a small clearing with a charred stone fire ring (on your left as you head out, just below the two-mile mark), the trail begins to climb sharply.
A chunk of this trail below Moonshine Flats includes a series of switchbacks through a rocky slide area. It’s steep. It’s narrow. It’s exposed to direct sun. Turn around for eye-popping vistas of the Olympic Mountains to the south while you stuff your lungs back into your chest.
Bring plenty of water. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen.
Most of the trail snakes through the Colonel Bob Wilderness and a dense forest with soaring evergreens and moss-draped conifers. It’s lush. Remote. And scenic. Wildflowers – lupine, trillium, bunch berry dogwood, rainbow hues of mountain paintbrush – can be outrageous in season.
This emerald-green region has temperate rain forest conditions, with an annual precipitation of more than 150 inches. When we hiked this trail yesterday, an anemic sun combined with overnight precipitation created clouds of humidity, making for a sticky day. We sweated buckets. Bring plenty of water. We had to turn back less than a mile from the summit due to impassable snow. (Some obstacles just aren’t worth risking life and life. That’s not a typo.)
The trek down requires concentration and focus. It’s easy to stumble over all the tangle foot and treacherous footing. (I wouldn’t even attempt this trail without a pair of good, solid trekking poles. They’ll save your knees on the downhill, big time.)
Note: Some trail guides put the total RT hiking time for the Col. Bob trail at about four hours. Sure. If you’re half jack rabbit. Or Secretariat. For the rest of us mere mortals, figure about six to eight hours for the round trip. Factor uphill progress at a rate of roughly one mile an hour. (Jack rabbits and Secretariats may be exempt.)
The Col. Bob trail is a tough, hamstring-hollering climb with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet per mile. The summit is at just over 4,500 feet. But on a clear day, you can see forever from the top. Even if you’re a jack rabbit. Or Secretariat.
From Hoquiam, drive north for 25 miles on US 101. Turn right onto Donkey Creek Road (Forest Road 22, Wynoochee Lake). Follow the road for 8 miles then turn left onto FR 2204. Continue 11 miles to the Pete’s Creek trailhead. It’s clearly marked. The road is only paved part-way. After the second bridge on FR 2204, watch for pot holes the size of Manhattan.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required.